In 2020, we are officially entering our 5th regular season in the Discovery Center, which is our Leamington-based trial greenhouse. With over 275 trials to perform this upcoming season, our Discovery Center team is going to have their hands full with growing, testing, and tasting new seed varieties.
In order to successfully perform these trials, our Discovery Center team needs to have an organized and smooth start to their season. Keep reading for more information about how we prepare our Discovery Center for new trials!
What is the Discovery Center?
In 2015, our team established the Discovery Center, our 2.5-acre trial greenhouse and research center located in Leamington, ON, in order to trial and research unique seed varieties. The Discovery Center is where many of our most recent product innovations have been developed following the completion of rigorous trialing and research initiatives.
The Discovery Center combines agricultural science, product trialing, and consumer feedback to help our team facilitate more efficient product research and development. Trial varieties are planted at the beginning of our regular greenhouse season, and once we begin to harvest fruit from them, we also begin collecting data and conducting tasting panels. One seed variety can spend years going through the Discovery Center program, but once it is perfected, the next step is bringing it to the marketplace.
Because of their incredible potential for our farm’s growth, it’s important to set new varieties up for success in the Discovery Center. This makes the time leading up to a new season that much more crucial for proper preparation and planning, so let’s take a closer look at how we prepare the Discovery Center for new trials!
Starting New Trials in the Discovery Center
Leading up to a new season, our Discovery Center team has a lot of careful planning to do. From selecting all the new seed varieties to trial, to creating our trials map, to preparing for and planting all the trial varieties, readying the Discovery Center for a new season requires exceptional organization, attention to detail, and patient execution.
Determining Seeds to Trial
Preparation for the Discovery Center’s next trial season starts in the spring and summer when our team meets with seed companies to discuss up-and-coming seed varieties that are available for trialing. Many of these seed companies are based in Holland, but others are based in North America or other European countries.
Based on a range of factors, including our farm’s varietal needs, historical seed performance, and the direction in which we want to grow our business, our team decides which seeds to trial in the upcoming season. A variety’s performance in the categories of flavor, production, and shelf life are some of the most important factors we consider when deciding which new seed varieties to test, so it is important that our Discovery Center team pays close attention to a seed variety’s historical performance in these specific areas.
It is also important for our team to continuously stay up-to-date on how all new seed varieties are performing, even if we are not yet trialing them in our Discovery Center. If we know a new and promising variety is being offered by one of our partner seed companies, we want to ensure we have an opportunity to consider it for our trial program.
Creating our Trial Greenhouse Map
Once our team has determined what new seed varieties we will be trialing in the upcoming season, the next task is creating a master map outlining where each new variety will be planted inside our trial greenhouse.
This is a large, detail-oriented task that our Discovery Center team needs to give a lot of thought and care to. Creating the trials map is like completing a giant puzzle game. It is our Discovery Center team’s job to figure out the best possible physical layout for all the new varieties, along with how many plants of each variety to grow, to ensure maximum growth potential is reached for each variety. When creating the map, it’s also important to keep in mind the fruit size and vegetation level of different varieties – these factors help to determine which varieties can and cannot be placed in close proximity to one another within our trial greenhouse.
Preparing the Greenhouse for New Plants
After the trial map has been finalized, the next step is preparing the physical greenhouse space for the arrival of our trial varieties. While this process is very similar to how we prepare for planting season in our full-time greenhouses, there are some important differences.
In order to keep our trial greenhouse organized, we place metal stands within each plant row between all unique varieties. The placement of these stands ensures each unique plant variety is kept separate from one another – making harvesting, crop management, and data collection easier for our team.
According to the trial map layout, our team also needs to label each unique zone where a new trial will be planted. Each label will identify the trial by a specific variety code.
Once each stand is situated properly in each row, and all labels are placed in the proper zones, it’s time to get planting!
Planting Season in the Discovery Center
Once plants start to arrive at the Discovery Center, plants are unloaded off the delivery truck and our Discovery Center team begins checking their master variety list to ensure we have received all the right varieties in the proper quantities. Then, using the master trial map, each plant is taken into our trial greenhouse and delivered to the appropriate section.
Only a handful of Crop Workers are involved in the Discovery Center planting process in order to keep the area organized and the process running smoothly. We also avoid planting multiple greenhouse rows at the same time in order to avoid confusion or mix-ups.
During the planting process it is important to double and triple-check every row to ensure the proper plant varieties have been placed in the appropriate sections of the trial greenhouse. With almost 300 trials to keep track of, doing a final sweep of the entire greenhouse after planting is completed is essential.
When planting season in the Discovery Center is over, it’s time to wait for our new plants to mature and begin bearing fruit. Then the real fun begins – collecting data, testing, and conducting taste panels!
What Will We Discover This Season?
It’s obvious that the Discovery Center is our farm’s central hub for new product research and development, and this year’s newest varieties are looking more promising than ever before. Only a select few at Nature Fresh Farms know exactly what varieties we’re testing and tasting in our trial greenhouse this season – but we can all be sure that any new seed discoveries will have exceptional flavor and unmatched quality.