Monday, August 17, 2015

Organic Seed Alliance Brassica Trial~Red Cabbages

Red Acre
The Brassica Field Trial which Steve Peters ran for the Organic Seed Alliance this year at Ronald Welten's seed farm outside of Gilroy was very rich in information regarding the varieties trialed. Steve chose a number of red and green summer cabbages, kales, and cauliflowers, including standard hybrids as well as both recently developed and heirloom open-pollinated (OP) varieties,  to grow side by side. His goal was to measure how well the OPs stacked up next to the hybrids, and to seek and promote under-utilized varieties which might be valuable for organic market growers. 

The site chosen was advantageous in that the farmer, Ronald Welten, is an experienced seed grower who appreciates the need for trialing crops. He gains valuable insights from the trial himself, and is willing to commit time and effort into tending the plots. This is the kind of cooperation upon which we depend. 

There were disadvantages to the site and to the timing of the trial, as well. The soil here is not especially rich, the land is sloped,  there were problems with the irrigation, and the season of planting was perhaps too late and hot, leading to a fairly severe aphid infestation. However, these "disadvantages" offer greater insights into the performance of the trialed varieties under stress, and that is how we can really see which varieties may offer valuable adaptations in the face of our changing environment. Most varieties will do well in a perfect situation. We want to learn which do best when the going gets tough!

Aphids on Integro, June 16th.

Steve studies crop progress, June 16th
While Steve is willing to do a lot of the work involved, these trials are run all around the region, and he can't personally take care of every aspect. This farm is about an hour away, which makes frequent visits costly. We continue to seek organic farmers within a 100 mile radius of our San Mateo, California home with whom to work. Anyone interested in either hosting trials or in cooperating in other aspects of growing open pollinated, organic seed in the area can contact Steve:

After the harvest at the field day on July 12th (73 days after transplanting seedlings into the field) heads were cut in half, measured, and photographed. Samples were kept for a tasting, and the remainder were krauted.  

The green cabbage results were covered in an earlier post. In this post I will report on the results of the red cabbage comparisons, including field characteristics, susceptibility to aphids, yields, as well as flavor and texture. The six red cabbages trailed are presented in no particular order.

  Red Summer Cabbage Trial Results 

Super Red 80 F-1 is available as conventionally grown seed from Johnny's Selected Seeds. It is a modern F-1 hybrid which was developed by Sakata Seeds. Super Red 80 was very consistent. It did suffer from moderate aphid pressure, but had a high percentage of marketable heads. Some early heads were 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. Later on many heads were 3 1/2 to 4. This is a clear standard, and sets the bar for open pollinates breeding to match. It had a very mild but pleasant flavor. Super Red 80 is perfectly round and tightly packed, epitomizing what we want to see. Nevertheless, the core is proportionately a bit large.

Super Red 80 F-1

Amarant is a modern OP in the public domain. It's a red cabbage which comes organically grown from the Biodynamic seed company, Turtle Tree Seeds. This is one of our favorites from the trial, with an especially beautiful stainless steel sheen to the leaves. Amarant develops a reliable, dense head; slightly ovoid and rock-hard, with a large percentage of marketable heads of a rich red-violet hue. It was very early and suffered very little from the aphids. There was a fairly wide range of sizes, from 1 1/2 to over 5 lbs, which could be considered either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on marketing needs. Amarant's luminous beauty is more than skin deep. It has a mild, slightly peppery, pleasant flavor and a crunchy, juicy texture.  Amarant is a truly terrific open-pollinated variety. This is one we intend to improve by selection, propagate, and offer in the near future.


Red Acre is an old reliable OP in the public domain. We obtained it as organically grown seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. This is an attractive red cabbage, with the lowest amount of aphid damage of all the red varieties. It has moderately small heads around 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs. Red Acre's inner color was an unusual glowing bright lilac. It is crisp and juicy, with mild sweetness and a slight nasturtium taste. Enjoyable eating! However, this Red Acre head did not fill out well. It was asymmetrical and suffered some cold damage from refrigerated storage on the top. A disappointment, but possibly an anomaly. Worth another is quite unique.

