Almost 10 years ago, NOFA released a series of handbooks on organic principles and practices. These were compact affordable books written by experienced farmers that gave solid introductions to poultry production, seed saving, crop rotation and more. I devoured these books.
NOFA-NY recently published a book that follows in the previous handbook series’s steps: Breeding Organic Vegetables A Step-by-Step Guide For Growers by Rowen White and Bryan Connolly. (Available from NOFA-NY or download it here.)
This book brings crop improvement and breeding to the garden/farm.
The first 3 chapters are a cursory review of seed saving: the why, the history, and the basics. These chapters set the context for what follows.
Chapter 4: Step-by-Step Crop Improvement brings us into the heart of the matter. Rowen and Bryan present 9 easy-to-follow steps that will not only let you strengthen a plant’s tolerance to all kinds of stresses including “diseases, insect pests, weeds, drought, heat, cold and variable soils” but also breed for color, shape, size and taste!
These steps start logically with where you are and what crop you want to work with, then setting your project goals and making a plan to achieve these goals. Next, you carry out the plan and evaluate. Finally you repeat annually until your crop is improved.
Rowen and Bryan state that “achieving these objectives often takes many years, but in jut a year or two a grower can often see measurable improvements in seed stock and plants.”
Chapter 5: Grower Breeder Recipes for Better Vegetables demonstrates how five growers have improved their crops. These profiles illustrate what is possible from cold hardy beets and arugula to dwarf blue sweet corn.
The book ends with a number of appendices. Appendix F covers breeding approaches to different species in the major crop families.
Just under 100 pages, this book is a quick read. It is a simple yet thorough introduction to what can be a complex topic. Once you get through Breeding Organic Vegetables I doubt you’ll be able to resist running out to the garden and improving all sorts of crops.