Their parents come from a wide variety of sources including some gene banks, some of Deppe's Hannan pop beans sent to me by a farmer who'd been growing them out for a while and the chickpea that started me off Salt Spring Seeds 'Winifred's Garbanzo'
Now, I do not get the yields that I hear about on the West coast but I do get sufficient return to keep me going year upon year. When it comes to plant development, I'm not known to give up too easily. Chickpeas probably predate my first breeding projects, and were amongst the earliest of my seed saving attempts. This may be partly why I allowed them to cross pollinate. Very soon afterwards, I read Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe. Her story about pop beans was such good reading that I knew that I was going to be growing them out for awhile despite the usual frustration and nearly losing them twice. In the early years, I was sent several diverse seed lots from different geographical regions. Since then, some traits have vanished into the genetic milieu or because they didn't thrive in my conditions and/or cultivation techniques, whereas others have become more prominent.
Ah carrots. How you've tested me over the years. You've been eaten by numerous critters at the seed and seedling stage so that 1000s of seeds became 3 seedlings. You've refused to germinate because of drought or dry conditions (and my lack of irrigation). You've managed to grow only in little clumps that I didn't have the motivation to thin so that you were pathetic. I've sown you over and over and over all season until finally in late summer, you took giving me a nice carpet of greenery and not much else. I've let these little sproutlings to overwinter to see if they wouldn't vernalize and therefore produce more a root in the spring. Sometimes this worked, sometimes not.
I've experimented with numerous germination strategies. Sowing with the melt, fall sowing, sowing after the seedling eaters have moved on, sowing with water holding material. Germination boards attract the seedling eating bugs, irrigation isn't feasible here, but a fine sprinkling of green material and a row cover seem to be the ticket!
In 2015, I finally was able to start my colourful carrot project. Admittedly, this is hardly original though my goal was not to produce a full spectrum of carrot colour but to concentrate on the deeply coloured varieties of red, purple, and deep orange - lycopene, anthocyanin and beta carotene respectively. From these, I was hoping to get some vitamin rich diversity. From the 100s, if not 1000s of seeds, I sowed that year, I got some. Don't ask me how many as I wasn't really expecting this project to move forward, but it was no more than 100. And from that, I selected only those with a Danvers-Chantenay root shape (more or less) - wide shoulders, short root, with minimal damage, no signs of disease and a deep colour. There were a few reds, mostly oranges and a few dragon type purples (ie. purple with orange/yellow cores).
I overwintered in ground, on purpose. Carrots are only partially reliable here overwinter but I would like to be able to create a variety that is not only able to grow and produce quality roots but also seeds in our conditions.
In 2016, they went to flower. There was a neat variation in flower shape though none had pink flowers - one of my fantasies. Perhaps in this year's crop I might get some like that. Luckily, I have almost no Queen Anne's Lace on the property. Any that appears is removed immediately and seems to come in from outside soil. My growing space is surrounded by forest and there is almost no QAL in the farmer's ditches either. When I see any, I clip it or dig it up. I"m not sure how the farmer's feel about that... no one has said anything. So these carrots were left to open pollinate.
Seed was sown in the moist spring soil in 2017. I sprinkled the ground with a little straw and then laid over a row cover. Given my impressive record of failure, I shouted with glee when they started to sprout in number! Still the cutworms disappeared whole parts of the 50 foot row. I resowed. The cutworms and slugs grew fatter. I transplanted seedlings... yes, I did. This explains some of the shapes come harvest time... Eventually, the pests retreated and the carrots grew well.
If it weren't for the increase in the rodent population, I would have held off harvesting until November. A few holes (some from children and other folk that reported how delicious the carrots were in that long row over there) later, I decided that I had better do root selection before numbers dwindled.
Though I do want to select for carrots that grow and seed well in our conditions, I have hedged my bets this year. A selection are in a clamp in a polytunnel outside and some more are in a safer storage condition where I can monitor them.
We've eaten many meals and I can safely say that they are very yummy. The ones with white-yellow cores have a satisfying sturdy texture. The 'black' type are sweet and delicious, becoming darker in colour with cooking. So far, I like the results!
Plans for 2018
* Grow out a second row of 2016 seed
* Plant both sets of carrots - a) all 'black' and b) multicoloured in separate tunnels.
* Select for bright or darkly coloured cores only and stipple (sample)
* Plant in ground with simple mulch about a third of the selection, enough for genetic diversity to select for easy overwintering, if possible.
