Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Organic Seed Grower – A Farmer’s Guide to Vegetable Seed Production by John Navazio

In writing this book review I wish to warn readers that this heavy duty in-depth seed cultivation guide is not for the faint of heart. However, if you are truly serious about producing high quality vegetable seed, this is the book for you. The Organic Seed Grower is a straightforward guide for those who want to learn to prepare vegetables for winter storage and for those who are seeking to understand the nuances and methods of vegetable seed selection. This book is devoted more to seed selection and maintaining the integrity of existing varieties than to breeding new vegetable varieties.


The Organic Seed Grower should be shared with the world (=

As The Organic Seed Grower describes cultivating each vegetable variety, it provides the common name of each variety and includes information on topics such as the crop species, life cycle, mating system, pollination mode, ideal temperature for pollination and seed formation, reproductive cycle, row spacing, the isolation distance required between cultivars of the crop and other crops/plants that will cross with.

Each chapter also details the reproductive biology, the life cycle of the crop in the field, the harvest of seeds, the climatic and geographic requirements, growing of the seed crop including the various growing methods that can be used and the characteristics that can be selected for to maintain and improve the genetic stock of the variety.
 

Healthy carrot foliage leads to healthy carrot roots


Additional sections in this book elaborate on characteristics of biennial seed crops, maintenance of varietal integrity, adequate population size, seed crop climates, seed borne diseases and seed stock basics.

I especially enjoyed reading the sections on melons, carrots, beets, radishes and cucumbers. There is a chapter that includes Asian greens, but there is no chapter about artichokes.

One thing I found interesting in my reading was comparing the differences between carrots and radishes. I found it fascinating that the section on carrots tells how carrots can be selected for forking, shoulder type, cracking, root growth patterns and taste – while radishes can only be selected for root size, shape, color, leaf size, shape and seedling vigor. Perhaps the major problem we have with many of the radish varieties out there is that they are not being selected by taste!


Will we ever find a truly good tasting radish?


While reading The Organic Seed Grower I learned some new terms that I put into my own words. Here are six of the new words I am working to incorporate into my gardening vocabulary:

Cutting a cheek: You can cut off a cheek, or side, of a beet or other root crop to determine root color.

Stecklings: Roots that are stored to produce a seed crop.
By storing, or at least pulling carrot, beets, or other roots out to look at their skin, growth habits, color and taste the gardener can better control the genetic traits of his seed. When using this method, the majority of the vegetative growth (leaves and stems) down to the apical bud are removed to keep the root from transpiring water out of wilting leaves. The carrot (root) itself can then be evaluated and stored over the winter or culled (see below) for specific traits. The remaining carrots can be replanted in the ground even after taste has been determined by cutting and eating the bottom of each carrot.

Genetic Drift: The degree of deviance a population of a specific vegetable variety can experience if routine selection and culling of rouge or undesirable plants takes place.

Cull: To pull out or eliminate plants from a population because of a specific undesirable genetic trait or inferior quality.

Rogue: (verb) To remove inferior or defective plants or seedlings from a crop. This term loosely relates to the rogue plants that are being removed.

Lodging: Lodging refers to the tendency of a stem of a plant falling over. Lodging is an undesirable characteristic because when a plant falls over it can make the harvest unmarketable, if not unusable.
 

As a strong inbreeder, peas require minimal space to maintain


Here are some thoughts I have had since reading this book:

As with any good book, The Organic Seed Grower left me with almost as many questions and thoughts as it provided answers. For example, “could cutting a cheek possibly be done with other vegetable crops, such as spring radishes, to improve taste?” Also, “Using the steckling approach could a farmer use a brix meter to select a sweeter carrot variety?

Another thought I had was that cutting a cheek would not be the best method for determining carrot color because the skin of a carrot can exhibit a very different color than its core. Breeders that are selecting for carrot color would have a lot of work to do in preparing stecklings and tasting the carrots to determine the optimal carrot flavor, texture, and color.


My new found knowledge will definitely aid in my selection of better carrot varieties.

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