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.
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.
Carrots and friends
I grow a number of members of the carrot family that I'd like to some work on but I am only actively selecting skirret and carrot. Next in my sights will be Sweet Cicely and Mitsuba whenever I get time!
Just Food breeding
Seeds of Diversity is working to increase seed capacity in Canada and Jester Lettuce is one of the OSSI (Open Source Seed Initiative) varieties that is available to growers. It was originally created by Frank Morton at Wild Garden Seeds and I have to say that I love it. This spring, when I did selection on the seedlings, I selected out some darker ones for my own purposes. We'll call them Pink Jester for fun.
I'm also growing out two short season community selections as part of the Just Food Seed by Growers for Growers: short season peppers and disease resistant cucumbers. I'm looking forward to the fried green peppers and cucumber sandwiches.
West Carelton calorie project
In my on going attempt to learn how to breed cabbages in the north, here are some babies. The cabbage is a delicious cross between a slightly blushed savoy (San Michele) and a long season red (Red Rock Mammoth). I've climbed quite a learning curb to get to third generation and continue to climb. For example, the tunnel is producing some great pods but I bet I can't use any pods whose flowers touch the top. At any rate, I should be growing out f4 next year!!
I'm also still doing grow outs and overwintering experiments on perennial kale crosses with Daubenton though I'm thinking of moving away from Brassica oleracea kales toward longer lived Brassica napus kales.
Of course, I'm still selecting seakale, growing out giant colewort, and mostly yellow winter-easy turnip. There is a much older project that I might turn my attention back toward which is a very nice Chinese cabbage. I've been growing it out for years and years but haven't been doing any serious selection. It may be time.
The public participatory blah blah long name.
This year's seedlings of a cross between San Michele blush savoy cabbage and Red Rock Mammoth. These are f3s. There was quite a bit of segregation happening in the f2s grown out last year so I'm looking forward to seeing what levels of savoy and purple this generation will have.
Trenching cabbage stems for overwintering in 2016.
Last year, I cut off the cabbage heads (as they won't overwinter here), took backup cutting (which were decimated by aphids) and trenched the stems. This was by digging up the stems, making a furrow, planting them horizontally, covering with soil, straw, more soil and then the whole bit with row cover. They wintered beautifully this way.
Compare this with a uncovered row of a different project, seed from the Toad's Garden, where the heads were removed but the stems were left planted. Most died back (which is typical of older plants) but a few survived. The now two cabbage projects will be separately tunnelled for seed collection as I have a third Brassica oleracea project on the go as well.
In my quest for f3s of San Michele x Red Rock mammoth, I have learned many interesting things about Brassica oleracea survival and propagation. One of my goals is to produce well adapted crops, which includes being able to produce seed with relatively easy cultivation techniques in this geographical area. You can cellar cabbage but I try to overwinter outside. Usually this requires some sort of protection and the head does not normally survive but varying degress of the rest of the plant can. With just an intact stem, they usually go on to flower. This year, I have trenched my cabbage outdoors (without the heads). As an insurance policy, I also take cuttings.
These are then stored and grown inside. They root relatively easy though I do not get a 100% strike rate, more like 70%. I've managed to get green leafy growth from everything from roots (yes really) and any bit of stem material including relatively small side shoots.
I normally pack them together until I can tell which ones are going to root then I pot up individually. The first time I did this they flowered inside for me despite me preferring that they hang out in vegetative growth until spring. I can see this being useful for doing controlled crosses. I had to hand pollinate these small plants and consequently got only a handful of seeds. I'm hoping with these cuttings that I can do keep them in vegetative growth longer but we shall see as I did harvest these cuttings after fall cold had set in so it is likely they will be vernalized.
This has been a favourite project of mine because the cross tastes great, is hardy but also because I have had so much fun learning what this plant can do.
I'm happy to see the resurgence of interest in Crambe maritima, Seakale, especially among folks interested in perennial vegetables. This forgotten vegetable may have fallen off of the dinner table for many years but I have references to it being grown in Ottawa in the 70s and 80s and it has been growing at the Experimental Farm in downtown Ottawa as an ornamental for years. They have a very impressive patch for those keen on having a gander.
Seakale was traditional foraged for its spring shoots that were naturally blanched by sand (Stephen Barstow, page 5, Around the World in 80 Plants) and eventually made their way into gardens. They are remarkably hardy considering their origins, surviving in my sheltered Canadian Z. 4b sandy garden with dieback only on the coldest years. I started with two varieties: a purple unselected species and Lilywhite, the most common vegetable variety grown.
My collection has grown. I was gifted Angers from a fellow Canadian edible plant enthusiast and now have a swath of seed grown ones. Once a good variety is grown, they can be easily propagated by root cuttings called thongs. So why do I persist with growing out seeds?
When you look up varieties of seakale, you will bump into names like "Pink Tipped." Trying to locate these varieties will give you less result. It is possible that some of these are grown in a garden somewhere (if that's yours, please contact me) but they may have disappeared.
Instead of just crying over lost varieties, why not go back to the beginning: the seed.
In 2013, I started gathering seeds from whatever sources I could find. 2014 and 2015, I grew them out. Here are some of the more interesting results. My goal is to look for interesting leaf form and colour while maintaining good eating qualities and vitality. I would also like to expand the vegetable varieties to include ones good for seakale-broccolis and perhaps even those that have better leaf texture and flavour.
