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Back to June 2016 Newsletter

Taking a Closer Look at our Crops

Paul Hrycyk

How closely do you look at your plants? It’s not hard to notice if your tomato plant starts developing yellow leaves or black spots or when some bean plants start drying down earlier than others. But have you ever measured the distance between leaf nodes on the main stem of your tomato plants? Or compared the shape of the cotyledons of your lettuce seedlings? The seed growers of the Vegetable Seed Producers Network (VSPN) are using Seeds of Diversity’s crop descriptor forms to do just that.

The closer we look at our plants the more we learn about them. This information is valuable for a number of reasons. It can be used to identify “off-type” plants, or plants that display different varietal traits than the rest of the population. It can also be used to improve varieties by making them more uniform or by selecting for specific, defined characteristics.

The information gathered using these forms can also be used to compare how the same variety grows in different places. This can assist growers in choosing the varieties that will grow best in their region, climate, and soil type. Growers also document how practical certain varieties were for their farms and markets. Each variety is ranked on a number of criteria, including productivity, uniformity of ripening, flavour and ease of transport. The forms are a useful tool for anyone wanting to learn more about the vegetable varieties they are growing. In fact, we’ve had several growers tell us that they've learned a lot about their plants by having to look more closely at them while filling out the forms.

At the end of the season, growers who use the forms end up with about five pages of feedback, photos, and diagrams for each variety they grew, along with several key recorded dates of sprouting, development, and harvest times. All farmers have to keep careful records and notes, but we hope the crop descriptor forms help VSPN members – and other seed growers – go one step further. One of the strengths of the network is that we can share, compile and distribute information amongst ourselves and with others. We can then collect these notes to get five or more seasons worth of data on a variety in just one year.

Seeds of Diversity’s mandate has always focused on protecting rare and endangered seeds. Protecting rare varieties means learning about them, how they grow, and what they look like. Our seed library continues to rapidly grow and we are constantly adding new varieties to it. But often, these uncommon varieties come to us with little more than a name, or sometimes information on where and by whom they have been grown. Learning more about the varieties in our collection helps us maintain and build it.

The descriptor forms include 32 different crops and have been recently updated in May 2016. They are available free for everyone and we encourage you to download a copy, print it out, and fill in as much as you can for the variety you are growing. You don’t have to be a VSPN member or seed saving expert to understand the questions, and we’ve included pictures and definitions where possible. And as always, if you’re not growing any vegetables at the moment, but see the value in documenting rare seed varieties, you can make a donation to help us continue this work.

Thank you to all the VSPN members who made the effort to take a closer look at your plants last year and shared the data and measurements you collected. And thanks in advance to all those members and seed savers who complete this important work this year and in future years to come!

All the forms can be found in PDF and Word format at



Paul Hrycyk is the coordinator of the Vegetable Seed Producers Network


Back to June 2016 Newsletter

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