Joseph Lofthouse describes a landrace as a diverse population of regionally adapted plants. Lofthouse has had great success breeding landrace populations to cope with his tough growing climate in Paradish, Utah. The wide genetics of these landraces offers quite adaptability and climate resilience, which is really appealing to an organization focused on supporting diversity in food and farming. Learn more about Joseph via this podcast.

Frank Morton is also an inspiration when it comes to lettuce breeding. He has bred a lot of the well known varieties of lettuce, and many of them are pledged to the Open Source Seed Initiative. A recent podcast interviewing Morton clearly lays out lettuce breeding, but here is a summary:

  • Lettuce flowers are self-pollinating.
  • Lettuce does not readily cross-pollinate, even when the flowers of two different varieties are on top of each other.
  • There is a lot of diversity.

WNC Landrace Lettuce

The Utopian Seed Project decided to embark on a collaborative project with the staff of Sow True Seed to quickly develop a WNC Landrace Lettuce population. Here is the brief:

  • Plant as many different varieties of lettuce as you can in whatever garden space you have.
  • Save seeds from the top performing 5% of each variety.
  • In the case of our project, we are defining top performing as:
    • Slow to bolt. In practical terms, this means cull the plants that are first to bolt.
    • Non-bitter when bolting. In practical terms this means the final decision on which plants to let go all the way to seed will be based on flavor while bolting.
  • All seeds will be returned to a community collection housed at Sow True Seed. The following year we will redistribute the seeds and repeat (note: in WNC we may get to grow multiple populations each year to speed up the selection).
  • Observations will be focused on population improvements based on the selection criteria, plus appearance of natural hybrids within the population.

Note: the selection criteria is focused on creating a summer lettuce. It is highly like that from the first seeds saved of a diverse population, we will also plant for winter suitability (ability to survive a WNC winter).