Category Archives: Plant Breeding

Seed Webinar today

I’m excited to be part of a seed webinar this afternoon at 4PM Eastern.  I’ll be talking about how we approach selecting seed plants on our farm. I’ve got some pictures lined up!


If you’re interested in listening in all the details are below. (Or you can just register here: There is no fee to participate.




“The People’s Choice” Webinar: Seed Questions across Canada!

Hosted by: The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security


Designed according to feedback collected from across Canada, the webinar will start with a presentation on “On-farm Roguing, Selection, and Adaptation” by Dan Brisebois of Tourne-Sol Farm (QC). Part 2 of the webinar will feature a seed panel of experts from across the country who will address YOUR most important questions about seed. The panel will speak to both pre-submitted questions and live questions from webinar participants. Please come prepared to engage!

You can get more info and register here:



Planting Overwintered Dandelion

Last year, I selected my favorite Italian Dandelion plants from our market planting. I chose them based on the level of leaf serration, the red stem and green leaf contrast, and vigour.

In fact, I’d actually been eliminating whatever I didn’t like all season long. Whatever was too green, too round leafed, or too marked by disease would get it’s growing tip cut off by the harvest knife as I made bunches for market.

By the end of the season, I was left with a bunch of plants that looked like what I thought Italian Dandelion’s should look like.

(Do note that Italian Dandelions are different from the garden weeds Taraxacum officinale. Italian Dandelions are actually Cichorium intybus  – the chicory species that includes such delicious bitter greens like Radicchio.)

Dandelion Leaves

In the fall, we dug up the roots, trimmed the leaves, and planted them in potting soil in Rubbermaid bins. We stored these bins over the winter in our cold room.

By spring, the roots were starting to sprout blanched leaved in the bins.


Dandelion Bin

I took them out to inspect them. All the roots had survived.

Dandelion Roots

We went out to the field and planted away!

Brendan Planting

We planted them one row per bed and one foot spacing per bed. These plants are going to get big.

Dandelion Planted

While we were at it, we also planted out a bunch of different turnips. We’ll let these cross up to create a crazy population that we can select from.


Turnips laid out


Seedy Reading and Listening For The Holiday Season

I’ve been a bit slow on posts over the last 15 months. (Coincidentally about the same amount of time that Stella has been in our lives!) Nonetheless I’ve been busy with seeds and have thought of many fantastic blog posts I could write. And maybe in 2014, I will write some of those posts.

In the meantime, I’d like to share some of the seedy stuff I’ve been listening and reading.

Recently started a podcast series called Seed Smarts in which Margaret Roach interviews some big seed names. There have been 3 interviews to date:

  1. John Navasio of the Organic Seed Alliance on plant breeding and hybriditis – the tendency “where the predominant number of varieties available for any particular crop, like cabbage, or broccoli, or carrots, are hybrids”
  2. Lia Babitch of Turtle Tree Seed on running a seed company that grows a large amount of the seed they sell.
  3. Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds on, amongst other topics, why they offer hybrids though they are big proponents of OP seeds.

I’ve also been reading Joseph Lofthouse’s series on Landrace Gardening at Joseph is based in Utah and has been letting varieties of the same species cross up and selecting what does best for his location. In this way he’s developing new landraces full of potential.

Do you have any suggestions of great seedy listening or reading? If you do, please share!

2013 True Garlic Seed Update

Last summer I successfully grew true garlic seed. I was thrilled.


In the middle of the winter I followed Ted Jordan Meredith and Avram Drucker’s advice and soaked the garlic seeds in a 1% solution of household bleach. I then rinsed the seeds and placed them on moist paper towels in a ziplock bag in the fridge for 4 weeks.

Afterwards, I planted them in trays in our greenhouse amidst our vegetable seedlings and waited. And waited. And waited.

By mid-summer, none of the garlic seeds had germinated and the potting soil had begun to crust over. I tossed the trays with a deep sigh of disappointment.

Of course, I haven’t given up. Currently I am waiting on a couple dozen garlic scapes to to set seed in our kitchen. At present, they have swollen green ovaries. With a bit of luck, I might have more seed by the end of November!

