Monday, February 17, 2014

Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea

A few years back we were at some community event in Downtown Tucson and a community group was giving away some seed packets containing old seed (perhaps with a low germination rate). I knew that my children enjoyed snap peas so I decided to try a few Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Peas. The rest is history.

Though I really should try to improve upon this snow pea variety I have to admit that this variety does so incredibly well that our children harvest a lot of peas on a daily basis. Within the 12 plants that I am growing some do better than others, though it is hard for me to judge which ones produce the most – perhaps I should ask my children!

Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow peas are lots of fun.

So here is my review of this incredibly productive pea variety. It is definitely semi-sweet and perfect for children. As we have enjoyed it in salads I can only imagine that Oregon Sugar Pod II peas would do very well stir-fried. It is medium sized and can support its neighbors if grown close together.

Peas aplenty, peas galore!

Oregon Sugar Pod II keeps them coming back for more and more and more.

Once the plants become established, if you pick all the peas off in one day, you can almost watch the flowers sprout peas out overnight.

My kids love to pick and pick and pick these peas!

Though I have grown other pea varieties in Tucson over the winter I have never grown one that is as productive as Oregon Sugar Pod II. So if you are looking for a pea variety to keep your children busy, order yourself a packet of this incredible variety.

Oregon Sugar Pod II Peas producing seed

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Although my sweet potato harvest this year was larger than I expected, every other week sweet keep potatoes sprouting up.

Purple Sweet Potatoes keep sprouting up where the vines were growing.

 I did not mean for this to happen! 

I nearly tripped over this one!

Oh well. The influx of purple sweet potatoes has been added to our soups, chilies, and many other things I cook. Sometimes I just cook them up and eat them plain or with salt. Yum!

This picture is from today. Why can't the vines all produce within my garden?

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.