Local seed saving projects

Riverbend Farm Newsletter                                                             June 30, 2013

 Locally Adapted Seed Saving Project

 Some of the seed projects are coming to an end. The red russian kale is done flowering and the seed pods are turning brown.  The seed pods on the rainbow lacinato are still green and some of the plants continue to flower. They were all blown over in last Friday’s storm. I decided against standing them up because that could rip out the roots that are still intact. Some of the plants have a kink in the stem so they wouldn’t stand up anyway.

 Both varieties of kale were dug up last fall and spent the winter in the root cellar. The lacinato  plants were much larger, having been planted last spring. The RRK were seeded in late summer and were much smaller. The RRK overwintered better and look like they will produce just as much seed.

 Jean Peterson is growing out brussel sprouts for seed and she notes: “ Seed pods are formed and green. (only one plant has pods that look a little brownish.) Also the little green seed balls inside the pod taste tender and yummy” . If you know Jean, you can see her smiling as she says that.

 Brussel sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, and most kale are all in the same family. The red russian and the rainbow lacinato are both kales, but they can be grown next to each other because they are two different species. The RRK is related to rutabagas and the lacinato is closer to the cabbages.

 Some of the turnip seeds have started to shatter. They need to be harvested right away.  A few of the plants still have green seed pods so I’ll let them go a while longer.  The misato rose radishes are done flowering but  the seed pods are still green.  The beets are flowering, but have not  started to set seed.

 Cabbage family seed on the same plant ripens at different times. The first flowers set seed and ripen first. The best seed comes from the early set seed. The seeds are larger and tend to have a better germination rate.  Since we are not growing 10 acres of any type of seed we will harvest the seed as it ripens and store it in the corn crib where there is plenty of air flow, it is not too hot, and the mice can’t get it.

 The first planting of arugula is all flowering now. We didn’t harvest much of it, but it will make a nice seed crop.  There is so much of that  that I will let all the pods turn brown before we harvest it. My guess is that there will be several pounds of seed produced in that patch.

 The oats and peas are flowering. It looks like a great week for  them.  If it is too warm at night they spend all their energy respiring and the seed does not form.  Emmer is an old variety of wheat. It looks like an over grown lawn at this point. It has not started to tiller. The rye and vetch are also flowering. They are not so sensitive to temperatures since they are closer to weeds than food.  They are very resilient plants.

 The F2 hybrid tomatoes over at Cathy’s are looking good. There are a lot of them. The original hybrid is known as F1 seed, the seed saved from an F1 would be F2.  In theory only about 25% of the plants in each variety will come true to type.  There are about 200 plants of each F2 variety. If 25% of them are good I will still have 50 plants to save seed from.  With tomatoes, 20-25 is considered a safe number of plants to maintain genetic diversity.  Most modern hybrids are entirely self pollinating, so the plant next to the one that is true to type won’t cross pollinate it. It usually takes several years to stabilize a hybrid.

 On our side of the fence there are several side by side comparisons of saved seed ( from open pollinated varieties) and purchased seed of the same variety of tomato. It will be interesting to see if there is a noticeable difference in the plants or the productivity.

 Some of the saved seeds in the comparison are from heirloom tomatoes, which are not entirely self pollinating. There are usually a few off types that show up.  They tend to be completely different than the rest of the plants in the row and are easy to spot. It is possible to save the seed from the crosses and start a new varietal line, but there has to be some limit somewhere.

 The only seed that is obviously an off type that was noticed early and saved was some potato leafed plants that came out of Early Girl seed. Early Girl is an old hybrid, a 1962 All America Selections winner. It is early and it tastes great. It has the perfect balance between sweet and acidic flavors that make a tomato so good. 

 A few years ago Monsanto bought up the company that produces Early Girl seed. I can see them dropping this old variety in favor of something newer and more profitable.  Potato leafed tomato plants are almost always an heirloom, typically Brandywine or one of the myriad of selections from it.  It will be interesting to see what they are.

 A new venture will be hand pollinating zucchinis. There are some great open pollinated varieties and why shouldn’t they be adapted to our conditions too ?  There are two  problems 1) bumble bees visit every flower in the field and cross pollinate everything. 2) a lot of the zucchini varieties are hybrids.

 Problem number 1  means that the squash blossoms need to be taped shut the evening before they open.  As you can imagine, that need to be done everyday.  And since the bumble bees aren’t visiting every plant, pollen has to be hand collected from many plants to pollinate each female flower.  The hand pollinated flowers are then marked with a ribbon and left to go to maturity.  The latest planting of zucchini was laid out so the open pollinated varieties are all in the same area. We will just flag that area off and won’t harvest anything from the hand pollinated plants.  It will be next year before we can see how that goes.