True Potato Seed Project

Here at Lohbrunner Community Farm we are passionate about sustainable farming and land stewardship. Along with that comes a strong desire to actively work on solutions for farmers and gardeners in the face of climate change.

After participating in a Crop-Climate project put on by the folks at a few years ago and discovering the Ozette Nootka potato, which did very well in the trials, I decided to try breeding a new variety of potato, developed in and for our local climate!

The vast majority of potatoes grown in North America came from Europe after being brought there by the Spanish. The Ozette Nootka potato however has been grown on Vancouver Island for over 200 years, originally brought here by the Spanish explorers  coming up from South America and planted wherever they established a fort. It goes by different names depending on the location. Makah Ozette, Haida, Tlingit, and Ozette Nootka are some of the names. When the Spanish left, the First Nations realizing the food potential took over the planting of  the potatoes.

One of the issues with saving potatoes and planting year after year is that they can suffer from “viral loading”, picking up various viruses thus reducing yield and quality. A way to combat this is to grow potatoes from TPS (True Potato Seed). Most potatoes are grown from an actual potato, placed in the ground and grown. TPS involves taking a potato berry that was formed when a potato flower is pollinated, drying the seeds from this berry, and planting the seeds to produce new virus free potatoes.

The Ozette Nootka poses additional challenges in that it flowers reluctantly (this year it didn’t flower at all) and it is male sterile, produces no pollen, so must be hand pollinated to produce adequate berries. Last year I borrowed my wife’s electric tooth brush to simulate the buzzing of a bumble bee and was successful in producing a good number of berries. I grew the seed from these berries into little baby potato plants and planted over 300 hills.

Did I mention that the potato does not breed true so each one of these 300 plus plants is a brand new variety of potato! The goal is to get one that closely matches the Ozette Nootka, or get one that is new and exciting. The results so far are amazing. The variety of potatoes coming out of the ground is staggering, I’m less than half way through at the time of this writing, and the challenge will be deciding which ones to keep, to be planted out next year.  Stay tuned.

~by Scott Harris, 2021