Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Organic heritage lettuce outperforms commercial counterparts

I love the organisation Garden Organic - I really do. (And I'm not getting paid to write this, either). People at G.O. have been such a support and inspiration for me, since I joined, and got into veg growing, just four years ago. I suppose I'm still a beginner, compared to many. At any rate I'm still learning lots. About life. Still making mistakes. Oh, and I'm learning about lettuce too.

Apart from a brief fling with 'Winter Density' - as far as lettuces are concerned so far I've stuck solidly to my Little Gems. They're the right size for a quick lunch.
But there are lots of other varieties out there to try. Charlotte at Garden Organic sent me these lovely photos. This one is called the 'George Richardson' lettuce - in honour of it's owner, who donated the seed to Garden Organic's Heritage Seed library after his death in 1997. Mr. Richardson had been growing the variety and saving its seed for over 60 years.
Garden Organic gives us a bit of background on this one, too. They say that:

'A collection of heritage lettuce varieties has outperformed their commercial counterparts in new findings by the UK’s leading organic growing charity.In research trials carried out by Garden Organic, funded by the EU, the charity found that twelve heirloom accessions from its Heritage Seed Library collection performed better than the next best commercial standard by showing greater ability at withstanding poor weather conditions and downy mildew, as well as the scrutiny of taste tests.

Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library, which has been protecting endangered vegetables under threat from extinction since the 1970s has a collection of over 800 vegetable varieties of which seed can no longer be bought. In this latest research, part of a EC-funded project aiming to stimulate the use of the genetic resources of European leafy vegetables, the organisation took lettuces from its own collection and trialled them against several commercially available ‘standard’ varieties to see which would show most promise against a range of criteria.

Despite the commercial lettuces being bred to withstand certain types of disease and weather conditions, a recurring top contender proved to be an heirloom Cos lettuce variety known as ‘George Richardson’. The lettuce, which was named after its owner, was donated to Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library after his death in 1997. Richardson had been growing the variety and saving its seed for over 60 years.

During the trials, in which infection levels of downy mildew (the most damaging disease to lettuce) were recorded, George Richardson was given a rating of 7.5 on a 1-9 scale, where 1 =100% infection and 9 = 0% infection. Only one other commercial variety narrowly beat this – the variety Kitare - with a score of 8. George Richardson also performed outstandingly on the taste panel, coming out well on top, with an average pleasantness score of 4.6 on a 1-5 scale, Kitare, incidentally scored only 2.

Convincingly, George Richardson also withstood frosts well, showing almost no damage to its leaves after a minus –5C frost.And it wasn’t just George Richardson, other lettuce varieties from the charity’s collection also did well including Bunyard’s Matchless, Bronze Arrow and Rouge D’Hiver.

Phil Sumption, Research Officer at Garden Organic, said,

“The research results were surprising and clearly showed the potential of heritage or landrace varieties. With climate change we need varieties that are robust and those from our Heritage Seed Library performed well under severe weather and disease pressure. Garden Organic is confident that there is potential for re-introducing some of the varieties or using them in breeding programmes in the future.”Ironically, last year’s particularly poor, wet weather, in which the charity’s Heritage Seed Library lettuces performed so well, almost led Garden Organic’s researchers to abandon the trials. However persistence paid off and the charity will now build upon the findings from this research by getting growers to trial the promising varieties by growing them on commercial holdings.

For more information on Garden Organic’s research please visit this link.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting research that isn't it, just shows that the new varieties don't have it all their own way.
    I'd posted a link up to it as well, lets hope folk are encouraged to read the research report.


Comments here. Thanks.