Fit for the West
Post updated 4/13/2021 to highlight some of our more recent exciting work.
At Snake River Seed Co-op, we take pride in offering varieties that grow well in our unique corner of the earth...places where temperatures can fluctuate 80 degrees in 24 hours, with caliche and raging winds and parsed-out irrigation water, and intrepid gardeners who brave it all for the singular satisfaction of a fresh-from-the-garden meal. While its obvious that all the seeds in our packets will grow here--we know they will grow here because they, um, grew here, and that's why they're in the packets--but there's a bit more to the story of how specific varieties find their ways into our catalog. We employ 3 basic strategies to trial and adapt varieties:
1. We Know You Can, But Who's The Best? We trial varieties of things we know we can grow here to see how they stack up against each other, and select the best performing varieties for our area to grow out for seed and offer to our community. Check out these beauties, which are some of the winners of our trials over the years...
Emerald Gem Melon Winner of our 2014 heirloom melon trials in the EARLY melon category. In this trial, we planted 15 orange heirloom melon varieties and assessed how each performed in the field (i.e. Did they crack? Did they ripen before frost? Did they slip well when ripe or offer other visual clues as to ripeness? Were they disease resistant?). Then came the fun part--taste tests for the varieties who performed well in the field!
In the MAIN SEASON melon category, the winner was Hearts of Gold , with over 90% of taste testers choosing it as their favorite. In 2015 we started growing these varieties in isolation for seed production and both have won huge followings in the years since.
Giant Musselburgh Leeks Won the 2015/16 overwintered leek trials. We were looking for leeks that sized up nicely, had decently long shanks, and then survived the winter well to provide delicious food through the April following their planting, as well as produce seed! Some varieties, like Lincoln, won our hearts in the fresh eating category but sucked at overwintering in Idaho, so they took a backseat to the wonderful heirloom Giant Musselburgh.
Blacktail Mountain Watermelon Was actually bred in Idaho by now-famous plant breeder Glenn Drowns, and indeed, in our 2012 watermelon trials, Blacktail was the most successful of all. Over all the years we've saved seeds from it, it is becoming more adapted to our climate each year! This was the first variety Drowns bred--when he was 14 years old in northern Idaho!
Tuxana Sweet Corn With some crops it's especially tough for open-pollinated varieties to compete with hybrids. Sweet corn is one of those crops. Tuxana, bred by organic seed grower Jonathan Spero, holds its own among the sweetest and crisp-est of hybrid favorites. It even earned co-op grower Seedster a Grand Champion medal at the Canyon County fair in 2015! Just to make sure it still pulled its weight, we did another trial of several open-pollinated sweet corns in 2017, and Tuxana won again!
Prize Pac Choi Another example of an open-pollinated variety that can hold its own against the hybrids. Co-op grower Earthly Delights Farm has trialed it against several hybrids for their CSA and Prize takes the prize every year!
2. Who Says You Can't Grow That Here? We trial varieties of things that seem marginal to grow here (judging by the fact that you don't see them offered hardly at all at local farmers markets and most farmers and gardeners don't grow them) and see if any of the varieties perform well enough to warrant our attention and care, and then we work to select them year after year so they perform better in our area. Here are a few examples:
Mizspoona Succulent spring greens are notoriously hard to grow in the high desert, where our hot early summers just annihilate anything leafy. This superb mild mustard green, bred by Frank Morton, is a cross between Mizuna and Tatsoi, and where both Mizuna and Tatsoi bolt almost immediately here, Mizspoona stays supple and tasty for weeks longer!
Rare Grains Over the years, several of us have been becoming more and more obsessed with grains for small-scale production and consumption. We have done many different trials of of lesser-grown grains, including Teffs, Sorghums, Millets, Rices, and Amaranths, as well as varieties of more common grains that are well-suited to small-scale organic production. Several rockstars came out of these trials that show real promise for seed/grain production in Idaho, including this Finger Millet, Eleusine coracana. Check out our grain offerings for the expanding selection of high-desert-appropriate grains!
Alice Elliot Okra During our 2017 okra trial, I can't count the number of folks who said, "You can grow okra here?" Indeed you can! It might not grow over your head like it would in the southeast, but it does produce a hefty crop of pods! Alice Elliot was a standout variety in that trial.
3. Only the Tough Survive We de facto trial varieties by seeing how they respond to specific challenges and pressures in our fields, and save seeds off those plants that can hack the tough conditions on our low-input, organically-managed farms. Here are a few of the tough contenders:
Payette Tomato One of the few varieties that survived the massive curly top virus outbreak of 2015. Incidentally, it was initially bred to have curly top resistance. Payette also survived a bad late blight outbreak in 2020, and continues to be one of the toughest and most disease-resistant varieties we grow!
Rainbow Chard Sometimes its not about the variety itself, but it's the variation within a population that allows for resilience. Since chard is a biennial, we only can save seeds off plants that overwinter. Lucky for us, this highly variable variety provides enough diversity that some plants are able to survive and set seed. As we keep planting these seeds, we are seeing higher percentages of plants survive our winters and go on to produce seeds. In 2015, around 10% of our chard plants overwintered at Earthly Delights Farm. Each year since, a higher percentage of plants have overwintered. In 2019, around 30% of plants overwintered. Slowly but surely, we are adapting this variety to the Intermountain West!
Sierra Batavia Lettuce Growers Affinity Farm offer this variety to the co-op because it stands up to one of the quintessential challenges of Idaho agriculture: can it sit in the field without bolting? In this case, yes! Sierra is one of the slowest bolting varieties in our collection, offering succulent, crisp leaves well into the summer!
Thanks for visiting! We take pride in offering field-tested and toughened varieties to give Intermountain West gardeners a leg-up in their gardening efforts. Every variety in our catalog has a unique and interesting story of how we decided to include it. Thanks for taking the time to read about some of them, and thanks for supporting our efforts by choosing Snake River Seed Co-op seeds for your garden! Here's wishing you a bountiful harvest!