This year, I overwintered my mostly f2-3 San Michele x Red Rock Mammoth cabbage stems in a trench with straw and dirt. It worked extremely well with very little loss. Most cabbage stems showed exceptional liveliness, meaning full survival including remaining leaves. They also leafed out very quickly when re-planted.
Cabbage seedlings were started inside early April. Variations were immediately apparent with some being more green and most having some purple coloration. This f3 generation seemed to have very few pure reds unlike previous. This mean, all red stemmed were the phenotype that I was hoping for. Though I selectively planted out seedlings with some red veining, I think I can further restrict this to only those with all red veining and get closer to what I want, as the others were more likely to be green and very saved - i.e., like San Michele. I did get one almost pure red savoy which I really liked.
Young seedlings were initially row covered to protect against snails, earwigs, flea beetles and so forth. Unfortunately, something was getting in underneath despite a full dirt closure at the edges so I removed it to allow in predators. Thankfully this was after max flea beetle time. You can see variations on savoy above. I might do some selection at this stage next year. I'm looking for more savoy rather than less, as long as they are not pure green.
I generally work alone and this year this was even more so as the two farmers that shared my field last year have moved on to other jobs. This mean that weed control was even more a challenge. To phrase this another way, check out my competition trials... I am working on finding ways to make this easier but funnily enough they all involve finding the time.
Problems and Selection Criteria
As usual, the challenges of growing cabbage were many: bugs - especially earwigs here, hail, and some head rot secondary to the insect damage. I cut those heads early. No heavily affected cabbages were allowed to continue into the next generation. Selection criteria was very strict this year. Often, my projects go through a couple stages. First is increase diversity, second is to decide on the best characteristics once I have everything growing. I usually have some idea but that gets furthered defined after I get a sense of the range of possibilities. Then, after babying the diversity for awhile, I might decide to restrict. This is not always the case. The C. moschata butternut landrace is undergoing further genetic diversification for example. However, I really like the Blushing Mammoth (yes this cabbage finally has a name) phenotype so I'm going to see if we can get something that more reliably produces it.
All the heads are eaten of course so getting X'ed from the breeding program doesn't mean that those cabbages go to waste! I don't overwinter heads as they don't overwinter well, rather just the stems. My favourite phenotype - the Blushing Mammoth - is on the right above, though I also like this more lilac version on the left.
Selection piles included the 1. Chicken Food, 2. Keep in case of failure of best and 3. Best. These were disease free which normally means very little bug damage as well, thrifty space users with big heads that were partially savoyed and veined purple with green leaves.
The seed parents from this year sprouted a little forest of cabbage beneath them as well. I'm curious to see if any make it overwinter under the snow. On the right above you can see one of the many ways this cabbage cross is quite vigorous. It produces shoots from the roots.
If you have been following my adventures into making this cabbage - which incidentally was my first footfall that dropped me down the rabbit hole of plant breeding - then you know that it took years to develop techniques for successful overwintering. I'm still learning about best ways to tunnel for seed production and trench stems etc... As I had enough material to collect a lot of seed and to do some serious restriction on the phenotype this year, 2018 will be year one in refinement. Woohoo! I also expect to sell the seed, barring disaster.
Farmers involved in the 2017 West Carelton Calorie Project, were gifted seedlings of this as well, and anyone participating in 2018's grow out is welcome to extras. It is a lovely and tasty cabbage.
Given how wet it was this year, I was not expecting particularly good yields but maybe that one or two weeks of warmth late in the season made up for the near absence of direct sunlight most of the year? Probably not but sweet potato shows that it is adaptable once again. The above picture is of one of my non seedling rows.
Here is a compilation of various tubers from seed. Some look quite promising. There was a large variation in colour, texture, vining and leafing habit. The best yielding and flowering varieties were saved separately for seed production next year where the rest will most likely be eaten.
I had a terrible problem with June beetle grubs this year as well meaning that almost all my Yacon in one part of the property were destroyed. I had to rescue the true seed seedlings, meaning now I have to baby them all winter - grumble. I'd be without Yacon if it weren't for my family plot in another part of the property. Diversity (of planting locations) wins again.
Plans for 2018
* I have quite a few true seed to grow out.
* The best yielding, florific plants with good tuber characteristics will be used as seed parents.
* I'm looking for 2 more farms to participate in the West Carelton Calorie Project. This includes getting to grow out some unique varieties of sweet potatoes!
