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Back to March 2017 Newsletter

Growing Seeds and Skills

Angie Koch

The Vegetable Seed Producers Network is simple: farmers grow, test, and save vegetable seeds from a vetted list of open-pollinated vegetable varieties, then make those seeds available in bulk quantities to regrow and redistribute to other farmers. Over the past two years, more than 50 VSPN members have been producing bulk quantities of open-pollinated varieties that are suitable for market gardens, but mostly unavailable to purchase in sufficient quantities for commercial-scale operations.

Here are a few of the projects the VSPN has focused on over the past year.

Rogueing and Selection

While some variation is normal and healthy in open-pollinated seed varieties, maintenance through rogueing is continually required to keep varieties strong and consistent. At bare minimum, this involves removing plants that are sluggish, diseased, pest-prone, or very notably different from the rest of the population.

The VSPN varietal list includes some younger varieties that exhibit a greater degree of variation than usual, giving growers an opportunity to select more aggressively for consistency and the expression of traits that best match their own preferences and needs.

2017 VSPN variety list

Feuer Kugel beet
Shintokiwa cucumber
Long Green Improved cucumber
Olympic Red kale
Peacework pepper
Stella Blue squash
South Anna squash
Genovese squash
Hubert’s Pink tomato
Kamo eggplant
Jester lettuce 

Three such examples of unfinished breeding projects are South Anna Butternut squash, Olympic Red kale and Jester lettuce. South Anna is the fifth generation of a cross made between Waltham Butternut and Seminole pumpkin, which has been selected for productivity, downy mildew resistant foliage, good flavour, and a classic butternut shape. Olympic Red is a cold-hardy, frilly red kale with purple and green colourations. Jester is a slow-bolting, red and green speckled crisphead lettuce that was created through a triple cross between Reine de Glaces, Merlot, and Flashy Troutback.

Open Source Seed Initiative Varieties

We’re excited to include a number of Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI) varieties in our 2017 growout, including Wapsi Wonder (a wilt-tolerant muskmelon), and the South Anna butternut and Jester lettuce described above. OSSI is “dedicated to maintaining fair and open access to plant genetic resources worldwide in order to ensure the availability of germplasm to farmers, gardeners, breeders, and communities of this and future generations.” OSSI, like Seeds of Diversity, supports a diversified and decentralized seed industry, and promotes the ability of growers to freely use, save and replant open-pollinated seed.

Collaborative Pepper Breeding Project

A small group of farmers within the VSPN network have joined together to work on a sweet pepper breeding project, beginning with very genetically diverse seed from a cross of two hybrid varieties, which was supplied through a breeding project at Cornell University. The growers are working to develop an early, blocky red bell pepper adapted for Southern Ontario’s short growing season (read more about this project in the latest issue of Seeds of Diversity magazine).

The VSPN membership continues to grow in confidence and numbers. As the network strengthens, we hope that growers are empowered to take on increasingly challenging projects and continue to improve the quality of on-farm seed, moving us towards a more resilient seed system


Angie Koch is Seeds of Diversity’s seed library coordinator.

Photo: Jester lettuce

This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.


Back to March 2017 Newsletter

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