Mammoth Red Rock is a beautiful heirloom from Seed Saver's Exchange, which used to sell conventionally grown seed of this OP variety in their catalog. Now it is only listed in the yearbook, offered by individual growers. It was the latest maturing of all the cabbages in the trial, and had moderate aphid damage. At time of harvest (mid-July) 50% of the heads were still immature from a March 31st transplant date. Mammoth Red Rock offers attractive oval heads of 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 lbs. It has a spicy, cabbagey flavor and average texture. The heads of Mammoth Red Rock are very dense and tight, but it had the longest core length in the trial. Nevertheless it shows promise, and will be planted again in a fall/winter trial.

Integro is an F-1 hybrid owned by Bejo Seeds. It came to us as organically grown seed from High Mowing. In the field, Integro gets a big thumbs down. In one of the two reps there were no harvestable heads by the date of harvest. Those few which did mature were about two weeks later than Early Bird. They had a medium to heavy aphid infestation. Integro has an attractive deep red-violet roundish head weighing 2 to 3 1/2 lbs. Integro's internal profile in this individual we sampled was oddly triangular. The heads are fairly dense, but the core is a bit large. It was notably dry and flavorless. 

Integro F-1

Red Express is another modern OP which has most recently been selected and improved by farmer/breeder Nash Huber. It is available from Nash's Organic Produce. Red Express was very early, just a few days after Early Bird. It had low aphid pressure, and the heads were relatively small at around 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. Red Express heads are bright red-violet, spherical, and rock-hard. The texture was quite hard and dry, with a sweet mild flavor that is slightly peppery. Nash has another clear winner in Red Express!

Red Express

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Organic Seed Alliance Brassica Field Trial~Green Cabbages


The Organic Seed Alliance, a non-profit advocacy and educational organization with which Steve works, ran a sizable brassica field trial this year at the Ronald Welten Farm outside Gilroy, California. Fourteen cabbage, thirteen cauliflower and twelve kale varieties were planted side by side, with two replications of each. The crops were observed, measured, and tasted. This post will concentrate on the results of the green cabbage trial. The red cabbages will be covered in a separate post, and later I will also cover the other varieties.

OSA seed expert Jared Zystro met us at the site early to prepare for the field day.

Signage was added to to facilitate the tour.

Steve and Jared have worked closely for several years, and together they make a great team! They had an attentive audience for the event.


 Green Summer Cabbage Trial Results

In no particular order, here are each of the cabbages, comparing such field characteristics as the amount of aphid damage, the number of marketable heads, size, and weight, as well as the consumer traits such as appearance, density, texture, and flavor. Seeds were planted on February third, and transplanted into the field on March 31st. Heads were harvested on the field day, July 12th (73 days after transplanting). They were stored in a refrigerator and cut open on August first.

Primax, offered as organically grown seed by High Mowing Seeds, is a modern open-pollinated (OP) variety in the public domain. Primax was notable in that every head in one of the two replications was of marketable size. Most heads were 1 1/2 to 2 lbs, although one head weighed in at almost 4 lbs. It seemed particularly consistent for an OP. Primax made nice oval heads which varied in terms of density. Tasting this after three weeks in cold storage, we found it to be rather watery, with a sweet turnip flavor and overtones of nasturtium.

Early Bird, from Turtle Tree Seeds, is a product of European Biodynamic breeding. It is a modern OP in the public domain. This seed is organically and Biodynamically grown. Early Bird was five days earlier than the next varieties, and was remarkably free of aphids. It might be a desirable variety in terms of earliness, but the heads were unusually small. Early Bird makes petite, oval heads of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 lbs, although there was a single large exceptional head of over 4 lbs amongst them (not this one). It had a good texture: crisp and juicy, and was very mild, with little flavor. Early Bird is oval, extremely dense, and early. It could be planted more densely to boost the meager yield.

