E.W. Gaze Seeds Co. and Phytocultures Ltd. are working together to bring new types of potatoes to Newfoundland and Labrador from South America.
E.W. Gaze Seeds Co. was founded in Newfoundland in 1925. It specializes in selling “high-quality vegetable and flower seeds,” according to the company’s website.
“It was actually (Phytocultures) that reached out to us originally to try out the new potato seeds they have been working on for a few years,” said Jackson McLean, assistant manager of E.W. Gaze Seeds Co. “We got them to send us in a bunch of samples that we could give out to our customers, which I thought was a great idea … to test them out because they have never been grown here before.”
“They’re a smaller potato, but they grow into a large potato, so they look quite positive,” Peter Byrne said outside the downtown shop.
Byrne is E.W. Gaze’s great-grandson who now runs and operates the family store.
McLean said the store is giving away free samples to people who will plant the potatoes and let them know if they will grow.
The project has received a great deal of interest by locals. The sample potatoes seeds soon ran out due to eager gardeners.
“We want to give out samples to everybody who wants them,” McLean said. “But it seems like the demand is more than the supply at this point. So we are going to do our best to get in enough samples so that the majority of people can try them out.”
One group of people the store wants to give samples to are the members of the Facebook page Backyard Vegetable Farmers NL.
According to their Facebook page, “This group is for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who grow vegetables in their backyards or homes. It’s a place to share photos, progress, plans, tips, struggles and solutions, and to grow a community of self-sufficiency and food security in our province.”
“Once we get more samples in, then I will probably make a post in that group, inviting all those people to come down to the store and try some,” McLean said.
The new type of potatoes were developed by plant propagation specialist Don Northcott, who founded Phytocultures in 1986.
He said Phytocultures has been the bridge between plant breeders and companies looking for new plants to sell. The organization also has research plants throughout the world.
While Northcott was on Chiloé Island — located in Chile, South America — he found out about hundreds of new kinds of potatoes.
“I saw these potatoes being grown and taken to farmers’ markets and I bought some there and brought them back to my hotel room and I cooked them and I said, ‘Jeez, these taste good,’” Northcott said in a telephone interview from his greenhouse in Prince Edward Island.
He explained that several Chilean Indigenous groups used the potatoes to survive for years, long before Christopher Columbus discovered the new world.
The potatoes were suited to harsh climates, said Northcott, who added that the island resembled Newfoundland because it was a fishing community with a similar climate.
The locals would store the potatoes over the winter and replant what was left over in the spring. Over time the potatoes have grown resistant to disease, which is a good thing for Newfoundland.
“Newfoundland has a couple of soil-born diseases that make the export of agriculture products from Newfoundland into other parts of Canada and the United States prohibited,” Northcott said. “In the soil, they have something called potato wart. It grows on potatoes and causes disfiguration on the tumors and there is another disease called nematode, which is a brown worm that infects the potato.”
Northcott said that because of these diseases, Newfoundland requires special types of potatoes. Phytocultures is bringing new varieties to market to “combat those problems.”
The four kinds of potato samples that are being given away by E.W. Gaze Seeds are the Kiss-me-a-lot, yellow sun, red smile and lobster red potatoes.
“Newfoundland is kind of one of the harshest environments for growing food, so this will be the ultimate test for them to see if they grow here,” McLean said.