Behind the Scenes of the High Mowing Organic Seeds' Vegetable Breeding Work - Interviews with the people who make it happen.
Tom Stearns, President & Founder
the scenes of our plant breeding are the two people who direct this
work, build relationships with public plant breeders, take detailed
notes, and organize taste tests to ultimately bring forth these exciting
new varieties. Both Jodi Lew-Smith and Heather Jerrett have worked at
High Mowing since 2003 and are a large reason for the success of our
company and for the high quality varieties that we offer. Last month
you had a chance to read about our breeding program through my interview
with Jodi Lew-Smith. This month I interviewed
Heather Jerrett, High Mowing Organic Seeds' Trials Manager about her role trialing and developing the unique varieties we offer.
Briefly describe the HMS trialing program.
"Our trialing program is used to identify new varieties,
control quality of existing varieties, as an educational tool for our
sales and marketing staff, and as a showcase for our customers."
role does Trials play in the breeding program, either early on in the
breeding process, throughout the process, at the end or in an ongoing
"Trials helps identify interesting new varieties that
catch the attention of Jodi in the breeding program. Jodi walks through
the trials every week and often notices varieties that are an interest
to her current or potential future breeding projects.
Also, in the Trials, we compare our HMS breeding lines
to the market standards of each crop type and to each other. Our new
sweet corn breeding program has given us test crosses in 2010 for
evaluating for many traits including tip fill, tip cover, husk cover,
kernel size and number of rows and plant height and yield, tassel
timing, maturity and, of course, flavor. These lines were all compared
to each other and to other market standards from multiple plantings and
throughout the season.
The earlier that Trials is able to check out our new
breeding lines, the sooner we get used to the projects and can see what
attributes that we are looking for. The more familiar Trials is with
the breeding projects the better we are able to identify varieties or
traits that Jodi might be looking for."
Describe a recent taste test that you have done. How does it work and what do you do with the info?
few weeks ago we did a butternut taste test with 17 different
varieties. These varieties included the HMS breeding lines, the current
varieties that we carry, other market standards, and a few new
varieties available from other seed companies that we work with. The
breeding lines were all grown in the breeding plot and the others were
grown in the Trials. All varieties were cubed in same size, using the
same part of each squash because different sections of the squash (i.e.
neck or seed cavity) have different flavor. They were then steamed in
the oven in individual tin foil pouches for 20 minutes. Then they were
all given a number so that people didnít know which ones were ours
versus a competitor. Then they were evaluated on flavor, sweetness and
texture by HMS staff.
Everything is rated on a 1-5 scale and everyone is
encouraged to use the full scale in order to get a valuable spread of
the numbers. 5 is the best and 1 is the worst. All the tasters need to
get their palette used to what they are tasting before they get
started. Many people taste each variety a few times to compare with the
first time they tried it and alter their rating. After the taste test,
I collect the data sheets, enter everything into Excel, average the
scores for each variety and each category, and sort to see which variety
is on top. The info gets emailed out to all the staff and it is used
especially by the trials, sales and breeding staff. The information is
used for decisions regarding which new varieties to add, variety
descriptions, directions to go with the breeding and more. Taste is
just one part of variety selection for us, but it is very important.
All of this info is also used as an educational tool for
our staff. All the names are revealed at the end and sometimes I am
surprised by a variety that tasted differently than I would have
expected. A lot of it has to do with the timing of harvest and length
of storage and storage conditions. Because of that we like to do
replicated trials and multi-year trials. The flavor and nutritional
potential of a variety is 60% from the genetics and 40% from the
environment (soil type, rainfall, temp. etc). So evaluating under these
different conditions helps us to determine the varieties with the best
genetics or those that are widely adapted to different conditions. 17
people all tasted 17 varieties Ė I create spreadsheets that are compiled
for sweetness and texture of the squash."