By Kristie Snyder, GreenStar Marketing Staff
Gardeners of Ithaca, you’re fantastically lucky. Why? Because a local seed company is breeding varieties selected to grow successfully in the northeast — that’s your garden! Fruition Seeds, owned by life partners Petra Page-Mann and Matthew Goldfarb and based just 60 miles west of Ithaca, is one of the few seed breeders in upstate New York. They offer an array of certified-organic, open-pollinated flower and vegetable seeds, bred to thrive in our localized growing conditions — and they taste amazing.
In addition to producing stock mismatched to local growing conditions, big seed companies love hybrid varieties — seeds saved from their offspring won’t “come true” to the parent variety, so consumers must return to the source to buy more each year. If a hybrid variety goes out of production, the farmers who may have come to rely on it, or the backyard gardeners who came to love it, are plumb out of luck.
Petra and Matthew enjoy a beautiful network of collaborators: plant breeders, such as Mike Mazourek of Cornell; farmers across the Finger Lakes; chefs who know what pleases local palates; and friends who act as taste-testers. In order to improve or create varieties suited specifically to the regional market, they work with farmers to refine old varieties for better performance, breed entirely new varieties, or breed the offspring of hybrid seed stock into reliable open-pollinated varieties. Locally, Remembrance Farm’s Nathaniel Thompson asked Fruition to develop an open-pollinated alternative of a hybrid carrot seed he felt dependent on. The hard-won result was “Dulcinea,” a carrot that performs well on the farm and tastes better than its hybrid ancestor.
The process of developing a new variety is time-consuming and never-ending, with generations of plants grown and selected for desired traits. It takes about six generations — in the case of biennial plants like carrots, that translates into twelve years! — to get to a stable new variety. And the work doesn’t end there. “With every generation, we’re still making selections,” says Petra, “for yield, disease resistance, early maturity.” But flavor takes priority. “If it’s not delicious, those other things don’t matter!”
GreenStar shoppers can put Petra and Matthew’s hard work to use in their own gardens next spring. The Co-op stocks dozens of varieties of Fruition’s veggie selections and flower seeds, all bred for extraordinary flavor and well adapted to Central New York’s growing conditions.
“We have heirlooms because our ancestors loved food — and they loved us and shared their seeds,” notes Petra. “We’re creating new varieties that, by the time we have great-grandchildren, will be beloved heirlooms for our bioregion.”
From Petra — a few favorite 2020 varieties to look for:
Remembrance Calendula: Nathaniel Thompson of Remembrance Farm asked us to develop a rainbow calendula with 100+ petals per blossom for his signature Flower Power salad mix. We said yes and here she is!
Dulcinea Carrot: Another collaboration with Remembrance Farm, Dulcinea is sweet and long-storing as well as up-ends reliance on intellectually restricted conventional hybrid varieties with a robust, open-source alternative that is much more delicious.
Chiapas Tomato: You can grow our tomatoes and eat them, too! With impressive resistance to early and late blight as well as septoria leaf spot, Chiapas is always our first and last tomato whose sweetness we savor each season.
Cornell Bush Delicata: Thank you, Cornell! This delicious delicata is bush rather than sprawling, super prolific and resistant to Powdery Mildew, to boot. Bravo!
Salt & Pepper Pickling Cucumber: Without question, this is our favorite cucumber. Super sweet, crunchy yet creamy and prolific as can be: Another genius variety from Cornell ready-made for our short seasons plus Powdery Mildew resistant, too!
August Ambrosia Watermelon: I grew up in the Finger Lakes thinking watermelon was unrealistic to grow. Truth be told, most are! We’re honored to share August Ambrosia, a delectable new Fruition-bred watermelon, developed under the wing of Cornell, ripening easily in early August even in cool, moist summers. Enjoy!
Northern Hardy Valencia Peanut: Peanuts are such fun to grow! Regional adaptation makes all the difference, especially with heat-loving crops like tomatoes, watermelon, peppers and peanuts. Even in the coldest season on record in our county, we harvest over 20 peanuts per plant!
Salmon Rose Zinnia: The dahlia of zinnias, Salmon Rose is massive with long, strong stems perfect for cutting all season long. The more you harvest, the more they’ll surround you with abundance.
Habanada: Another genius variety from Cornell! Habanada is the heatless habanero with exquisitely exotic, tropical, fruit-forward flavors without any of the searing heat. Not just another sweet pepper!