'Salish Blue' Perennial Wheat
'Salish Blue' Perennial Wheat
'Salish Blue' Perennial Wheat
'Salish Blue' Perennial Wheat

'Salish Blue' Perennial Wheat

Regular price $5.00 Sale

x Tritipyrum aaseae

Origin: Washington State University

Improvement status: Cultivar

Seeds per packet: ~40


Life cycle: Perennial

Perennial wheat has been the holy grail for agronomists for over a century — and it was stories about the failure to develop and commercialize perennial wheat that convinced co-founder Nate Kleinman that a project like the Experimental Farm Network was worth undertaking.

Before we go any further, we should be clear about one thing: this is not improved perennial wheatgrass — dubbed "kernza" by The Land Institute (and "triga" by Rodale Institute before them) — but rather true perennial wheat, developed from hybrids between wheat (Triticum spp.) and wheatgrass (Thinopyrum spp.), backcrossed with wheat. This variety, 'Salish Blue', was developed by researchers at Washington State University working with wheat hybridized with Thinopyrum ponticum.

Perennial crop plants are far more environmentally sustainable than annuals. They reduce soil erosion, minimize water runoff, require fewer external inputs, create habitat for a variety of creatures (from soil microorganisms to insects to birds), and — most importantly — sequester carbon in the ground, making them potent weapons against global climate change. This is why plant breeders have worked since the early 20th century to develop perennial grains into viable commercial crops. For a more detailed history of perennial wheat, see our description of the 'Tim Peters Perennial Wheat Grex.'

'Salish Blue' is a blue-kerneled soft white winter-type perennial bread wheat developed at Washington State's Bread Lab under Dr. Stephen Jones. The team credited (in the USDA National Plant Germplasm System) with its development included Jones along with Kevin Murphy, Steven Lyon, Xiwen Cai, Mathew Arterburn, and Colin Curwen-McAdams. It's described in the database thusly: "Tall, awnless, blue-green seed color, bulk population, moderately susceptible to stripe rust, baking quality is like a soft wheat. Displays a post-sexual cycle regrowth and indeterminate flowering that results in a perennial growth habit under favorable conditions. Adapted to the maritime climates of western Washington and Oregon." The pedigree listed is "Chinese Spring/Th. ponticum//Madsen", meaning it was derived from a cross between the wheat variety Madsen and a hybrid between Chinese Spring wheat and Thinopyrum ponticum (rush wheatgrass). It's worth mentioning that 'Salish Blue' was developed using only traditional plant breeding techniques, so it is decidedly not a genetically engineered plant or GMO.

First released in 2017 to much fanfare, it unfortunately hasn't really caught on yet, and we believe this is largely because seed availability has been scant. We've tasted products made from 'Salish Blue' (thanks to Culinary Breeding Network events) and found them to be delicious. Our seed was grown by our friend Aaron Parker of Edgewood Nursery in Falmouth, Maine — in a notably very different bioregion than western Washington — so we know it can thrive well beyond the region for which it was developed. It's also worth mentioning that though the description says this is an awnless (spikeless) variety, Aaron found quite a few plants that were awned (see photo) — which we believe is actually a good thing, especially for small-scale production, since awns prevent predation from deer.

We're grateful that Dr. Jones and the WSU team have not put any intellectual property restrictions on 'Salish Blue', so we're able to make it available to you now. We hope that by doing so we will help further the development of perennial wheat as a viable crop for large-scale production.

GROWING TIPS: In most climates, planting these seeds in late summer or fall probably makes the most sense. But we've planted a Tim Peters perennial wheat in the spring in New Jersey, and one plant from that patch did survie through five winters, so it's well worth trying 'Salish Blue' at different times. Plants should be spaced roughly a foot apart for maximum production, provided you're able to cultivate between plants, but a denser planting might be advantageous for weed suppression. These are experimental seeds, so we urge you to experiment with them! Threshing grains on a small scall can be a challenge, but we've found a simple food processer (like a Cuisinart), with duct-tape covering the blades, can do a fantastic job in very little time.

NOTE: While we believe in the potential of perennial grains, we recognize that their wide adoption is still a long way off, and that much more work needs to be done to make them viable crops for large-scale production. It's likely that weed intrusion will require perennial grain fields to be tilled and replanted every 3-5 years, at least for the foreseeable future, but this isn't a reason to abandon them (steeply reduced tillage is far better than annual tillage). It is worth noting, however, that other perennial staple crops — especially nut crops — are already ready for large-scale production and have all of the same positive environmental impacts as perennial grains, if not more. So while we certainly urge you to join us in working on perennial grains, we also urge you to plant nut crops and fruit trees and perennial vegetables too!