I am searching out, maintaining, developing, and disseminating perennial grains. These are important and underdeveloped crops, and I want them to spread! If you want to get your hands on seeds to grow your own perennial grains, send me an email. I will likely have a limited amount of seed to distribute this season (fall 2016), and will maintain waitlists for the 2017 season.
My primary breeding objectives are robust perennial lifespan, accumulating high generic diversity so the lines can be quickly adapted to different regions, and on beneficial characteristics that will immediately translate to different regions such as larger kernel size and ease of threshing. High yield is an important goal but is not the ultimate goal for these lines to target because yield depends on characteristics that must be optimized in alignment with regional character, like day length, rainfall patterns, heat and cold levels, etc. Optimizing yield is only really possible on a regional level.
However, I will be selecting specific lines primarily for yield in my region, the greater Seattle area of Washington State, U.S.A.
If you are curious about the details about the project strategy and techniques, you can read about the plan for breeding perennial wheat.
If you have perennial grains that I don’t have yet and can let me have some seeds to add to distribution, pretty please send me an email. My address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another objective of this project is to learn and develop practices for using these grains in permaculture systems: intercropping, field preparation, uses and applications, succession practices, pest management, etc.
If you already know about perennial grains and are wondering about availability, you can skip to the croplist below…
Why perennial grains?
First, why grains? I am interested in grains because they have been the most important staple food for most of humanity for a long time. Our agricultural systems and cuisines are predominately centered around grains. They are important.
Second, why perennial? This is where it gets very interesting. Most grains are grown as annuals, which means that every year enormous work must be done getting fields ready to plant, then planting the seeds, then keeping fingers crossed that the weather is favorable. Not only is this expensive and resource intensive, but it is immensely destructive. It converts topsoil into dust and atmospheric CO2, leaving behind deserts and a more rapidly deteriorating climate. Because they are grown from seed each year, annuals have a comparatively tiny root system and need much higher soil fertility and more consistent water. Marginal land or drought means that annual grains are in big trouble.
Perennials shine in all these areas. They do not require replanting every year, and they are typically very effective at building soil and sequestering carbon. They have deep root systems, and can thrive on marginal soils and through drought and other difficult weather conditions. They come up sooner in the spring, and have a longer period where they are capturing and using the energy of the sun.
There are some tradeoffs to perennial grains, of course. Most of these come from not having had the intensive breeding that annual grains have had. They yield less, they are often more difficult to thresh, and there is not the extensive expertise and research that characterizes their performance and use like there is for annual grains. There is plenty of research and breeding work to be done.
Feel free to contact me about any of these projects. The primary goal is to get varieties that are long-lived perennials with high disease resistance in the Pacific Northwest. The secondary goals are improved yield, threshability, and kernel size.
Wheat – xTritipyrum aesaea
availability: some distributed in 2016, waitlist for fall 2017
There are a number of lines of perennial wheat that have been developed by crossing with related wild species. These crosses have been called various things, including Agrotriticum. A recent paper has laid out a more organized taxonomy which I’m using, at least for the time being.
- I am currently growing a small plot of “perennial tripled wheat” sourced from Caleb Warnock (check his website to purchase your own, and other interesting seeds). I’ll be growing out more next year, and will be distributing a small amount of this year’s harvest to a few people.
- I have obtained eZeer wheat, originally bred by Tim Peters, and will be growing it out this year. I am searching for a source of PSR 259 developed by Tim Peters.
- I have Agropyron cristatum, a very hardy diploid wheat relative, to cross with Einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum) in hopes of breeding a perennial Einkorn. The ambition is to get a wheat that has the nutritional advantages of Einkorn with the very long lived, very robust characteristics of A. cristatum.
- At this writing, there is an accession of an old strain of Russian perennial wheat in IPK Gatersleben. You can find it by searching for “Triticum x Agropyron”, and checking out accession GRA 906. I have a lead on acquiring this.
- “Salish blue” is a line developed at Washington State University, and is available from ARS GRIN as accession PI 676253. I intend to obtain this to add to the project.