Golden Acre came to us from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which offers organically grown seeds of this heirlom OP. Golden Acre was Steve's favorite of all the green cabbages based on its field performance. It was one of the earliest, harvestable only a few days after Early Bird. It had the least amount of aphids out of the whole trial. A very high percentage of the heads were nicely formed and marketable. This is a beautiful heirloom which he intends to offer in the future. Golden Acre heads tend to be larger than the average in this trial, producing a range of from two to nearly six pounds. It offers attractive roundish, reasonably tightly packed, firm heads. It had a good texture, and a mildly sweet, slightly cabbagey flavor. 

Capture is an F-1 hybrid bred by Bejo Seeds. It is offered as organically grown seed by High Mowing. Capture is a very consistent, much bigger cabbage, 2 1/2 lbs and up, with most running 6 to 7 lbs. It matures 2 to 3 weeks later than Early Bird. It was fairly susceptible to aphids. Capture's heads are slightly flattened. When cut open, the interior of Capture seems less tightly filled out than optimal. Very dry, squeaky to the tooth, with a soapy off-flavor and peppery aftertaste. Not a favorite!

Early Flat Dutch was procured from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange as conventionally grown seed. It is an heirloom OP. Early Flat Dutch was particularly affected by aphids, which apparently found it delicious. Unfortunately, our tasters did not. It should be noted that this is really a fall/winter variety, and so did not perform up to its potential. Early Flat Dutch made large, flattened heads, averaging just over 3 lbs. It had a flavor generally characterized by the tasters as "nasty": dry, bitter radish, off-taste. Early Flat Dutch was a disappointment. The heads were not well filled out, and had frozen in storage. It might have needed more time, or performed better later in the season. Steve intends to trial it again in a later trial.

Farao F-1 Is a modern hybrid, owned by Bejo Seeds. It is available as organically grown seed from High Mowing. Farao had moderate to light pressure from aphids. It had relatively consistent, fairly small heads, which matured two weeks later than Early Bird. As expected from a hybrid, this was very uniform. Some early heads weighed 1 1/2 lbs, but most of the heads averaged 3 lbs. Farao offered consistent spherical heads. They have a mild cabbage flavor. Farao is an excellent hybrid. We are looking to measure up to this with open-pollinated varieties.

Copenhagen Is an heirloom OP, available as organically grown seed from High Mowing. Copenhagen has a rounded head that is larger (2-3 lbs.) than most of these summer cabbages. It had fairly light aphid damage, and matured three weeks later than Early Bird. Copenhagen heads are large and firm; 2 to nearly 4 lbs.  Its eating quality was low: watery, lacking flavor, and not crisp. Copenhagen looks promising, from a field and marketing view, but the flavor and texture need improvement. 

Columbia is the result of long-time organic produce and seed grower Nash Huber's efforts at his farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It is a modern OP in the public domain, available from Nash's Organic Produce. Columbia is a particularly attractive cabbage, with low aphid pressure, and firm round heads, many of which present an attractive rose blush. It matures about two weeks after Early Bird. Columbia heads are perfectly spherical, and weigh in at 1 1/2 to nearly 3 lbs. It was crisp and juicy, with a mild sweetness and no peppery aftertaste. Columbia is one of the best of the green OP varieties. It is very solid and hard. It is as good or better than the green hybrids trialed.

In summation, there were several instances of open-pollinated breeding measuring up to the standard hybrid market varieties. Especially notable is the work of long-time produce farmer and seedsman Nash Huber. It is clear that OP breeding, if done with care and perseverance, can equal or surpass the best hybrids have to offer. It is also obvious that the work is just beginning. The seeds of the future are in the hands of determined farmers of today, who are called upon to steward the best of our genetic heritage into a future we can barely imagine. We are at the beginning of a seed revolution now!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Working Together To Build The California Seed Network

Please note: the list of our seeds for sale is on the blog entry made just before this one, entitled 2015 Seed List. Most varieties are still available.

