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Having Your Beta vulgaris and Saving Seeds Too

September 19, 2013

Beets and chard are one of those workhorse vegetables in our garden, we really like them, and after futzing around with mangels for Jane, the house cow, for too many years, I have finally settled on beets for her instead of mangels.  Jane’s “garden” is a whole nother post, but I can’t write a post about vegetables without including livestock component.  I’m not saying don’t grow mangels if you want, they are a great crop, they just don’t fit here on this farmstead as easily as the beets do.

Summer into winter beet harvest

Summer into winter beet harvest

L – R, Lutz aka Winterkeeper, MerlinF1, Detroit Dark Red, Three Root Grex.

Like all the other vegetables we grow, hybrids and open pollinated varieties exist side by side in the garden.  If the plant suits my needs I will grow it.  I like to dabble in seed saving because of our microclimate, but I also believe in purchasing seeds from reputable seed houses to offer them the business.  Not much different than taking our boots to the shoe repair shop, you must patronize the trades or they will disappear from lack of work, and then there will be no choice but planned obsolescence.  So as far as seed saving goes, I can grow open-pollinated vegetables for seed saving, and purchase some hybrid seeds too.  If I really wanted to do more than dabble or breed my own acclimated varieties, I could always use the hybrids for seed anyway, and work my way back to the original parents.

EOS_4175L- R:  Five Color Silverbeet (4 stalks), MacGregor’s Favorite (tiny dark purple), Mislabeled MacGregor’s Favorite (probably Rhubarb Chard), Perpetual Spinach, and Fordhook Giant.

As you can see we like chard too for summer greens.  Not much bothers chard in the way of insects or disease and it provides so much color and texture in the garden, you could get away with just planting chard as an ornamental.

All these pretty beets and chard are fine and dandy until you want to start saving seeds.  Because beets and chard are in the same family, they freely cross-pollinate.  Luckily beet and chard seed keeps for some time, easily 3 or 4 years and longer if you have a good seed storage program for your garden seeds.  Because the seed keeps so well, I have my seed saving for this vegetable family on a rotation.  By switching each year the beet or chard varieties for seed, I can make sure I will have no hanky panky in the pollination department.  Confusing?  Say this year I am saving seeds from the Three Root Grex beet, as it is a cross between three different beetroots, I could either leave it as it is or start selecting for a certain color and root shape.  I happen to like the surprise element that a variety like Three Root Grex brings to the harvester (me) so in this case I try to find good representatives of each color of beet for my seed parents.  Next year it will be Lutz, followed by Five Color Silverbeet Chard the following year and so on.

Beets and chard are biennials, so as the growing season progresses I observe and make note of which plants I like and which are growing well.  These traits are important because I want to have seed parents that show the characteristics I desire in the resulting generations.  With the chard this is pretty easy, I can see the leaf and stalk because it is above ground.   I can assume the resulting underground root is healthy as well.  With the beets, my task is to identify roots that meet my criteria for size or uniformity.  To that end, the beet variety I plan to save seed from in a particular year, will get a later planting date, so I won’t have to store the seed roots for so long until next spring.

Seed saving takes planning and uses up a fair amount of growing space in addition to your regular garden, and in the case of biennials stretches over a two-year period with additional root cellar or refrigerator space for overwintering the seed roots.  It can be very rewarding to develop your own acclimated vegetables, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying seeds too.  Not everyone has to be a plant geek 🙂

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2013 5:23 am

    Those big fat leafy greens are as beautiful as they are tasty, as they are nutritious and my pigs will run in from the fields when they see their daily armload being hurled over the fence. I have not begun the seed saving learning, like you I have my little grumpy heirloom seed farmers and I do prefer to deal with them. Though we have such an insect problem here that I am tempted to save seed from the most resistant plants. I always plant to plant parsnips for daisy too but never get around to it, I need to workout how to grow a crop that takes so long to grow and the winters are so severe here.. The cabbages are Daisy’s favourite, she has an entire row planted just for her, we take a little for dinner and give her the rest! It is a nice arrangement.. have a lovely day..c

  2. September 19, 2013 6:43 am

    I save seeds of commonly grown vegetables like beans and tomatoes and spend my seed budget on new stuff I want to try. LOVE them flower seeds and always trying new hybrid varieties that catch my eye. With 3 large gardens seed saving does help to supplement the seed budget.

  3. Eumaeus permalink
    September 19, 2013 8:32 am

    “hanky panky in the pollination department”
    I love it.
    But now I’ve got that Tommy James and the Shondells song going in my head and that is a particularly powerful one to get going.

  4. September 19, 2013 8:39 am

    Wait. There’s a difference between mangels and beets? I thought you kept Ekendorf mangels. I also know things change though.

    So is it a size issue? You don’t want to deal with a 20 pound root crop? Is it a climate thing? Is it just a consequence of the seed saving and rotation practice?