Bread Wheat – Triticum aestivum
Availability: none right now, but maybe you can help me breed some! As far as I have been able to unearth, all projects that are going under the banner of “perennial wheat” are working by crossing bread wheat, Triticum aestivum, with wild perennial relatives. I’m interested in seeing if we can breed true bread wheat to be able to flower and fruit repeatedly without hybridizing it. The advantage of this is that, if it is possible, it is likely that more of the important characteristics of wheat would be intact, such as yield, baking quality, threshability, etc. You can read more about this idea on the moonshots page.
- I have seeds coming for USU Perigee, a super dwarf, super early bread wheat developed for growing in space stations. It is suited fro 24 hour grow lights and hydroponics, which I may be using for speed breeding purposes. I may grow some out for sharing next year.
- I am intending to collect a diverse selection of annual wheat landraces, then extensively cross them to create an extremely diverse base from which to breed for perennial regrowth.
New Emmer – Triticum monococcum x Agropyron cristatum
I will be crossing diploid Einkorn wheat (T. monococcum) with a perennial diploid line of crested wheatgrass (A. cristatum). This is similar to the cross that originally produced Emmer wheat. This will not truly be Emmer, but my hope is that it will be somewhat similar. And during the domestication process after the initial hybridization, I will be selecting (of course) for perennial regrowth and refruiting.
Rye – Secale cereanum, aka Secale cereale x Secale montanum
availability: waitlist for 2017 release
I have perennial rye seeds descended from an unnamed Tim Peters line. There should be a harvest to share in 2017.
I am looking for a source of Tim Peters Millwright rye. Please let me know if you have any or know someone who does!
I am awaiting a shipment of Waldstauden rye originally sourced from Sepp Holzer.
I am awaiting a shipment of Svedjerug Tvengsberg rye, which is a biennial rye grown in Norway. It is similar to, and likely a descendent of Waldstauden rye. It came to Norway in the 1600s, and was thought to have been lost before 10 seeds were discovered in a barn in the 1970s.
- Permies.com thread on Sepp Holzer’s rye
- Slow Food article about Waldstauden Rye
- Article about Svedjerug Tvengsberg rye [in Norwegian]
availability: waitlist for 2017 wild perennial and f1 hybrid seed
I have seeds for Zea diploperennis, a perennial wild relative of corn. I will cross this with domesticated corn and grow out the results. Perenniality of these hybrids is determined by the depth of the rhizomes, so I will be both selecting for deep perennial roots, and also experimenting with culture and mulch techniques to promote perennial regrowth.
- Proboard thread about Zea diploperennis
- Perennial food crops thread about cold-hardy perennial corn
- Forcing Zea diploperennis in northern climates
- Crosses of Zea diploperennis with corn
availability: waitlist for 2017 wild species seed
I have a small amount of seed from 10 species of wild, perennial chickpea relatives. I will be growing it out this year, and in the future will work on domestication by mass selection (primarily looking for increased seed size), as well as trying to make crosses with annual chickpeas. There has been some work on making these crosses, and it is a tricky prospect. I’m hoping to make it work.
availability: waitlist for 2017 wild species and f1 hybrid seed
Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) are a perennial, but in colder climates their growth after the first year is not vigorous, and they tend to have some difficulty overwintering. I have seeds for Phaseolus polystachios, a very hardy wild bean, to cross it with.
I am acquiring a sample of perennial job’s tears. The project here will be to cross with the domesticated annual job’s tears and work on developing a long-lived perennial with large seeds and good yield.
I have seeds for Avena macrostachya, a perennial wild relative of domesticated oats. I will be pursuing two avenues: domesticating A. macrostachya, and hybridizing it with A. sativa, the domesticated oat.
The seeds of A. macrostachya are only slightly smaller than domesticated oat seeds, and I am hopeful that quick progress can be made on a useful line.
This is not an active project yet. When I get to it, I’ll work on domesticating the perennial rice genus species and/or crossing the with domesticated rice. The species to work with are Oryza rufipogon, O. longistaminata, O. officinalis, australiensis, and O. rhizomatis. There may be an issue with O. rufipogon being classified as a noxious weed.
Other perennial grains
The above projects are as much as I can manage right now. In the future I hope to find and/or create hardy, perennial, domesticated lines of rice, job’s tears, sorghum, oats, millet, amaranth, lima beans, and wooly butt grass. If you have access to any of these or their wild perennial relatives, please get in contact with me!