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|
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.
|It can be difficult to breed out the dominant white color|
|A few of the many purple carrots I pulled from the garden.|
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.|