Seeking information about heritage potatoes

Are you growing different heritage potatoes? Would you like to share this information with other growers across Canada? Maybe you have a variety with an unusual story. Or one that is very frost tolerant. Or yields well in spite of drought. You can particpate by downloading our Heritage Potato Observation Form and recording information about it.

Super Sieglinde

New blog post by Richard Hebda about overwintering this yellow-fleshed potato in Saanich, BC.

Sieglinde tubers harvested in Saanich, BC

2.6 kg yield from a single Sieglinde plant, Saanich 2016

I have always enjoyed the versatile yellow-fleshed Sieglinde. This year I tried an experiment with tubers overwintered in the ground.  The winter was mild in Saanich, BC and tubers began to sprout in February. I dug them out, rinsed them clean, and replanted whole in well-drained raised beds, covered in horticultural fleece. The results were astounding!!

Read more…

Heritage potatoes available for spring planting

 

Ozette, Siberian, Pugh's, Slovenian

A taste of history.

Now is your chance to grow some Canadian Heritage Potatoes.

Choose from 22 different varieties, rarely available to home gardeners.  Ironwood Organics grower Chris Woodhouse has been growing heritage varieties of grain and potatoes on his farm in Eastern Ontario.  This year, he is making some of his favourite varieties available.

Variety list and more information is available here.

 

 

 

 

Crop-Climate Project

For climate-smart agriculture

Experimental Planting, Winlaw BC

Weather monitoring equipment directly in the field where crops are grown, Winlaw, BC

The Crop-Climate Project uses farmer-scientists in different regions of Canada to observe the growth of heritage varieties of potatoes and grains under different climatic conditions. We aim to document the importance of heritage varieties as part of a dispersed adaptation strategy in an era of climate change.

The problem:

  • Climate change is underway and threatens Canadian and global food security.
  • Heritage varieties are disappearing at an alarming rate.
  • Loss of genetic diversity in crops makes our food supply vulnerable to climatic variability.

 

Conserving heritage crops contributes to food security in an era of changing climates.

  • Canadian heritage crops are a major repository of genetic adaptation.
  • Some varieties likely have traits vital to adaptation in a changing climate.
  • Some varieties may be resistant to emerging diseases and insects.
  • As the climate warms, some varieties may grow well in currently marginal climates.

Heritage varieties provide adaptation options to farmers and Canadian society in the coming times of climatic uncertainty – but only if we conserve and observe them now.

Dispersed adaptation to climate change

Today’s food supply depends on very few varieties, mass-produced on industrial farms in conventional ways. This “few-eggs-in-a-few-baskets” approach works, but it puts the food supply at high risk to the unpredictable but certain-to-come extreme weather of the near future and already evident in parts of the world.
Like an insurance plan, dispersed adaptation spreads the risk.
Dispersed adaptation differs by taking advantage of the power of the “many eggs in many baskets” approach. Growing a diversity of varieties in many ways and places disperses the risk to climate uncertainty and extremes. It builds resilience and adaptation to change and lowers the risk of major crop failures.  It also encourages forward thinking and innovation by enabling communities to identify and develop varieties best suited to their local climate.

Plant many varieties – “many eggs”

Growers can reduce risk by planting many varieties and experimenting with different growing techniques.  For example, wheat yields diminish when extreme heat occurs during the flowering period.  A farmer can mitigate risk by planting several varieties that flower at different times; a heat wave might only affect one of the varieties.  Similarly, different varieties may be resistant to different diseases; an outbreak of a specific disease might only impact part of a diversified crop.

Collaborate widely – “many baskets”

The Crop-Climate Project engages growers across a range of climates in Canada’s regions to grow and observe growth and yield of promising heritage varieties while recording key weather variables. In this way, the project accumulates information about how varieties perform under differing conditions over many years. Using standard and accepted methods, the performance of heritage varieties can be compared across the country.  Observations will be compiled, analyzed and shared to increase opportunities for innovation and expand choices for all growers across Canada.

Why Potatoes?

Likely, Yukon Gold and Ozette potatoes

Likely, Yukon Gold and Ozette potatoes

Potatoes are one of the staple foods easily grown across Canada.  There are hundreds of heritage and modern varieties with different characteristics. We already know that some local varieties are very productive outside regions where they have been historically grown. Some may be well suited to climatic extremes.  Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about their climatic profiles and suitability; yet they are disappearing before we can learn about their potential.  For many heritage varieties, we lack even basic growth information such as how long it takes to yield a crop.

Why Observe Growth Stages (Phenology)?

Phenology is the study of the timing of seasonal changes in plants and animals and in particular the influence of variation in weather and climate on growth stages.  These key annual cycle events for plants include germination, flowering and fruit ripening.  For example many plant species and varieties now flower several days earlier than they did in the past at the same location. Phenology is considered an important indicator of climate change impacts. It is also a key indicator in the adaptability of heritage varieties to differences in the timing of climatic measures such as temperature and rainfall.

Farmers need to understand plant phenology and local climate in order to know when to plant to avoid frosts, when to harvest, as well as how weather affects the development of plant diseases and insects and insects. Understanding the progression of a variety through growth stages helps choose planting dates. Uncertainty in the timing of key climatic events indicators such as the accumulation of Growing Degree Days and the occurrence of extreme events such as high temperatures means that farmers are less able to predict the timing of life events of their crop plants. The timing of growth stages as indicators in general may also reveal the adaptability of varieties to climatic regions. Considering the importance of phenology, we know very little about the climatic profiles and suitability of heritage varieties.

Crop-climate project participants observe the timing of key growth stages in potatoes in different climates across Canada.  In this way, they contribute to the development of climatic profiles of heritage varieties and identify their suitability for different conditions. We hope that these observations will help future growers choose the best varieties for their locations and even identify varieties to grow outside traditional areas as climate zones shift.

Get Involved:  Farmers as Citizen Scientists

For thousands of years farmers have been the scientists. They selected and tested crop and farming methods, remembering successes and failures, passing experience on to others, saving successful heritage varieties. They were citizen scientists and we need them today.  There is so much to learn about so many varieties in so many places and so little time. Only by involving many growers can we gain and provide the vital knowledge for food security under shifting climates.