Earlier this week, there was an exciting post on the Seed Savers Exchange True Garlic Seed forum thread.  Dr. Ivan Buddenhagen, a UC Davis professor who has been working with garlic from true seed for 14 years, is currently offering bulbs of 10 varieties he has selected from seed producing garlic cultivars. He also has limited quantities of true seed for sale at $25 per 100 seeds. His website is

True Garlic Seed Update

Have you been wondering what happened with my attempt to produce true garlic seed? Here’s how it went …

(Reminder: True garlic seed is different from the bulbils that appear in mature garlic scapes. You can read a true garlic seed primer and a garlic bulbil primer in past GTS posts. Or read Ted Meredith and Avram Drucker’s  introduction to producing true garlic seed.)

July 11, 2012 – Harvest Scapes and Remove Bulbils

I already posted about this step in my true garlic seed primer. In this case though I removed the bulbils from harvested garlic scapes sitting in a bucket of water.

August 7, 2012 – Garlic in Bloom

August 17, 2012 – The Bulbils That Got Away

It’s hard to remove every last bulbil the first time, especially the littlest bulbils. I tried to check regularly and remove any bulbils I missed. A few got away.

These garlic scapes were harvested at the same time as those for garlic seed. Their bulbils are fully formed and their flowers have long since dried up.

August 26, 2012 – Swollen Garlic Ovaries

This is when I got excited.

End September, 2012 – Harvest Seed Heads

At this point the garlic stems had dried up and the flowers were drying down though I still couldn’t see any mature seed.

I cut the seed heads and put them in paper bags.

NOvember 28, 2012 – Garlic Seed

Yesterday I opened up my paper bags and found …

These garlic seeds came from a rocambole garlic named Quebec. Quebec is a variety we’ve been growing for years. My co-farmer Fred originally picked it up at farmer’s market but otherwise  we don’t know anything else about its history.

January to March 2013 – Starting TRue GArlic Seed

Though I am pretty stoked, getting the garlic seed is only the first step. In January or February, I’ll follow Ted Meredith and Avram Drucker’s indications to bleach and cold treat the seed. I’ll seed them in March in the greenhouse and wait to see how many germinate. ( First generation true garlic seed reputedly has low germination.)

Summer 2013 And Beyond …

From there …

Well, I’ll keep you all posted!

Looking back at SEED CONNECTIONS 2012

Last weekend was a watershed moment in the Eastern Canadian organic seedscape. A hundred or so seed growers, seed savers, farmers, gardeners, seed, seed sellers, seed buyers, academics, students, NGOs, and some folks who’d never even gardened met at Seed Connections 2012 in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Frank Morton (from Wild Garden Seeds in Philomath, Oregon) opened the event demonstrating where seeds come from and how we can create our own genetic future in farming.

With a slide show of the Wild Garden fields and crops, Frank illustrated all the potentials when farmers save their own seed. How with selection and some cross-pollination, farmers can dramatically adapt and improve varieties to their needs. And though farmers can do this alone, teaming up with a plant breeder can bring these varieties even further.

A number of the more experienced seed growers had come to this event specifically to hear Frank Morton and he delivered but the conference did not stop there …

Over the weekend a number of topics were covered. Some technical such as  pollinators, seedborne disease, herb and flower seed production. Others addressed seed business management. A few sessions dabbled in both.

You can hear two interviews from the Seed Connections conference on CKUT’s Ecolibrium: Rowen White about her seed work (starts at 7 min 50 sec) and Kim Fellows about pollination (starts at 25 min.)

What really impressed me was the high caliber of presentation and discussion. Experienced seed growers and established seed companies were exchanging on the nuts and bolts of seed growing, seed breeding, and seed business. And even though some participants had limited seed experience, they were still welcome to be part of the discussion and did contribute to the discussion.


Rowen White wrapped the event up speaking about the seed wisdom of the Iroquois people. Rowen is from the Mohawk community of Akwesasne, curates an extensive collection of rare northeast native seeds, and is co-founder of the Sierra Seeds cooperative in California. (Rowen is also the author of Breeding Organic Vegetables – you can read my review.)

Rowen spoke about a number of different Mohawk varieties of corn and beans collected them from older members of the community, and how the cultural memory banking of these seed stories was just as important as saving the seeds.

These varieties were not always present in the Northeast. Corn first arrived 1200 years ago.  Some varieties were brought with the Tuscarora people from North Carolina in the early 1700s. And other varieties might have been from commercial catalogs at some time in the last century but have subsequently been saved in gardens.

Independent of their origin these varieties have been selected over cycles of seed saving for short season, polyculture planting, certain storage straits (such as corn braiding), disease resistance,  cold soil emergence, and different cultural connections. Rowen emphasized how this current diversity exists because farmers were willing to go in the field and mix it up. Seeds are dynamic, humans are dynamic, and the earth is dynamic.

