Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: P is for...


...Potato

The day after our Food Bloggers' day in Oxford, a few of us got together for a more detailed session on tomato and potato plant breeding with Tom Wagner (pictured left alongside Vicki of the Heritage Seed Library) of Tater Mater. Today I'm concentrating on the potato part of the workshop and the above picture shows a small selection of Tom's new varieties, which Patrick will be growing back home in Amsterdam. As you can see, there's an amazing variety, all seeking to increase the different characteristics (or genetic resources aka germplasm) available to future plant breeders.

Tom has crossed hundreds of different potatoes to produce new ones. In order to do this he has selected potatoes with a tendency to produce berries - the seed capsules sometimes seen on potato plants - in addition to their more usual tuber production. As the seed is the product of a cross pollination made by Tom, the seeds will take on characteristics from both parents - unlike the tubers which will be an exact copy of the parent plant. From these seeds, further crosses may be made or further generations of seed produced until Tom has a stable line that he is happy with. The pictured potatoes are some of these and he has made tens of thousands of crosses.

In addition to berrying, Tom is also selecting for a number of other positive characteristics in his crosses. Flavour is one, as is improved nutrition, particularly in the production of anthocyanins (often seen in red and blue/black skinned potatoes and thought to have anti-cancer properties) and higher mineral content. He's also produced varieties with shorter cooking times and longer keeping qualities. Blight resistance of course is a bit of a holy grail at the moment, particularly with the recent emergence of a new vigorous strain of late blight - Blue-13 - which has already seen some of the traditionally resistant varieties such as Cara, succumb in this country.

Tom is an independent plant breeder and has spent the last couple of months touring Europe to spread the word about his life's work. Whilst in this country he also visited the Sarvari Research Trust who are responsible for trialling and introducing the new blight resistant varieties we've seen on sale recently, such as Sarpo Axona and Sarpo Mira. It'll be interesting to see if anything comes out of his visit, particularly as some of the pictured potato varieties Tom has bred - e.g. Pam Wagner - have good blight resistance.

Tom is very keen his work has a much wider uptake and is providing materials to kick start projects. I'm happy to say that I'm the lucky recipient of some of these and so I'll be growing potatoes for Tom next year - as part of my Incredible Edibles strand - and sending him any seed the potatoes produce. In order to spread the risk over a number of plots and thus increasing the likelihood that one of us at least will get a decent crop, I'll be getting my allotment friends to help out next year. Threadspider's already volunteered without me needing to ask her :)

For more Perfect P's, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

24 comments:

  1. Wow, I didn't know there was so much to know about potatoes. Very interesting information.
    Happy potatoe growing to you.

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  2. Great P. I live in potato country myself: we have a spud festival every year and a potato fair every four to five years. The potato price in the Netherlands is actually set in the town I live in!

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  3. Very interesting stuff here, VP. I wish we could join in, like Threadspider, you wouldn't even have to ask. I love your late Dahlias too. David Howard is a scrumptious color. I have Karma Choc, a dark beauty. Thanks too for interacting at the biscuit club. :-)
    Frances

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  4. Well, I never realized there was so much to know about potatoes either. And this is a very interesting post! Thanks for the info!

    Sylvia

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  5. Fascinating, VP! I read a biography about Luther Burbank several months ago, and I thought he had already perfected the potato. But, of course, there's always room for improvement. The blight seems to be like flu viruses--always mutating to cause new problems for us. Congratulations on getting to participate in the research!

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  6. Oops, I forgot to congratulate you, too, on your second blogaversary! I'm always amazed, VP, by your faithfulness in posting and coming up with fascinating and informative posts day after day. Looking forward to another year of entertaining reading!

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  7. Very interesting post. I live in the US state known for potatoes. That doesn't mean I know anything much about them, though! I wish you success next growing season.

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  8. I didn't know there's so much variety of potatoes! It's something the whole family enjoy and I like to add potatoes in my cooking.

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  9. Snap - we both picked a vegetable for our P post :) Some glorious names there. Will be interested to hear how you fare with Tom's potatoes next year.

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  10. I grew up in potato country in Idaho so I have a fondness. . .and not I've added all the new varieties and colors to my list of 'yum.' Thanks for sharing!

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  11. Fantastic, VP! Thank heavens for people like Tom who are willing to work away to save our vegetable diversity on their own, and for people like you who are willing to publicize his efforts and trial his potatoes!

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  12. I'd love to be able to try some of those new varieties. Potatoes are a huge crop here in the Annapolis Valley.

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  13. As you know, I am very excited to be potato trialling next year. I thought I would offer them a south facing slope, sheltered from cold east winds....and I have already treated their snuggly bed with horse manure.They might even get some organic potato fertiliser next spring too. Just hope they grow!

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  14. We do cooking trials in our family . . . mainly because one family member is interested to know which are the best for chips.

    This week we are eating Cara. (They crumble in the saucepan if you don't keep an eye on them. Frying pan too. So the family critic isn't entirely satisfied.)

    I've mentioned you ar Esther's Boring Garden Blog today. Hope that's ok.

    Esther

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  15. Ooh I LOVE spuds - it's good to know the number of varieties isn't shrinking as it is in other vegetables and fruit.

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  16. I LOVE potatoes in all its different incantations. Better go eat now.

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  17. Really good stuff - thanks so much. We grow a number of different kinds here and Rooster was my favourite of last year. do you need any more volunteers for the trial? does it matter if they live in Wales? would love to take part if the answers are yes and no respectively.

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  18. Good to know that someone is trying to improve blight resistance. I love the look of blue/ dark types and would love to grow more, but have not found them to give particularly good yields or to to have good disease resistance. In fact, I'm thinking of only growing earlies next year and giving the plot a bit of a rest in the hope that we can avoid blight altogether.

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  19. Perfectly fascinating information about potatoes. I had no idea. And my state is known for 'spuds'. Wonder if we have such a plethora of types. I'll have to check. Pithy post!

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  20. I like the small new potatoes you can boil in their skins.

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  21. Potatoes got a bad reputation from the dieting industry for awhile, but they seem to be back in a big way. As a dietitian, I'm glad to hear it! Interesting post.

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  22. Thanks for your comments everyone - I'm particularly pleased to see those from people from the potato growing areas - perhaps you might be able to spread the word about Tom's work?

    Elizabethm - at the moment I have some small potatoes which I could send to you. But it might depend on how they survive the winter.

    Esther - I'm assuming the potato tester and family critic are one and the same? I've got a lovely image of you all in the kitchen, with your elbows on the table, solemly assessing whether Cara's up to the job!

    Colleen - most people up at our allotment only grow earlies because late blight's so bad up there. I tried a blue spud this year and also got low yields, but it could have been because of the pot I was testing.

    A couple of points were made at the workshop re blue spuds:

    They can be quite hard to find when digging them up as they can look similar to stones or the surrounding soil.

    Some of the blue fleshed varieties will probably not be that popular as we have a natural aversion to blue coloured food owing to our primeval memories telling us that blue food = food that's gone off.

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  23. Verdict? Nothing yet has come up to the Wilja potatoes Didcott grew as earlies, either for flavour or all round usefulness.

    Esther

    WV is liker . . . we liker the wilja better than the rest (er).

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  24. Interesting. Wilja's one of the main potato varieties for sale at the farm shops around here (who get their supplies locally), yet I don't think I've seen them for sale in other shops.

    I saw Wilja seed potatoes for sale at the market when we were in Bruges :)

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