There was quite a bit of variation in growth habit, leaf form and colour. Early tuberization was found in all three seed sources which surprised me as I was expecting it to be pretty much non existent in the tropical source. However, it is possible that they are growing shorter or more 'day neutral' varieties in the tropics as well. That said, there was more of a tendency toward longer vining and later flowering in the tropical seed source than in the Swedish short season derived one.
Some of the short season seedlings were very florific! These also tended to set the most pods. I'm looking forward to what that means in coming years. I did get flowers and seeds off of my short season slips as well though less.
The best pod forming row was the one with the seedlings and short season slips by far! The two other plots that contained no seedlings set seed minimally. Our Farm had a decent seed set though said that one end of their row produced seeds much better than the other. This is almost certainly because the right 'parents' were there. Purple seems to be a good pollen parent. The other farm site suffered more from flooding and hail than the other two locations so didn't get any seed set.
I did some minimal pollen transfer at the beginning of the flowering season but mostly left it up to the plentiful bee population. There were bumble bees, various native bees and honey bees visiting the flowers. They were often frustrated by how quickly the flowers closed. You could see them trying to enter the flowers that were already twisting shut by mid to late morning. The lack of sunny weather meant there were probably less opportunities for pollination but still I managed to get a fair number of ripe pods and seeds.
Most pods contained 1-2 seeds though the occasionally one had more. I inspected frequently so as not to lose ripe pods in the abundant leaf cover and litter below. Once the stem connecting the pod started to yellow, the pod was ready so I tended to harvest at this point.
This year, I had three sources of true botanical sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) seed: 2016 produced seed from short season sweet potatoes from Sweden, tropical seed and minimal seed produced here at ALE.
All seed germinated readily. Generally I scarify then soak for a few hours before sowing but this might not even be necessary. The Swedish and ALE seed was started perhaps a week before the tropical seed source, near the beginning of March. I wanted hefty seedlings at planting out time. You can read more about the seedlings here.
Only one of my seeds managed to make it to the end because of a series of calamities! The other two sources both did very well. There was lots of variation evident from cotyledon onwards.
I grew them in cups because of their deep root systems. If I were feeling more confident about their ability to thrive at planting out, I would have started later and set out younger seedlings. They were grown under lights.
2017 was a very wet growing season. Rivers, creeks, ditches and even fields were at spring melt levels repeatedly, basements flooded, roads were washed out and the rain kept coming. Late spring was marked by hail storms AFTER planting.
I had two other farmers growing out mix of short seasons sweet potato slips as part of the West Carleton Calorie Project. Below are Kate and Katie from Our Farm braving the endless rains. Sweet potato row is in the foreground. They also grew out sea beet, moschata landrace and true potato seed along with some eggplant, pepper and cabbage crosses that weren't officially part of the WCCP.
I'm very excited that I have finally been able to increase Icicle pea enough to be able to offer some in the 2017/18 seed shop this year!
This is a fresh eating pea with edible fleshy pod. Very light in colour hence the name. We love them fresh but also chopped up and frozen for winter use.
Below are two new to me dry peas. On the left is a lovely pea from La Societe des Plantes called Charlevoix and the other is called Gold Harvest. It may have come from Salt Spring Seeds but my packet said Orange. It has an unusual pastel bi-coloured flower, small pods and flattened shape. I'd like to look into its history further. I intend to grow both out in longer rows next year so that I can try a real sample of both in the kitchen for 2018! Working with plants, is definitely a longterm endeavour.
There are variations in the amount of savoy and purple as to be expected in this f3x2 (the biennial nature of the project means there are overlapping generations. I also have f3x1 in seed right now. I could grow f4 overwinter and both an f3x3 and an f4x1 next year along with an f3x2 in seed. Increasingly bonkers yes.).
Some have buckling which may be caused by some dreaded gal causing thing or as I like to interpret it (according to another farmer - stress... I have seen this occasionally before on kales and whatnot without any more untoward symptoms. By fall, I may see some head rot and that's something I am going to start strongly selecting resistance as well. I'm expecting this year to be challenging given the swinging temperatures and flooding rain.
I'll report back in October.
Overwintering outside and spring 2017 project update.
Interested in channelling your five year old love of bugs instead of bracing yourself ever time you see a new beetle in the garden? Well I have a workshop for you.
Not only that but I'll have all so-far collected seed for sale on the same date at last year's prices. So $3.00 for all perennials. As of this September, prices will be raised to reflect current pricing among small seed companies.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.