Working Together To Build The California Seed Network

Seed rEvolution Now and Organic Seed Alliance make a great team! A lot of work has been happening over the past year, as we empower farmers and educate people about open-pollinated seeds. Here are some of the highlights of that effort. You'll see that Steve and his allies have been very busy!

EcoFarm Conference at Asilomar

This past January, at the EcoFarm Conference at Asilomar in Carmel, California, Steve had the opportunity to put together a presentation to lay out his dream of a coordinated network of organic seed growers.

Steve Peters of Organic Seed Alliance and Seed rEvolution Now

The Pre-Conference, entitled Cultivating Organic Seed Stewardship, was well attended, and the participants hungry for information. The expert panel was happy to oblige.

Jared Zystro of the Organic Seed Alliance

Rowen White of the Sierra Seed Cooperative
Tim Van Wagner of First Rain Farm
Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds and Family Farmers Seed Cooperative
Aaron Dinwoodie of Tunitas Creek Ranch

Permaculturist Benjamin Fahrer
Our friend Benjamin served as scribe for the meeting.

The day sped by, as the group delved deep into the complex issues around protecting, preserving, and improving our genetic crop heritage.

Even the breaks were filled with lively discussions!

We are so grateful to our dear friend Ken Dickerson (at left, with Benjamin Fahrer). As Executive Director of the Ecological Farming Association, which presents the EcoFarm Conference each year, his encouragement and support of the seed work is invaluable. Everything comes down to the people who get the vision and do the work!

During the Conference, Steve was interviewed by Greenhorns; another opportunity to get the message out. 

Later during the three-day conference, OSA presented a California Seed Stakeholders meeting, attended by folks both new to and old hands at seed saving. 

Jared Zystro organized the meeting to maximize participation, with each person placing post-its of their main concerns in different areas. Yes, that's eco-warrior Gary Nabhan in attendance. He has a long history of involvement with traditional seeds, and was one of the founders of Native Seeds/SEARCH.

California Seed Summit in Sacramento

Continuing the momentum from EcoFarm, in February OSA organized the first California Organic Seed Summit. This event was organized by Jared Zystro, Steve Peters, Rowen White, Kalan Redwood, Benjamin Fahrer, and Leyla Cabugos.

This was a two day gathering of over 30 seed enthusiasts, growers and small seed companies, sharing their common passion for seed with the intention of strengthening our local and diverse seed systems. 

Held at the beautiful Rudolf Steiner College near Sacramento, the venue helped to inspire a successful meeting. Wonderful participants inspire hope for a fertile future! The take-home action points include:
1) Creating a crop and seed database
2) Marketing with an emphasis on education
3) Developing a code of ethics, including transparency
4) Establishing connections, including field days

Sierra Seed Seva Workshops on San Juan Ridge

Dynamic seedster Rowen White has created a model of bioregional seed sovereignty with the Sierra Seed Cooperative. Steve was invited to bring some of his experience to the budding seed sevas. It is always wonderful to help inspire young, energetic farmers...they inspire us!

Fundamentals of On-Farm Seed Production in Sebastapol

Steve and Jared taught a class on seed production in Sebastapol which was very enthusiastically received. This was an all-day, somewhat more advanced workshop. A group there, headed by Sara McCamant, maintains a seed garden on the grounds of a local church. This is the town where Luther Burbank did his seed work, and folks there still understand how important it is to maintain the legacy.

Beet Seed Security in Pescadero  

Stripping seed from mature beet plants, done over 1/4" hardware screen for rough cleaning.

When our friends at Fifth Crow Farm couldn't find seed for their favorite beet variety, Steve helped them learn to use their last harvest to produce fresh seed.

Seed drying in greenhouse after preliminary field cleaning (scalping).

 Seventy-five roots produced about 60 lbs. of clean seed; enough to market as well as plant. Now they know how to have seed forever!

Corn Freedom in Solano County

 Restauranteur Matthew Engelhart contracted Steve to find a suitable corn for making tortillas and tamales for his successful Gracias Madres restaurant in San Francisco. He grows much of the produce used in the Cafe Gratitude chain of vegan eateries owned by his wife Terces and him.

