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.
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
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.
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.
Huge thanks to Our Farm's Katie and Kate and Blackstar Urban Farm's Karen (1) for their hard work so far. All crops are in the ground, subject to mother nature for the West Carleton Calorie Crop Breeding Project. She has been busy helping us select plants this year. We have been experiencing a very wet spring and early summer, delaying planting for many people.
Year 1 is to grow out sweet potato for true seed from short season varieties. All three farms have had a great start though a hail storm or two have tattered leaves and I've had golden tortoise beetle though numbers are not overly high. Aster Lane Edibles also has a selection of True Sweet Potato Seedlings that are catching up to the slip planted varieties.
I'm particularly impressed by how gloriously the sweets are growing at Our Farm in their heavy clay soil, especially in this soggy year.
butternut squash landrace - farmer select
true potato seed
Some nice looking potato specimens growing from the Blue Leslie x OP seed kindly sent to me.
(1) Are you the sort of farmer that might want to help grow calorie crops in the nearby Ottawa Valley area? We are looking for two more farms next year. Learn about true seed growing of tuberous crosses and experience the fun of looking at underperforming rows or plants and saying "great selection year."
(2) True Seed, in this context, refers to plants grown from sexually reproduced seed when they are typically grown vegetatively. This reshuffling of genes allows for selection and production of new varieties.
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.
As summer is around the corner, I thought I'd fill in readers on what's happening on the homestead. To start, so many breeding projects!
True seed grown tubers
Tubers and other calorie crops are of particular interest to me as a grower. This is not to say that I don't love other edible crops. I do. In fact, we have an abundance of greenery growing as weeds, perennial edibles and even the occasional treasured annual. I even have some projects on the go to produce interesting greens such as dandelion selection, thin petiole overwintering chard and Daubenton perennial kale crosses. But when it comes to feeding my family and my community, it is the tubers, legumes, grains and storables that I gravitate toward.
I grow out many tuber crops, which are usually started vegetatively, as true (sexually reproduced) seed. These include sweet potatoes, nightshade potatoes, oca, yacon, Apios, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Other projects falling under the calorie crop label would include The Dried Goods Growing Club, Storage vining crops including the Public Participatory Butternut Squash Landrace, and the West Carelton Calorie Project all in part 2. But before we explore those, let's veer into a few plant families that I tend to focus on.
What would life be without alliums?
I love my onion, garlic, leeks, chives and so forth. Though I sell a number of perennial onion seeds that are not undergoing heavy selection such as Blue Chives - a beautiful, tasty self seeding flat leafed plant that is perfect for the front of a sunny border), I also am working on a few breeding projects.
One of my oldest is probably the perennial leek. It is a cross between Oerprei (ancient) perennial bunching leek and a perennializing population of St. Victors leek selection for purple coloration in the leaf (first selected by the Long Island Seed Project). I'm already pretty happy with the cross that is reliably perennial here but larger than the ancient leek.
Next would come the potato onions. I have been growing out true seed of as many varieties as I could get my hands on including shallot seed. These have been mixed together with the best being replanted. I'm looking for high yielding storage onions that readily overwintering on a fall planting. Right now I have 2015 and 16's selections growing out, producing seed and sets along with a couple rows of new seedlings.
Last year I had a complete failure in my attempt to grow out seed sources for selection of a low input, bulb onion but the seedlings are doing much better this year. I hope to have some seed parent candidates later this summer.
Ongoing are my experiments with walking onion and grow outs of other wild or less cultivated onions including Allium altaicum, Allium stellatum and Allium cernuum.
beans, beans the magical fruit... Legumes
Here are some highlights though there are lots more growing including peanuts (Schronce's Black, Valencia ALE select), Ahipa, runner beans, true seed Apios, some really nifty dry peas that I'm testing, grass pea, soy and a few others as part of the Dried Goods Growing Club (part 3). That's not including al the fun Fabaceae plants in the forest gardens and fields that I am not eating!
I'm probably most excited that I'm finally at the stage of growing out enough Icicle pea to store, save and sell (even if only in a limited quantity). Also, though the peanuts were attacked by what was probably bean flea beetle, they are bouncing back so I'm hoping to do a little pollen swapping between the two northern strains to see what we can produce.
A little landrace of Chickpeas that I have been growing for more than a decade now is also at the stage of increasing again after a big loss a few years ago. I just *might* have enough to share!! Included in this mix are a variety of colours and some popping genes.
This year I'm also doing some selective growing of a few dry beans that I particularly enjoy not only fresh but also at what I like to call the shelly stage for frozen storage in winter. Lastly is one little side project of growing all my diminutive (both plant and seed) dry beans together including Carol Deppe's provider bean, brown selection (I'm missing the black for some reason) and a pink one called Peanut if I'm remembering correctly. They tend to cook up at approximately the same rate and I like the variation in colour.
Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3
The first rule of growing sweet potatoes is that they are not potatoes. That's right, Ipomoea batatas (sweet potatoes) is not even in the same Genus as Solanum tuberosum (potatoes). So, put away most of what you know about the nightshade tuber and embrace the morning glory tuber.
To start, they like heat. And despite what you may have heard, at least in our part of the world - Ottawa, Canada, they can withstand and even thrive in drought (I have two significant droughts in 2012 and 2016 with bumper sweet potato harvests and no irrigation in sandy drought prone soil to attest to that contrasted with poorer harvests in wetter, cooler years). So you won't want to plant out until after last frost in warm soil, even better if you pre-warm it with clear or black plastic mulch. You'll be planting directly into that.
You won't be cutting them up. You won't be cellaring them in cold, moist conditions. And you will ideally not wait until vines have been blackened by frost to harvest.
So how do you start them?
Using a process called slipping. Typically sweet potato sprouts will develop from one end more than the other though there are variations. Therefore you won't want to cut them up.* Some people skewer them and suspend them in glass jars full of water which will work but a more efficient technique, for me, has been placing them half way into a tray of moist starter mix. If they have little sprouts developing, I place those ends upright. Place them in a warm, sunny spot or under lights. Growth will start slowly with the leaves unfurling and them inching upward but suddenly they'll explode into vines.
Once they are about 4-8 inches or so, you can break the slips off the sweet potato. They may have roots on them or they may not. Either way, then you can plant these in a new tray of moist starter mix to grow on until planting. I've also seen people break the new unfurled sprouts off and grow these on. I've not tried it but it would probably work well too if you stay on top of the watering. The slips will keep coming for awhile so don't discard the tray of tubers right away.
Often sweet potatoes in storage will develop sprouts which will stay dormant for quite some time but grow as soon as the conditions are right. The longest I've tried starting a pre-sprouted tuber is 18 months. (Incidentally sweet potatoes, properly cured and stored, will store a long time.)
All sweet potato slips will be similar if not identical to their parent. Despite the fact that each should be clones, occasionally there are sports - mutations - that make the child plant slightly different from its parent tuber.
I usually don't plant out before the very end of May or beginning of June meaning that I'm slipping sometime in April normally unless I have some project up my sleeve meaning I need to start earlier. Harvest in Ottawa is sometime near the end of September or beginning of October, before first frost as the soil begins to cool. They will be damaged by temperatures less than 10C.
Make sure you harden off your rooted slips before planting out and enjoy!
2016 Sweet Potato Harvest
* Advanced observation - broken tubers often sprout more vigorously, earlier. I do not know what this means but I stand by the don't cut them up advice for now. This is probably a function of a stressed plant part desperately trying to survive.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.