The great spud adventure, of course, begins in Prince Edward Island. We met with Raymond Loo, who gave us a fantastic history of his family’s potato breeding and selection efforts. He took us into his potato warehouse to show us his family’s Island Sunshine, and Island Sunset potatoes. They were selected to be resistant to late blight. I’ve grown them and love them. They are the result of real farmer-breeding efforts.
Heliotrust wants to support and work with Raymond to keep this amazing effort going. Soon we will post more detailed information about his family’s potato breeding work. For now, here are a few photos showing what we’ve been up to.
Raoul Robinson in Guelph Ontario, author of Return to Resistance, sent us some potato seed. Not the cut up tubers most people plant (which are clones of their parents), but real seed from potato flowers. Raoul managed to breed disease resistant potatoes, still being grown in Kenya. They have an enduring resistance.
The potato seed he sent us is tiny, and just the other day Kate and David transplanted the teeny, delicate seedlings.
In his letter, Raoul writes: “The idea is to plant as many as you can handle, preferably in the thousands, rather than the hundreds. Blight and beetle will eventually kill off most of them, which is exactly what you want. Let the parasites do your selection work for you. The surviving plants will produce 2-5 pea-sized tubers each, and possibly one golf-ball sized tuber; this is the nature of potatoes grown from true seed. But you will have enough material to propagate your new clones, which can become the parents of the next breeding cycle.” Our goal is to introduce plenty of diversity, and then select for disease resistance. Fun, eh? This will take several years. But as Raoul said, we may ‘strike gold’ sooner than that.
Raymond gave us a few potatoes to start with: Island Sunset on the left, and Island Sunshine on the right. He also suggested we try a variety called Bluebell that is very disease resistant, but it turns grey when you cook it.
The trick is to select a potato that has good disease resistance, pest resistance, and also tastes great. Not a simple task.
On April 21, just before the rains started, we planted some potato clones in the field. Jeff and Gabe came up to the farm and were keen to help out. Thanks guys!