Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Look at Our Vegetable Trials: The Seed Olympics

Picture our 75 acre farm in London, OR as an arena. An arena where seeds come from all over the world to compete in what we will refer to as the Seed Olympics. Each individual seed variety has journeyed all this way and is vying for a spot in our catalog.

Our trials (aka the Seed Olympics) exist for one purpose and one purpose only: to find the best performers in every class of vegetable. Steve Solomon (author and founder of Territorial Seed Company) stated in his book Gardening When It Counts, “…an honest seed business does not sell just any old variety of seed that has been recommended by Someone Else. You decide for yourself what to sell after testing numerous varieties” (p. 2). That foundation Steve laid out for us is something that has never changed.

We provide each variety a fair opportunity. Soil preparation is the same for all seeds and transplants so they can all show us what they've got! We prepare our farm much like how you’d prepare a commercial farm but our emphasis isn’t on harvesting the fruit or selling the fruit; it’s evaluating and measuring. We are interested in qualities and attributes such as days to germination and maturity, vigor, height, width, length, flavor, texture, uniformity, etc. The list goes on and on! We are constantly evaluating because only through those evaluations can we make the right choices. For example, let’s look at days to maturity (DTM). We take the time to go through our trials weekly (sometimes multiple times a week) in order to make sure we are there to say when a vegetable is ripe. Our customers can trust when we say that at our farm, at approximately 900 ft. in the Southern Willamette Valley, so and so vegetable is mature in XX number of days. We want to ensure that the numbers we provide are accurate, so year after year even the varieties we currently offer take part in our Seed Olympics. We grow out present offerings every year to make sure the quality is just as good from when we first offered it.

As our company has grown so has the amount of time and money we put into our trials. In the early days, when Tom and Julie bought Territorial Seed from Steve Solomon in 1985 (about 6 years after Steve started the company) the trials were about ½ acre in size. We currently use anywhere from 5-7 acres for our trials, and nowadays we will use a space bigger than our entire trial grounds of the early 80s, just for our tomatoes alone!

That’s why we do trials. To provide the best of the best. And as Tom Johns says, “it’s the most rewarding work we do.”  

Author: Mel R

Solomon, S. (2005). Gardening When It Counts. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers.  

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