Category Archives: Selection

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!

Unforeseen Seed Selection Complications

I recently posted about selecting hot peppers and how I pay careful attention to each plant and place the fruits from individual plants into quarts.

I usually let these continue ripening in the quarts for a couple of weeks, and then choose those for seed.

Well, a few days after placing my peppers into quarts, but before saving any seed, there was a slight onion mishap.

A tower of red onions bags collapsed and tumbled into a rack of ripening peppers…

Emptying and mixing the quarts …

Leaving a mess of hot peppers with little way to distinguish accurately one pepper from another. Most of these peppers made their way from here to the market bin.

I was a little disappointed (perhaps a touch more than a little …) to lose a generation of selection.

On the bright side, I did take good records and I have remainder seed from last year. For 2013, based on my notes and pictures, I can narrow down the strains I grow out to those I really like this year.

Moral of the story: keep remainder seed and watch out for those onions!

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.

Book Review: Breeding Organic Vegetables

Almost 10 years ago, NOFA released a series of handbooks on organic principles and practices. These were compact affordable books written by experienced farmers that gave solid introductions to poultry production, seed saving, crop rotation and more. I devoured these books.

NOFA-NY recently published a book that follows in the previous handbook series’s steps: Breeding Organic Vegetables A Step-by-Step Guide For Growers by Rowen White and Bryan Connolly. (Available from NOFA-NY or download it here.)

This book brings crop improvement and breeding to the garden/farm.

The first 3 chapters are a cursory review of seed saving: the why, the history, and the basics. These chapters set the context for what follows.

Chapter 4: Step-by-Step Crop Improvement brings us into the heart of the matter. Rowen and Bryan present 9 easy-to-follow steps that will not only let you strengthen a plant’s tolerance to all kinds of stresses including “diseases, insect pests, weeds, drought, heat, cold and variable soils” but also breed for color, shape, size and taste!

These steps start logically with where you are and what crop you want to work with, then setting your project goals and making a plan to achieve these goals. Next, you carry out the plan and evaluate. Finally you repeat annually until your crop is improved.

Rowen and Bryan state that “achieving these objectives often takes many years, but in jut a year or two a grower can often see measurable improvements in seed stock and plants.”

Chapter 5: Grower Breeder Recipes for Better Vegetables demonstrates how five growers have improved their crops. These profiles illustrate what is possible from cold hardy beets and arugula to dwarf blue sweet corn.

The book ends with a number of appendices. Appendix F covers breeding approaches to different species in the major crop families.

Just under 100 pages, this book is a quick read. It is a simple yet thorough introduction to what can be a complex topic. Once you get through Breeding Organic Vegetables I doubt you’ll be able to resist running out to the garden and improving all sorts of crops.

Breeding Organic Vegetables A Step-by-Step Guide For Growers is available from NOFA-NY or you can download it here.

Biennials: Readying Radishes and Turnips To Replant

A week and a half I ago,  my overwintered brassica roots came out of the cold room for inspection.  Let’s look at

  • Storage conditions
  • Roots that stored best
  • Roots that stored less than perfect
  • Curing roots before planting.

Storage conditions

These roots were harvested last September. I selected the best individuals to bear seed. The roots were stored in our cold room. During the summer,  an evaporator and compressor keep the cold room around 4C. During the winter we use a little heater to keep the room from freezing.

The roots are stored in plastic bags with holes. This maintains good humidity levels for the roots. I always identify root bags that are for seed.

And I also add ‘for seed’ labels. This keeps important roots out of winter salads and snacks.

Some Roots Look Great: Black Radishes & Turnips

A bit of sprouting.

And some rooting.

These turnips want to get planted.

Some Roots Need Some Work: Watermelon Radishes

I’ve had more of a problem getting these guys through the winter. Last year I planted out a bunch of roots but within a month they’d all rotted in the field.

So this year I took more time to inspect the roots.

Many of these radishes have rotten taproot tips.

I trimmed the rotten portions from the taproot.

Other radishes have blemishes on the actual roots. I consider composting these radishes but I also want to plant out as many roots as possible so …

I cut off the rotten portion of the root.

In some radishes the rot runs a little deep. These root were not saved.

Radishes post surgery. These gaping wounds will be let to cure before planting them in the ground.

I use a sharp knife to operate on these radishes. I disinfect the blade after each root with rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. This minimizes spreading disease.


Now I let the roots sit at ambient temperatures for a week or so.

They are placed in clean flats with a lot of space for air circulation.

This should help wounds cure and might make the transition from cold room to ground smoother.

I’ve since planted the roots. Now I wait …

In the meantime, you can always read some of my other turnip and radish seed posts.