It may be frigid out there but there are lots of dreams of summer's heat manifest in sweet potato seedlings from last year. Below you'll see sweet potatoes that you have NEVER seen before. Never unless you saw some of my pictures on Facebook that is. Why? Because these are from true botanical sweet potato seed. Each seed contains its own jumbled genes of a unique individual rather than clones of a particular variety (I've got lots of those growing too).
Seedling Sweet Potato Selection
My seedlings from last year (from three seed sources which included seed produced minimally here) were cut. I didn't do it last fall as I wanted to test them for storability under my conditions first. Sweet potatoes are stored warm, by the way, and mine are stored in a wooden chest by a wood stove.
White is apparently semi-dominant, which was certainly the case for my seedlings. White and purple made up the majority of my plants. Purple ones tended toward being longer season or spindly - both of which aren't interesting to me but I did get a few that were exceptional purples/reds with shorter, stouter tubers. I also got a few bronze skinned-white fleshed ones that might be worth growing as I get requests for these sort of starchier sweets quite often.
Most were smooth skinned but as you can see on the right, there were a few that were bumpier. Perhaps this is more common in wild types. White and purple, by the way, tend to be drier and less moist making them better for certain types of recipes like chipping and stewing. I did get two oranges within 2017's seedlings. The pale orange that you can see here and a stouter, shorter darker orange.
I sorted the sweet potato seedlings by form, colour and podding ability first then tasted some of the more interesting ones. The best seedlings were put in a tray for slipping.
One of my favourites was a red skinned, red-purple fleshed one with good yield. We'll see how it does this year!
Last year, I instructed two partner farmers as part of the West Carleton Calorie Project to look for and gather seeds for me. Myself and Our Farm had success so these seeds have been started for this year's trials!
I look forward to comparing yields with 2017's seedling tubers and common short season cultivars like Covington, Beauregard and so forth.
Hoping for a little luck and summer sun to keep this project rolling into 2018.
It's that time of year where you can order your completely free butternut squash seed as a public participant in the ... deep breath ... Public Participatory Cucurbita moschata Butternut Squash Landrace Breeding Project for Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec... otherwise known as that Butternut Project.
In 2017, I had some great farmers showing me once again how awesome they were at growing by producing loads of luscious vines and fruit. Fruit set was late as we had low heat units last year but I did receive some seed back from participants. Many thanks!
Just contact me with your address and I will send you the seed and details. Spoiler: The details are very easy. Grow squash. No need to Isolate. Store squash from best plant(s) for a few months. Send back some seeds.
Easy as pumpkin* pie.
* Butternut squash makes the best pumpkin pie in my opinion.
I grew out about 20 plants of a cross between Santorini and OSU blue. What can I say about its f1 progeny... it was pretty. I held out well against disease. It was early. The flavour was not exactly exciting and the appearance was pretty intermediary between its two parents.
Of course, the f1 is not very exciting. On the other hand, this year's f2s should be far more fun.
Limited Seed Offer
Would you like to try your hand at some f2 OSU x Santorini? They will be variations on a theme of their parents. I can send you a sample and you can send me your thoughts and photos. If you find a great tomato in that batch, please send me back seeds.
Last year, a couple farmers in West Carelton and I started year 1 of a project to locally adapt some important calorie crops to our region including sweet potatoes and potatoes from true botanical seed.
For the potato (Solanum tuberosum) part of the project, we grew out Blue Leslie x OP and another strain of mixed TPS. The former was chosen because of its drought tolerance. It turns out that it is also tolerant of other vagaries thrown at it including the non stop deluge that categorized the weather for 2017 and various pests. Foliage was very clean and unaffected by disease right up until I pulled them as well.
Flowers, on Blue Leslie x OP, varied in colour from white to blue. Apparently the white tends to self if I'm remembering correctly. Some certainly were heavy berry setters.
That's the great thing about True Potato Seed (TPS) growing compared to True Sweet Potato Seed (TSPS) in our climate. You could get enough seed to Johnny Potato seed everyone's garden many fold from a few well producing plants. The seed itself is as easy to start as a tomato as well.
Blue Leslie x OP
Intriguingly, the Blue Leslie x OP (Blue Leslie is a cross between domesticated potato and Solanum chacoense) all had somewhat woody stems. The progeny were mostly oblong like fingerlings or somewhat flattened ovals. They varied in skin colour. One was adorably bicolour but sadly that was lost in the freezing incident of December 2017. I was keeping the special offspring in a special room off the house but the door was left open by an unknown person. That night, it went down to -30C or less with a much colder windchill. Many tubers in there froze solid though luckily I did not lose the carrot, onion, sea beet or Yacon.
I will be giving pull started plants to a few participating farmer-partners to grow out and test in their field and will be growing out a number of interesting TPS this year to trial on site.
Thankfully, the tubers that were stored in The World's Worst Polytunnel cache's were intact despite December's extreme cold. At least one tuber has a beautiful bright yellow colouration with purple skin. I'm looking forward to taste tests this fall.
Kenosha Potato Project
Cultivariable's How To Grow True Potato Seed
Cultivariable's Potato Genetics Articles
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.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.