Seakale selection 2015 in pictures
I tend to remove seeds from pods and soak for a few hours first but they can be planted pods and all.
Variation is evident from the seed up through cotyledon to seedling stage. Here are two with very different colouring.
Less vigorous and more vigorous one with purple-blue coloration
Interesting leaf and colour forms. Note the summer heat washes out colour somewhat.
Two by two in the seakale row. Lilywhite on the left versus some species selected as seedlings for purple coloration.
Going dormant in fall, variation in bud colour. Species tend to have purple growth tips whereas Lilywhite has green. Here is a rose growing tip on the left and lavender/green growing tip on right.
Goals for 2016
1. Test for winter hardiness over 2015-2016.
2. Taste shoots, buds and leaves.
3. Do minimal root thong propagation on most interesting varieties and check vigour.
I've grown out Daubenton perennial kale several times and it *can* overwinter in Ottawa though I wouldn't guarantee that. It is borderline at best. I've overwintered it without protection in the city limits and with a rose cone in the country. In 2014 and 2015, I grew out seeds of Daubenton and some crosses. Now, I know what you are thinking. Daubenton doesn't produce seeds!
Daubenton kale is a perennial but is said to rarely flower. However, it does on occasion produce flower buds and from those seeds. It is Brassica oleracea so any member of that species in flower could potentially cross with it. I was lucky enough to be gifted seeds including crosses several years back. I started a selection in 2014.
Read more about the babies and the 1st year survivors.
The second year plants grew but only those with obvious 'red kale' genetics flowered for me. Promisingly they went on to produce good foliar growth during and afterwards though without the abundant side shots of Daubenton. The stem also bent down with a tuff of leaves at the top. They remind me of walking stick kale that is occasionally described as perennial in the right climate. The more true to Daubenton type are quite wide and bush like attaining similar height to those from 2015 seed. There was very little pest or foliar disease issues. I'll be interested to see how they overwinter.
2015 seed grown plants had excellent growth with green and red cross Daubenton types being the fullest. There was variation in the number of side shoots produced. Lacinato crosses were nice especially in flavour though I fear they will not be hardy.
Some of the seedlings showed puckering from the beginning and these are the ones that demonstrated heavier, decorative veining.
Daubenton (and other Brassica oleracea in my experience) are easy to propagate from cuttings hence the benefit of lots of side shoots. I've even propagated them from root cuttings as per seakale.
I'll be trimming them back rather heavily (kale chips? kale salad? everyone!) then covering them with rose cones for the winter. The survivors will hopefully seed to produce more seed to play with!
We had a brutally hard winter in the Ottawa area with all of January and February in the -20C range. The first two weeks of January did not even have much snow cover meaning the ground froze solid though snow finally did fall in the later part of the month in enough quantity to insulate the ground.
In the fall, I decided to try an experiment. Daubenton and some of its variations like variegated Daubenton overwintered well in my city garden but did not do so in my rural garden after we moved. My experiment was to cap all the Daubenton and Daubenton cross seedlings that I grew in 2014 with rose cones. Just that, nothing else. I wanted to see if I could increase survivability simply with something cheap and easy to use.
Then the winter came to stay. It was no wimpy winter. This was a testing year.
Colour me surprised when I discovered that not only did I get good survivability from most of the Daubentons and their crosses but that the crosses with red walking kale held out exceptionally well. There was some variation too with the pure Daubenton seedlings too promising the possibility of developing hardier varieties.
So this year, I selected out from the Daubenton crosses young seedlings with interesting colour and form characteristics. Part 2 will be seeing how they fair through winter covered.
I'll also be starting various other siblings for a mass overwintering trial. The ideal would be to find a balance between seeding and perennially while improving winter hardiness.
And yes, I do have Daubenton x Lancinato and Daubenton x Red Walking Kale for sale this year. Give it a go! Just add a rose cone.
Once upon a time, there were two cabbage winter survivors in my garden: 1 solitary San Michele blush savoy and a row of Red Rock Mammoth red. I'd heard that cabbage is often self infertile or rejects its own pollen. If correct in the case of San Michele, this presented an opportunity.
The cabbage flowered, the bees buzzed, they set seed. It was beautiful weather for brassica pods and I got excellent yields saving each pod parent separately.
The following year, I sowed the hybrid affectionately named SMxRRMf1-savoypodmother and got clear indication of a hybrid. The result was not exactly like either parent but something in between. It was partially saved with deep purple veins throughout and bright green in between. It was also extremely vigorous.
I've never seen such a reliable, vigorous cabbage demonstrating hybrid vigour. I tried over wintering them. First year: failure. Second year: failure mostly though the one cabbage that survived amusingly reheaded a full sized head instead of flowering. Third year, I took cuttings, rooted them and planned on planting them out in the spring. Instead, they flowered indoors and I laboriously hand crossed them. The result: f2 seeds. And so the saga continues.
Winter 2013-2014: A tray of rooting side shoots. Same shoots flowering.
Alert! Alert! F2
Now that I know all sorts of Brassica oleracea tricks. Cuttings root easily. Those roots that look alive in the spring when you pull them? They are alive and will produce growth like the thongs of seakale. Etc…
At any rate, we begin 2015 with f2 seeds and now f2 seedlings. Looking forward to watching them grow.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.