We visited mad scientists at work this weekend at the Lewis-Brown Research farm in Corvallis. Inspired by last year’s trip, when I sampled new blackberry varieties, I thought I’d see what was now in development. The cherries were in full, glorious fruit under the special experimental tents, marked by colorful balloons that mimic birds of prey. We sampled about a dozen varieties, including some fantastic cultivars that deepen the flavor and firm up the texture of Raniers.
We sampled the wares at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository, or a field of blueberry specimens from all over the world. OSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work together to preserve the genetic material of all the blueberry cultivars they can find. It’s one of 30 seed banks around the nation set up to preserve agricultural crops and other plants.
Although the high bush varieties were full and tall enough to hide my blueberry fan friend, the fruit was about 2-3 weeks late this year, and the scientists commented that they were ripening unevenly, with the extra early varieties coming in with the early varieties, and an unusual mix of ripe and unripe berries on the same branch. As you might imagine, this would cause all kinds of problems for commercial growers.
At the bee station, we got to stick our hands into a box and let drones tickle us with their fuzzy, buzzy bodies. Bee expert Dr. Ramesh Sagili, who was on site in a beekeeper suit talking about hive health, was hired by OSU last year. We also talked to some of the research team working on a new pest in the Willamette Valley, spotted drosophilia, which burrows into ripening fruit and can wipe out a crop in a manner of days.
We also talked to Dr. Jim Myers, the vegetable development specialist, who is now part of a research coalition that is working with different regions and farms to help improve organic farming practices. Dr. Myers was soliciting names for his purple tomatoes, a lovely aubergine color that apparently have more anti-oxidants.
“But how do they taste,” cried one visitor.
“Like a tomato,” he replied.