Why Diggers annual trials are so important

Our new Seed Manager explains the trial process at Diggers

Pumpkin ‘Bohemian’ wins the beauty contest

Diggers have been running trials for our seed and plant range for 25 years.

Since the respected Will Trueman ran our original trials at the Seymour Heritage Farm in the 1990s, trials have been integral to Diggers selections.

These foundational trials were run by Dr. Trueman with scientific accuracy and attention to detail. He created a terrific tome of a manuscript, recording data of yields and days to harvest, as well as a legacy.

Diggers has proudly continued to trial annual varieties of vegetables and flowers, as well as perennials, shrubs and trees in our world class gardens of Heronswood and St Erth, and in recent years at our headquarters and preservation gardens in Dromana.

Trials this year revisited 92 quintessential vegetables in our range. Trials at Diggers can be comparative, i.e. grow a member’s donation of family seeds against our current varieties to select the best for gardeners – just like the discovery of heirloom wonders like the Frank’s pea.

Other trials, like the ones run this summer, are used for quality assessment of our varieties, to monitor and ensure that open pollinated varieties remain true-to-type, growing and producing just as expected.

Varieties of vegetables are often grown with a particular purpose as we are looking for attributes that our members (and us, as gardeners ourselves!) desire and seek to grow in the garden.

Flavour has been intrinsic to the championing of heirlooms at The Diggers Club. It has been the number one attribute we continue to seek over time, and is measured by taste tests with our team and the public.

We also measure yield, performance and the habit of the plant, as more households are living in greater density and size has become a key factor. However, attributes desired by gardeners always put flavour foremost, followed by yield and lastly, their habit.

The pleasure of running trials is an intimate experience where we get to know everything we can about each variety and the seed stock from which it grew. We know these varieties as if they are good friends, growing them in the same conditions and applications as any typical organic backyard gardener.

Trials are an essential part of the work that The Diggers Foundation implements across The Diggers Club.

No produce goes to waste, with a bounty heading to our Fork to Fork™ restaurants, as well as show gardens such as the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. A little produce also makes its way into the homes and kitchens of our own Diggers team.

Pride of product is what we stand behind. Those lucky enough to be involved with trials enjoy the satisfaction of getting to know our heirlooms personally, and curating their preservation for the future.

Trials at Diggers can vary between:

True-to-type: Seed is grown to make sure it meets the descriptions and specifications set out in the earliest records of that variety.

Comparison trials: Seed of the same species is grown at the same time and under the same conditions to see how each variety performs, with specific focus on plant vigour, health and yield. The produce is then used in taste tests. Comparison trials are also conducted against the same varietal name offered by other sources to check yield, vigour and true-to-type across the range available.

Taste tests: The Diggers team loves a good taste test, and we have them regularly throughout the year. Most people are familiar with our tomato taste tests which have been running for more than 25 years, but we test everything from radishes to pumpkins, melons, garlic and even carrots!

♦ Selection trials: We grow and test ‘new’ varieties to see if they are worth listing for members. These varieties must offer something different or superior to what Diggers already has listed. If they meet Diggers’ strict criteria, they are then put into production, which usually takes three years from trial to being made available to members.

Information trials: Seed is grown to update missing product information, such as the weight, size and length of the produce, the height and spread of the plant, and the seed’s growth information in differing climates.

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Jac Semmler

Jac Semmler is a passionate qualified horticulturalist and educator of gardeners young and old. Education lead and seed expert at the Diggers Club, her passion is to seek and trial the best quality heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable varieties.

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