Rowen stated that the work Frank Morton proposed is the work our agricultural ancestors have always done – adapting seeds to a place and to a people for growing characteristics, for culinary characteristics, and for aesthetics.

If you missed this event, don’t worry, we’re already planning the next Seed Connections for fall 2014 (likely in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue again). Stay tuned for more details …


Selecting/Breeding Hot Peppers

Seven or eight years ago I planted some Bulgarian Carrot Hot Pepper seeds from Fedco. Most of the plants had elongated orange fruit similar to Cayenne peppers but with more flesh. One plant was covered with fruit that were round and squat though equally orange and spicy. This rogue pepper plant was likely due to an accidental cross in the seed growers garden.

Of course, I saved the seed from this rogue hot pepper – essentially a F1 cross. This is where things got messy. When you save F1 seed from, you get a lot of variation in subsequent generations.  Only by consistently saving seed from plants that look similar over a number of generations do varieties start to stabilize.

The impact and diversity from my carrot pepper selections each generation have brought me to pay more attention to each plant in a population and try to find ways to easily record the changes (essentially accurate labeling and taking pictures.)

(For more crossed up plant, you can read my post on crossed-up lettuces

Growing Out Crossed-Up Peppers

Nowadays, in the early generations after a cross I save the seeds from each selected hot pepper plant separately. The next year I grow 10-20 plants of each selection in the garden.

I grow each selection in a row divided from the previous selection with a stake.

Over the season, I evaluate each plant in each selection to see how uniform the selection is and whether any individual plants stand out. If the selection is very uniform I might mix the seed from the best plants together. If there is still quite a bit of diversity, I keep the seed from individual plants separate.

Let’s see what that looked like in 2011 and 2012

2011 Carrot Pepper CrosseS

In 2011, I selected 6 different plants.  Each plant is labeled in the picture. The first plant labeled F3 6-1. F3 means the plants is from the F3 generation. 6-1 means the plant is the first plant selected in 2011 from the 6th plant in 2010. These 6 plants were all from 6th or 7th selection  made in 2010.

Plants 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 and 6-4 are therefore siblings. These plants are cousins with 7-1 and 7-2.

2012 Carrot Pepper CrosseS

In 2012, due to space constraints I only grew 5 plants of each selection. For each strain I first took a picture of the plants:

This gave me a quick idea of the relative yield, color variations, pod shape, and whether the fruits grows upwards or hangs down.

Next I pulled the fruit off of each plant and took another picture:

This let me see how fruit variation was still present. Pods pointing down indicated hanging fruits, pods pointing up indicated upwards fruit.

This also lets me compare the 2012 fruits with my 2011 picture above. In general you can see there’s less variation within each of the following 2012 selections than in 2011.

At this point I’ve selected different plants to save fruit from based on pod characteristics, plant structure, yield, and earliness (I’d previously tagged the first plants with mature fruit.)

I put the fruits from each of my selection into a separate quart to later extract the seed.

This picture is actually from another set of selections in the F6 generation.

The culled fruit go into a bin…

and then head to market or CSA!

One Other Selection Consideration

Before extracting seed from each selection, I taste each fruit. I start with the fruit bottom, then the side wall, and finally the core to see how hot these peppers are.

I started doing this after I realized a Jalapeno I was working with had lost almost all of its heat. After selecting by taste for a future generations, most peppers are consistently and adequately hot.

Needless to say this tasting happens over a few days. As it takes me 10-15 minutes after each “winner” before I can taste another pepper’s heat.

A Word About Isolation Distance

Most of the peppers we grow are destined for eating. As such we grow these varieties side by side with no isolation distance. Though peppers are predominantly self-pollinating, there can still be low amounts of cross-pollination with plants grown this close together. Still I save seed from these peppers for our own farm use. Most of the time I don’t see any crossing, but when I do I get excited!

I should mention that I always grow hot peppers a good 200′-600′ away from our sweet peppers. This ensures our sweet peppers stay sweet and our hot peppers stay hot. Also, any hot peppers we grow to sell as seed are grown with 200′-600′ isolation distance since we want to keep these varieties pure.

What Else Has Been Going on In Dan’s Life?

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting much lately. Part of that of course is due to the growing season, and playing with hot peppers; and of course planning for the Nov 9-10-11 Seed Connections conference in Montreal; but mainly (and most importantly) Emily and I now have a little daughter named Stella in our life! You can see some pictures in the recent Tourne-Sol newsletter.