A Broccoli for Organic Systems
One of my favorite projects in our work with the Organic Seed Partnership at Flanders Bay Farm involves the continued selection of an open-pollinated broccoli for organic systems. After three years of growing broccoli selected from a mass cross of varieties made by Jim Myers, who is a professor of plant breeding at Oregon State University, we may have finally gotten it right! Broccoli is not what one usually considers an organic sustainable crop for a number of reasons but this may change as the OSU Broccoli becomes progressively more adapted to our Long Island soils, climate and cultural practices. One of the most interesting aspects of this broccoli is it's resistance to disease and insect pests which makes it ideal for organic farms and gardens. In the three years of growing this broccoli we haven't had to use any kinds of pest or disease controls.
This years crop shows some of the variation in the population. It remains variable in it's maturity, something that we have not selected out. We like the idea that one planting will result in a harvest over many weeks. Perhaps not what corporate farms need, but ideal to the ability of small farms to meet the needs of their farmstand customers.
We continue to select for the "long neck" trait for ease of harvest. Also, that vase-like long stem is remarkably tender and sweet for a broccoli. Most people like the steamed stalk just as much as the florets.
The smaller plants in this photo and those with small heads will be pulled or rogued before they bloom as part of the selection process. If I see a head where there is a lack of uniformity in bead (flower buds) or symmetry or it has begun to bloom prematurely, out it comes. I want uniform small beads on an attractive head. I also want it to last in the field so I have a longer harvesting window. Out of 150 plants, we will save seed from less than half. There is still a lot of diversity in the OSU Broccoli and part of that is by choice, not concentrating on one trait. For example, I like the big heads that I've been getting this year (and some have been immense), but those larger heads seem to lose the long tender neck characteristic typical of the smaller flared heads that I really like too. So, I've let plants with both traits cross. I also get very early heads in 50 days from setting out plants in early May and I also have plants just beginning to head at 70 days from field planting and I like that ability for an extended harvest.
Here, Zak is working with the initial small planting of the OSU Broccoli in 2005. Germination was poor and we probably had less that 30 or 40 plants to work with. As we continue working with the OSU broccoli it just gets better and better. It seems more tolerant of the high temperatures we get in mid summer, still has remarkable insect resistance and is producing more usable heads and of a larger size. It is also easier to save the seeds of. I hear that already our northeast strain of the OSU broccoli differs from the northwest strain which has been selected by organic farmers in Oregon and Washington.