    • September 19, 2013 9:40 am

      HFS, yeah a little, or a lot really, the mangels are sugar beets and white inside, and it must be the extra sugar but lots of loose caca feeding those, unless you pull them, store them, and let them age. Enter then a large “root cellar” in the barn…not happening here. Anyway, I can eat the beets or the cow can, the sugar beets, well, I have no interest in that. So with a big tender beet like Lutz that keeps well here with just a soil hilling, I have to go with that, that Lutz beet in the picture weighs 2 pounds, (and they’re still growing) and one a day of those plus carrots and parsnips (both easy to store or eat as well)is enough for Jane. So kind of the hidden farm thing there too, I only have so much garden space, so I share with the house cow and hens. I must not be much of a gardener either, since the 20 pound mangel remains as elusive as the 6 point buck. (12 point for you easterners.) Most are in the 4 pound range with some outliers the size of little table beets and the big ones about 15 pounds. Too much work and time involved to keep reselecting for size on a crop I don’t even want except for a novelty. And forget hogging them down, unless you want to seal your garden for a pond…

  5. September 19, 2013 10:16 am

    I agree wholeheartedly on supporting the seed houses. I save bean and tomato seeds but purchase the rest. It’s important to keep them in business.

    Beets and Swiss Chard are a favorite on our farm also. I plant extra swiss chard during the winter for the rabbits. It’s a wonderful crop because it can take the place of spinach, lettuce and cabbage. It keeps coming back after harvesting and I’ve never had an insect problem with it. I didn’t grow cabbage this year after fighting the insects all fall and winter last year. Swiss chard replaces it in all of my recipes, stuffed swiss chard leaves, soups, and saurkraut.

    • Jeri permalink
      September 19, 2013 12:25 pm

      You made sauerkraut with swiss chard!?! Was it as good as cabbage?

  6. A.A. permalink
    September 19, 2013 12:45 pm

    My bucket kale bolted neatly, but something or someone got to the seed pods. Most had no seeds in them and had a small hole at one end. All the more precious the seeds I got! The kale’s been having some late summer/early fall fun too, sending out new leaves like it was young again 🙂 Why not!

  7. Bee permalink
    September 19, 2013 3:25 pm

    I don’t mind so much helping out the smaller seed houses — the independents of the group. But I’d just as soon not spend money that goes to the big dogs, who think GMO and highly hybridized stock is the way to go. And no matter who I buy from, I always operate on the principle that sooner or later the TSWHTF, and make sure that I could plant next year’s garden even if I couldn’t order seeds from anyone. In a long-running SHTF situation, I want to be sure I can feed my family. I know, paranoid…

    • September 23, 2013 4:47 am

      Bee, not paranoid, just thinking ahead. Our garden also has a plan B, but, I have the space to dabble, if and when the SHTF my garden would not be full of tomatoes and salad that’s for sure. Lots of stuff is not worth saving seeds for since you have to have so many plants to grow out for pollination. Cabbage for one, you won’t see me growing 200 heads just for seed saving into the next year.

      I just try not to get my Carhartts in a bunch about the “Big Guys”, especially after reading a CR Lawn (Fedco)quote in one of Ben Hewitt’s books. I can’t remember it exactly, but basically he said he didn’t give $hit how much Monsanto made selling seeds, but since he did a poll and his seed customers didn’t want any seeds with connections to Monsanto he wasn’t going to sell them. I think his seed customers who voted for no Monsanto would be a little surprised at that. But you don’t see any of that in the catalog, just more political BS, along with editorializing about how religious Salatin is. Blah, blah, blah. After getting crappy seeds from Fedco for the last 3 years and reading the rhetoric, I have pretty much quit buying from them, they aren’t much different than the “big guys.” FOS. I don’t care how religious Salatin is, he’s a good farmer and land steward, and I care about paying for seeds with good quality, sorry Fedco, you’re getting to be like the big guys as you grow – big.

      • September 24, 2013 1:01 am

        Real Seeds in the UK, say keep at least 6 brassica plants and more if possible. That makes it a little more realistic for a back garden

        http://realseeds.co.uk/seedsavinginfo.html

        • September 24, 2013 5:03 am

          Joanna, that works good with plants like kale, rutabaga etc., but the cabbage is a little more complicated than that. It would work for a while with 6 plants but would run down in a few generations. I try to concentrate on vegetables for seed saving that are realistic for a home gardener. As Bee was saying things could go south, if that was the case, I wouldn’t be growing fussy vegetables anyway. Pound for pound kale is much more productive than cabbage.

  8. Rich permalink
    September 20, 2013 12:22 pm

    A number of summers ago, I fed a bunch of beets to some chickens, and my heart almost stopped the next day when I went out to get some eggs and everywhere inside the chicken house looked like it was splattered with blood.

    I never would have guessed that the beet juice from those beets would come out of the back end of a chicken in that amount of quantity and intensity.

    Do you have those sort of problems when you feed beets to cattle?

    • September 20, 2013 3:43 pm

      Rich, I did with the mangels, although it isn’t red, just looser than I like to see. Try red cabbage on your hens, you get blue poop!

  9. September 24, 2013 5:35 am

    It’s good to know what works and what doesn’t as far as saving seed is concerned. I have another problem with cabbage, it gets eaten by bugs more than my kale, so kale for me too. Also the cabbage doesn’t seem to do as well for me generally, unlike my neighbours’ cabbages. I would consider though keeping cabbage going on 6 and then every so often buying some more of the same variety to cross with it, but not yet. I have enough to do with everything else 😀

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