Recently we visited Lettuce Field Day at Shamrock Seeds, a premier lettuce breeding company. One of the benefits of our location in Central California is that several of the seed growers we work with are within easy driving distance. Shamrock Seeds hosted us during their “Lettuce Days” open house in their beautiful trial fields in Gilroy, CA.
We lucked out with a perfect spring weather for touring the "living catalog" of Shamrock varieties, existing and under development, with knowledgeable Product Development Manager, Estella Barajas. The trials featured row after row of interesting varieties – from romaines to baby leaf varieties to wasabi arugula. Estella impressed us with her encyclopedic and very precise knowledge of every single variety and her boundless enthusiasm for the details of growing and producing seed for great greens. She showed us how she evaluates the different varieties for form, weight, disease resistance and slow bolting. And taste of course! Renee makes a point of tasting each variety in the field, so we had plenty of opportunity to talk about the various nuances of flavor.
The most exciting find of the day was completely new variety of arugula that tastes amazingly like the spicy wasabi that often accompanies sushi. We didn’t believe it until we tasted it. The first taste is the spicy, peppery flavor of arugula, but then the intense flavor of wasabi hits you. It was a truly uncanny experience discover the tangy, delicious flavor of the wasabi in a salad leaf! We all agreed that there would definitely be a great interest in the market for this new green. It is still in development by Shamrock but we’ll be testing it in our own trial gardens this fall.
Many specialty lettuces also caught our attention, especially a soft, delicate butter lettuce they usually sell mostly to European customers, and the intensely colored red leaf lettuces and mustards that are Shamrock specialties.
On the theme that "everything old is new again", Shamrock has reselected an old home garden favorite, Little Gem lettuce. Renee was especially excited to see and taste both green and red varieties of these old-fashioned little vase- shaped lettuces that qualities of both butterhead and romaine lettuces. Shamrock's breeders have refined this variety to have more crunch, sweetness and heavier heads.
We also were excited about the densely leafed new variety Shamrock is working on called "thousand leaf lettuce." It is the most densely packed l head of leaf lettuce we've ever seen and tastes good too.
Next up will be for us to evaluate these new variety" finds" several times in our own company trials to see if they will perform well for home gardeners before deciding to add them to our Renee's Garden line. There will be many salad meals to come…
-by Sarah Renfro, Renee's Garden Business Manager