Seed variety trials are off to a great start!

Tolhurst Organic Produce - 24 May 2013

The seed variety trials at Tolhurst Organic Produce are well under way and are looking great! Different varieties of Brussels sprouts, leek and tomatoes are being compared and tested on their suitability for organic production in the UK and seed-saving.

The Brussels sprout varieties Evesham Special (Kings seeds), Sanda and Roodnerf (Real seeds) as well as the holdings’ usual varieties F1 hybrids Nordic and Doric were sown into trays at the end of April, using self-produced woodchip compost as propagation material. So far, the hybrids, and especially Doric show faster and more vigorous growth, whereas the other three varieties grow a bit more compact and hardy, which can be seen in the photos below. The trays were placed outside yesterday to make them hardy and adapted to our cold spring weather. Tolly says: “They are far too healthy now; only once they look tired and a bit yellow, they are ready to be planted out in the field.” He reckons it will take them around two to three weeks to get there...

Also in the end of April, the leek varieties Northern Lights, Winter Giant 3 and Toledo (Moles seeds), as well as Long de Mezieres, Husky, Hannibal and Bandit were directly sown in rows in the Tunnel; at around 100 seeds per meter. The two examples below show that already some differences among the varieties can be noticed and the plants will be scored a second time before planting out in the field. This is planned around the third week of June.

The tomato varieties were sown on two different dates, the holdings’ usual varieties in mid-February, which were planted into the tunnel in April; and the trial varieties were sown in the end of March. Here, the varieties Tangerine, Stipice and Galina (Real seeds) as well as Yellow Submarine and F1 Diplom are being compared.

With the dark clouds and rough gusts blowing in my face as I left the holding yesterday, I can only say now let’s hope for a bit of warmth and light from above!

Iain Tolhurst, along with his business partner Lin, have held the organic symbol for over 30 years, thus making Tolhurst Organic Produce one of the longest running organic vegetable farms in England and was the first to attain the 'Stockfree Organic' symbol in 2004, and has had no grazing animals and no animal inputs to any part of the farm for the last 10 years. The farm supplies in-season organic vegetables and fruit delivered to the neighbourhood weekly, via a neighbourhood rep's scheme. Almost all vegetables are harvested on the day of delivery to guarantee their freshness.

The seed variety field lab is looking into Open Pollinated (OP) seed varieties available to non-organic growers and trialling them in organic systems with a view to either creating a demand for them organically or saving them on farm for use in subsequent years. The field lab is part of the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme which is aiming to improve productivity, quality and environmental performance in organic and low-input agriculture.

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Peter Brinch
17 July 2013 11:41

Hi Tolly,What a different growing season, never know what to expect! but it definitely feels like summer now. I wondered re your tomato trials if you were able to note also dates of your first harvest. This should give a picture of earliness from date of sowing to first picking of each variety. Also again when varieties are finished to give info on duration of picking season.I hope you are happy to do this.Many thanks best wishes Peter

Tim Young
28 May 2013 10:47

Thanks for the explanations Tolly and Anja - good to hear you advocating them running out of steam in the modules, as I'm always worried that I leave my seedlings too long before planting them - but I'll stop worrying that we took the kids camping rather than planting out the brassicas this weekend!

Iain Tolhurst
24 May 2013 19:25

No not really joking about letting the plants get yellow and starved, they need to toughen up, its a cruel place being planted out in the middle of a big field. Tray grown plants are soft,our brilliant woodchip compost with no added N is sometimes too rich leading to soft sappy plants coupled with the greenhouse protection, induces a wonderful looking but not terribly strong plant. Letting the compost run out of steam will toughen them up nicely and they will get less transplant shock. Normally we grow all field transplants as brts, around 60,000 pa, but due to the high price of hybrid seed we have to raise sprouts as modules, to avoid seed losses. With brts we reckon to get 50% plants from seed which is ok as the seed is a fraction of the price. F1 hybids have encouraged the use of tray grown plants and all the expense, hassle and heavy carbon footprint that goes with it. Most field grown crops should be raised in proper soil as brts

Anja Vieweger
24 May 2013 15:09

Hi Tim, Thanks for your comment, and I am sure that Tolly said this rather jokingly. What he meant was, that the plants (coming out of the small greenhouse where he raises all his transplants) need to harden off and get used to the cooler temperatures before they are planted out in the field. We’ll be updating reports from the field labs regularly during the season, so you can follow up the development of the varieties! Also, let us know how your brussels are getting on, what variety did you use and what is your experience with it?

Tim Young
24 May 2013 14:43

This is really interesting field lab, and going to be interesting to follow the progress of the various varieties. For now (as I have some brussels in trays in my back garden) I'm interested in Tolly saying “They are far too healthy now; only once they look tired and a bit yellow, they are ready to be planted out in the field.” - Why is that?

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Prince of Wales's Charitable Foundation Open Pollinated Seeds

Moles Seeds The Real Seed Catalogue