How I Bred Rainbow Tatsoi

If there is one part of seed saving I love the most, it is crossing 2 distinct varieties and unleashing a storm of diversity. I love working with the subsequent populations and seeing what happens after each generation of selection.

I must admit that this love has resulted in boxes and boxes of seed envelopes with different selections and decisions. More envelopes than I will ever be able to grow out. More projects than I know what I’m going to do with or even why I should even bother continue selecting.

Amidst all those projects, I have had a few successes and our Rainbow Tatsoi is one of my favourites.

I’m going to walk you through the key steps of how I bred Rainbow Tatsoi.

(This is my 4th Why Save Seed post. This story illustrates how saving your own seed can provide new and unique varieties that let you stand out from other farms. You can start my Why Save Seed series here!)

Accidental Beginnings

Rainbow Tatsoi did not start intentionally with a plan

I grew a couple hundred plants of Yukina Savoy 100ft away from from a couple hundred plant of Pink Petiole Mix. I was hoping to get some seeds from both varieties.

  • Yukina Savoy is a bigger hardier Tatsoi. It was listed as Brassica juncea in the catalog where we got the seed. I was very excited to grow a non spicy Juncea mustard!
  • Pink Petiole mix is a population of leafy greens that Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds has been selecting for leaves of all colours with pink and purple stems. Pink Petiole is a Brassica rapa.

Now a Brassica juncea and a Brassica rapa should not cross.

Of course, if that juncea is actually a mislabeled rapa, then crossing is a likely probability.

And that of course is what happened.

The First Generation

When I grew out the Yukina Savoy seed, 10-20% of the offspring were obviously crossed up. The offtypes had a Yukina Savoy leaf shape but with a lighter green colour and pink stems.

I felt a mix of emotion. Some dismay that my seed was contaminated but also a lot of curiosity about what this might lead to.

I separated the obviously crossed plants and grew them with a better isolation and saved the seed.

I did this for a couple of generations.

Below is a picture of an early generation.

Next Up – Generating More Diversity

I decided to add a bit more diversity and intentionally crossed this population with two other populations

  • A green round leaf Tatsoi population that came from crossing a bunch of round leafed green leaves including Tastoi, Yukina Savoy and Vitamin Green.
  • A cold hardy population of Rapa diversity that had accidentally overwintered in our fields despite the snow and intense cold. This population also had some Pink Petiole Mix and was throwing out some fully purple leaves. (This population has since been released as our Winter Green mix)

From the mix that ensued, I started to select the round leaf plants with purple leaves and pink/purple stems.

Intentional Selection

After a couple of years of bulk selection, I put a little more intention into the process.

I started saving seed from my favourite plants in individual envelopes. I would then grow 30 plants or so from the seeds of each of my favourite plants.

Below is what that looked like

I could see clear distinctions between different populations. (The pop on the right below did not make the cut.)

Where We Are Now

We released this variety on our online store when we reached pretty uniform leaf shape, purple outer leaves and mostly pink stems. There were still green hearts showing up in some of the plants but this made was a stunning rainbow display of Tastoi goodness!

Things Are Never Quite Finished

Till now, this has been mostly a three season green for us.

This year we grew a bed in our winter greenhouse. And we might need to rename our Rainbow Tatsoi and call it Purple Winter Tatsoi!

The pictures below were taken in our 35′ x 150′ greenhouse when the outside weather was below -20C (-5F).

The cold really brings out the purple. Not much of a rainbow left!

And What Accidental New Varieties Have You Fallen In Love With?

Have you had any happy crossing accidents on your farm?

Do you have any farm varieties that you’ve bred and are proud of?

I would love to hear your stories of accidental (and intentional) plant breeding.


3 thoughts on “How I Bred Rainbow Tatsoi

  1. It’s great to read about the adventure in seed saving from you. My seed saving experience began with a bok choy that bolted and went to seed. Then reappeared in force the next year. Over the past 15 years it has naturalized to our garden in Montana. I have had varying years of selection intervention. Now there seems to be two strains, one that grows early in the Spring, and one that comes up late in the Summer. The late one is too late to save seed, so probably won’t be around much longer.

    1. That sounds like a great bok choy.

      I wonder if rather than two strains what you might be seeing is two ideal growing times. It is possible that some bok choy germinate at many times in the year but that it is only those two growth window where it takes off and produces nice heads.

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