Biennial vegetable crops are either transplanted, which enables quality selection for root crops, or they may stay in place for 2 years. Continuing practices extolled by Eliot Coleman over 40 years ago, and continued by vegan growing expert Iain Tolhurst, extended rotation periods of 8-11 years help to interrupt crop specific soil borne disease and pest cycles, provides time to build and maintain fertility; and brings the cultivating influence to soil structure of varied root profiles – whether mining deep for minerals, wide for water and stability, or just dipping their toes and leaving residual root hairs in the wonderful foundation of organics that is soil.
Planning ahead goes beyond the crop, to influencing fellow and future generations of seed producers. Yesterday was the first of four sessions over a year which demonstrates seed growing through the seasons with Seed to Seed training. A full uptake saw trainees attend from all directions, near and far, including teachers, farmers, community and domestic growers.
At this time of year there is little growing or seed harvesting to attend to, so yesterday’s training focus was the essential selection process, with a demonstration of the true character of plants that is genotype, against the environmental influence that is phenotype. For parsnips, the classic conical shape is ideal. A good population of 100+ roots ensures genetic diversity is maintained and the best roots are used for the seed crops ‘parent’ population. A negative selection was made to exclude ‘off-types’, the damaged, and those which didn’t thrive. Recognising that some have forked from the environmental influence of meeting a stone, means recognising a phenotypic trait which is acceptable for the selection – it’s not genetic and won’t be carried into the next generations.
At this years Living Seed event, Debbie Gillies of True Harvest Seeds reminded us that “All the food, the flowers, the life for tomorrow, is held in the seed of today.” Yesterday’s trainees looked at the past decades’ internet sensation that is Glass Gem – a flint corn for flour or popping, of dazzling multicoloured beauty, bred by the late Carl Barnes, a half Cherokee farmer from Oklahoma, who sought to honour and connect through his work with his ancestors. This was shown alongside Teosinte, the remarkable wild grass ancestor of maize, selectively bred several thousand years ago to become the diverse corns of today. We went on to select Avon Early beetroots, again selecting the best, seeking to maintain the ideal, and deselecting exceptionally oversized, undersized, or multi crowned roots (all grand for eating or deliberate breeding of new varieties. And finally selected from a crop Rouge Crapaudine (female toad), a beetroot variety cultivated for a thousand years. How many have undertaken all the above processes? It’s suitably humbling to accept that we are but a speck, doing our best.
The next full series of Seed to Seed training will begin next November at Irish Seed Savers, but there are opportunities for introductory and advanced training throughout Ireland and the UK. Do check this website or contact your regional coordinator to connect and find out more.