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Monday, April 2, 2012

Variety Trials

We have just returned form a fantastic weekend up at the Irish Seed Savers Association conference in Ennis. It is looking fantastic up there and it was a real inspiration to see how much is going on.
I am in awe of how well the gardens look.
and extremely envious of their new seed bank building

I was asked to speak about variety trials and below is a summary of my talk.

Sourcing the right seed for a farm or garden is critical to its success. Seed must be in good physical condition and it must be a suitable variety. Most growers have favourite varieties that are planted annually. However, the varieties available, the growing conditions on any given farm, and the demands of the market are constantly changing. Conducting variety trials offers growers an opportunity to continually select the best varieties available for their particular system. Most seed is produced in climates that are warmer and drier than Ireland and it is not adapted to conditions here. Traits such as the ability to germinate at low temperature, and seedling vigour are inheritable. So seed produced in your area is more likely to be adapted to your garden conditions, and seed produced in your own garden, even better.

When conducting scientific trials researchers replicate the (varieties) at least three times across the field in order to account for field variability. A single planting in the field is an observational trial. For most gardeners this is enough. Several varieties sown beside each other will give a lot of information. However to thoroughly know a variety it must be grown for several years and in different parts of the garden, and in different seasons, to assess its overall performance. A single trial is really only a snapshot.

I would be great if all gardeners in Ireland or even in West Cork were to do a variety trial of one vegetable and share the results, that way we could all benefit from the information. I have been trying different vegetables and different varieties for 25 years and have still only tried a small proportion of what is available. So please try and grow more than one variety of any vegetable and share the information.

When doing a trial remember to
1 Include a variety you are familiar with.
2 Choose varieties with traits you are looking for, such as disease resistance, yield, colour and flavour.
3 As far as possible, treat each variety the same way and grow in the same area.
4 Label the trial properly, and draw a diagram somewhere else incase your labels fade or disappear.
5 Record the results on paper. It is surprising how easy it is to forget, especially when several traits are being compared.

The photo below shows four varieties of swedes. The one on the left is a Dutch variety called Friese Jele, or Golden Friesian. In this particular trial sown in August last year it performed least well of the four. The other three are Irish varieties sourced from the Irish Seed Savers Association. All three, from the left, Best of all, Tipperary Turnip and Western Perfection, outperformed the dutch variety. Best of all did significantly better than the other two so we will be saving the seed from it this year.