As the night-time temperatures continue to drop here in Northern Vermont, we’ve pretty much wrapped things up in our 4-acre Trials Garden. Once the crops are harvested, the cover crops planted and the fields cleaned up, it’s time to sit down to compile trials reports on all of the varieties we evaluated over the course of the season, drawing conclusions about yield, flavor, disease resistances and other variety characteristics.
This year, we planted over 84 different trials to evaluate over 600 different varieties. Some of our largest trials – in terms of number of varieties – were a field tomato trial with 16 varieties and a sweet bell pepper trial with 14 varieties. We also did a specialty greens trial looking at 25 assorted leaf and heading varieties for baby leaf or for bunching. Other trials were much more focused and had only a few varieties.
Our trials reports consist of:
- a series of observational comments taken on different dates, noting the performance, health, growth habit of the variety,
- an overall rank for the variety, averaging several rankings taken on different dates
- yield data taken over the course of the harvest period,
- taste test data (either informally noted in the field or formally taken during a staff taste test)
Once the trials reports are completed, we begin the process of planning new variety introductions and replacements for the next few years. This plan, called the Add-Drop Plan (because it guides which varieties will be added or dropped to our catalog in a given year) provides the outline for the coming year’s seed productions on the High Mowing Organic Seeds seed farm, as well as contracts with independent seed producers and purchases from wholesale seed companies.
During the growing season, we love having our fingers in the dirt and our hands on the plants. We love to work in response to the weather and to eat and share the fruits of our labor. This time of year, we get to reap the real fruits of our labor – conclusions and data! It’s almost as satisfying to geek out in front of a computer spreadsheet, drawing conclusions and planning for next year, as it is to eat red peppers. Really.