Along with this photo, Matthew sent an urgent text message: "Houston, we have a problem!" Happily, the plants' ascent peaked at 15 feet. They produced abundant ears of large white kernels prized by the Mexican chefs.

Now Be Love Farm can produce their own great corn for Gracias Madres' great tamales...and over time, select for the attributes that make it even better suited to their specific needs.

Trialing Carrots in Gilroy

Nash and Patty Huber, long-time organic seed growers from the Olympic Peninsula, were in California for the EcoFarm Conference. While here they visited one of Ronald Welten's fields to see (and taste!) how their Rumba carrot stacks up against other Nantes varieties in an OSA trial Steve and Jared ran.

Comparing Colored Carrots in Panoche

Seedsman Grant Brians at his family's farm in Hollister. Grant owns Gourmet Seeds International, as well as running an organic produce business. He also farms acreage in the Panoche Valley, in the wilds of southern San Benito County.

USDA carrot breeder Phil Simon was thrilled to see how his varieties of orange, yellow, purple and red carrots performed in an OSA trial held at this isolated commercial vegetable farm. 

More Carrot Trials in Panoche

Carrots thrive in sandy loams like this, but hot, dry, and windy conditions can be challenging. The combination makes this an ideal place to run a trial. Plants that do well here exhibit the qualities farmers will need to cope with climate change.

Seed Grow-Outs in From the Coast

Commercial cauliflower seed production, snap pea seed increase, and a garbanzo trial are being conducted by enterprising farmer Ryan Casey and his good dog Lucky of Blue House Farm in the lovely Pescadero Valley. Steve is trying to find growers within about 100 miles of San Francisco with whom he can work. The range of climates within that area is staggering!

Sharing Seeds in Sunol

Krysten, a farmer at the Ag Park at the Sunol Water Temple, will be making a seed selection for heat tolerance of Steve's Tender Early Green Broccoli. She can still use it as a market crop, which makes the project doable for this small-scale grower.

Preserving Heirlooms in Corralitos

Steve shows off valued open-pollinated seeds to Zea Sonnabend and Shane Murphy of Fruitilicious Farm. They will be growing rare snap beans for evaluation and seed increase, and trialing several bunching carrot varieties.

Trials, Multiplication, and Commercial Production in Aromas

Farmer Robert Brunet is an enthusiastic seedsman who worked for the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association in Monterey County (ALBA) before starting his own farm. He's growing broccoli seed to sell, Swiss chard and snap peas to increase seed stocks, and trialing snap beans and various brassicas.

Extensive Trials and Seed increase at Sunol

Seedsman Aaron Dinwoodie will be growing out and fresh-marketing almost the entire Seed rEvolution Now inventory (please see our previous post for the list). He's growing these along with other rare, yet promising, open-pollinated crop varieties at the Ag Park. The warmer conditions in Sunol will give us an idea of how these crops perform away from the coast. It is also an ideal place to increase okra and beans.

Breeding For Climate Change in Shively

Hidden away behind the Redwood Curtain, a fortuitous bend in the Eel River has created the fertile Shively Flats. Farmer Bill Reynolds settled here over thirty years ago.

 Bill has worked with OSA plant breeders and with seedsman Steve Peters for much of that time, developing plant varieties which must have strong root systems in order to thrive on his unirrigated land. Dark Star Zucchini, which he bred, clearly demonstrates the value of a keen eye and careful stewardship in mass selections.

 At Full Belly Farm, Steve brings seed grower Bill Reynolds together with farmers to discuss how their agronomic needs  may be met.

Steve and Bill have been working on plant breeding together for well over twenty year. With several successful projects already accomplished (see our earlier blog entries on Shiraz Tall-Top Beet and Dark Star Zucchini for more details), they are looking ahead to make new selections of stronger, more drought tolerant crops to help organic famers thrive in an uncertain climatic future.

For more information about any of these on-going projects, or to learn about how you might work with Seed rEvolution Now, please call Steve Peters at 505-660-3933, or email him at