Monday, March 17, 2014

Selecting Outcrossing Vegetables

Over time, I have contemplated the difficulty of saving seed from crossbreeding plants. Possessing limited space, the backyard gardener can find it difficult to grow the 100-200 plants required to avoid inbreeding depression in outbreeders such as carrots and corn. Even more difficult for the backyard gardener is the ability to select for specific traits in outbreeders, because backyard gardeners cannot start with 400 plants needed cull the plants down to a population of 200.

Purple carrots can exhibit a wide range of color variation

Carrot tops before selection

Carrot tops compared with the other plants in the garden

With these challenges in mind, it is a wonder that vegetable gardeners can improve on any outcrossing vegetable variety. Having a knowledge of what characteristics can be selected and how to select for these traits will enable gardeners from any climate to select vegetables for the attributes that best suit their needs.

Cutting Carrot tops to keep stecklings from transpiring

Composting all these carrot tops felt a bit like a waste

It can be difficult to breed out the dominant white color

My experience saving carrot seeds started a few years ago when I saved some seed of Purple Dragon in my summer garden. The results were fairly good but I had difficulty selecting for the dark purple color that I wanted in the roots because I didn’t know gardeners could select for color in carrots by making stecklings, as shown in The Organic Seed Grower.

A few of the many purple carrots I pulled from the garden.

Stecklings are carrots (or another root crop) that has the majority of its top cut off (to keep from transpiration) and is prepared in a specific way for either winter storage, selection, or both. The great thing about carrot stecklings is that the gardener can cut the bottom of the carrot off to evaluate color, texture and taste. When returned to the garden, healthy stecklings will keep growing and produce seed.

A large bucket full of purple carrots

Sorting Stecklings for Desireable Traits

Though the color of this individual carrot was good, it contracted CMV


Culled carrots end up on the dinner table with asparagus

Another technique I recently taken advantage of was to cluster my stecklings so that I can select seed from the best plants. Though I am still growing out 200+ carrots, I am only saving seed of the best 50 plants. By doing this, I am maintaining genetic diversity (utilizing the total population of 200 plants) while still selecting the carrots that exhibit the most desirable features (dark purple color). The more traits a gardener selects for, the more unwanted plants he/she will need to remove from the population, so it is a good idea to only select for a few traits each time the gardener saves seeds.

Saving seed from the 50 best plants still maintains genetic diversity.

Best Carrots were planted in the middle with the good seed surrounding them.

I often feel fortunate that my mother-in-law is able to travel abroad and speak so many languages. I owe her a great deal of thanks for finding these purple carrot seeds for me during her travels.

A little tight, but these carrots will still produce seed.

The stecklings begin to sprout.

The point of this post is to emphasize to others that, even with limited space, backyard gardeners can use selection to produce more desirable vegetables – as long as they know how.

Even gardeners with limited space can select great carrots.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kyoto Red Carrots

One of the reasons why I love to trial vegetables is because I occasionally encounter a vegetable variety that excels in many of the qualities I am looking for. From my experience this last year growing a new red carrot variety I would have to say that Kyoto Red is one of the very best carrots I have ever tasted.

The Kyoto Red Carrot

Though last year’s carrot trials did not go very well, they gave me the opportunity to find something much better than I have ever grown before. I planted seeds of Kyoto Red in the kids’ garden, knowing that I would not be saving seed of this variety this year.
Kids' Garden in Late October
Kids' Garden in December

Kyoto Red Carrot Leaves in December

During the time period in which my carrots were growing (late October-late February) the kids’ garden received full sun, howbeit much less than they would in the summer. I was told by a staff member at Kitazawa seed that red carrots tend to produce more dark colors during when grown over a cool season.
Fresh out of the Garden

So why should anyone even grow a red carrot? What makes these carrot superior to varieties you may grow already? My response is that the Kyoto red carrots have a wonderfully smooth texture and smooth surface. For those of you who feel that food texture is important, this might be worth noting. Second, these carrots are sweet. This does not mean that they are sugary sweet – but they are pretty sweet when they are young and have a nice sweet aftertaste as they get larger. Third, they produce a lot of food for the space. The roots are deep, and for those with a deep garden bed and limited space these carrots produce plenty of food for the space. Lastly, these carrots are red. The red color tends to consistent throughout so that the few carrots that seem lighter colored still exhibit a moderately dark red flesh.
Interior view of the Kyoto Red Carrot.

A view of what they look like when sliced.

Color comparison - sorry no samples available. (=
When taken as a whole, the Kyoto red carrot is a very smooth, sweet and colorful carrot. This carrot variety would be great to sell at any farmers market – if you don’t eat it before then!

I was thinking of taking these to the market ---- but we ate them instead. (=

Thursday, March 6, 2014

New Spirit Garden and Thoughts

With how busy our family’s schedule is, I rarely get an opportunity to leave the house to do things for myself. So, going to visit a garden a few Saturdays ago was a special treat. I wanted to visit a garden without driving too far so I stopped by a nearby Community Gardens of Tucson plot. New Spirit Garden is one of my favorite Community of Gardens plots near my home at the corner of Camino Seco and Old Spanish Trail. Usually it is locked and inaccessible to the public, but on the Saturday of my visit one of the gardeners graciously let me come in to have a look around.

It is always nice to visit another's garden to get ideas and be inspired.

What interests me most is seeing what is working well for others and learning from others’ success and failures. Despite the warm weather it seems that peas are doing well for others this year.

This seems to be a good season for Peas

A red loose-leaf variety
Although I have not grown Kale yet, I would love to try it.
The vegetables that impressed me the most were the lettuces. Unfortunately the grower of this exceptionally dark lettuce variety was not around. I was really impressed by the full dark color that this leaf lettuce possessed.

Anyone know the name of this Purple/Red lettuce variety? It is beautiful!