A Future Heirloom: Introducing Abundant Bloomsdale!
WE believe that when farmers and public seed breeders get together, amazing things happen. We think it's essential that organic farmers be involved with breeding projects because they are the end users – they know what it takes to make a high quality variety, and their input helps shape these varieties so that they thrive in organic conditions. Being part of a breeding project also helps put control over (and knowledge of) seed production back in the hands of farmers, where it belongs. Not only can farmers help breed varieties for particular regions or growing systems, but once they do, they have the knowledge to continue selecting for conditions on their farms. This is one of the primary reasons we support the development of improved, open-pollinated varieties.
Improved OP’s can in many cases offer the same quality and uniformity as hybrids, but at a fraction of the cost, and they have another important benefit: growers can save the seed and adapt the variety over time to thrive in their unique locations. This continued selection increases seed biodiversity and strengthens our food system as a whole. So, without further ado, we are pleased to introduce a new variety that meets all of these criteria - Abundant Bloomsdale spinach.
The Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is a non-profit based in Port Townsend, Washington that works to steward and advance organic seed resources. Their Heirlooms of Tomorrow program involves working with farmers to “breed new varieties and restore older varieties to the needs of organic farming and gardening.” The goal is to use older varieties to breed new ones that perform well in organic conditions and are broadly adaptable – meaning that they can continue to be selected to meet the needs of future farmers and generations.
Abundant Bloomsdale was created through Heirlooms of Tomorrow and developed through a participatory breeding team including Dr. John Navazio, the OSA and several farms in the Port Townsend, WA area. The goal of the project? To create a deep green OP spinach with savoyed leaves, high nutritional content and strong bolt-resistance. The breeders were also looking for a highly upright habit that would make the variety easy to harvest and versatile at all stages of growth, from babyleaf to bunching. Finally, the breeders hoped to create a variety specifically for the organic market, to help farmers and seed companies by providing an alternative to hybrid spinach varieties bred for conventional systems.
The variety was developed from a cross between a classic OP spinach variety, ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ and a variety with multiple disease resistances, ‘Evergreen’, bred by Dr. Teddy Morelock and released to the public in 2005. ‘Winter Bloomsdale’ provided the cold-hardy, deeply savoyed and sweet-tasting traits, while ‘Evergreen’ supplied resistance to damping off, white rust and downy mildew. The varieties first came together in a “strain cross”, where crosses were made between at least 15 different plants of each variety to retain as much genetic diversity from both parents as possible. The offspring were then grown out and allowed to pollinate freely, and this went on for five years. In this time, the only selection that took place was to remove diseased or weak plants.
In 2010 OSA teamed up with Midori Farm in Port Townsend to select the plants with the ideal characteristics: dark green, heavily-savoyed leaves, sweet flavor, and good disease resistance. Midori Farm is operated by Marko Colby and Hanako Myers, who grow about 5 acres of mixed organic vegetables and seed crops. According to Colby, "We got involved in the 'Abundant Bloomsdale' project because we had grown this variety from some seed a friend had given us and we really loved it. So we asked Micaela [Colley], the [executive] director of OSA, if they had any seed we could grow out for use on the farm."
It wasn’t long before OSA asked them to help finish the variety.
"Hanako and I were already interested in seed growing and growing some of our own seed for use on the farm, so it seemed like a really interesting project to be involved in. Plus, we are getting to select this already great variety of spinach for its ability to thrive on our farm. It will be better suited to our system than any other spinach out there," Colby explained.
After 5 years of interbreeding, 130 offspring of the original two varieties were selected as representatives and were allowed to pollinate freely at Midori Farm. Of these, seeds were saved from 67 female plants – what would become the “progeny families”, each getting its own row in which to grow in 2012. And finally, 5 of these “families” were chosen to be grown out in 2013 for final selections. The variety was released to the public in 2013—8 years after the project began—and just in time for the 10th anniversary of the Organic Seed Alliance!
Abundant Bloomsdale was developed with the support of OSA and Seed Matters and was released through the Open Source Seed Initiative, ensuring the variety will always be available for seed saving and adaptation. It is prized among eastern and western growers for its large, luxuriant leaves, sweet flavor, high nutritional content, upright stature, versatility, disease resistance, vigor and superior cold-hardiness. Abundant Bloomsdale was named for the Abundant Life Seed Foundation, a Port Townsend seed library whose offices burned the year the project began, but gave rise to the founding of OSA as a result!
Excited about organic breeding? Check out the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s Introduction to Organic Plant Breeding to learn more!