Sunday, October 30, 2011

Easy Cabbage Breeding Harvest Monday*

The Offspring

Cross between Savoy San Michele and Red Rock Mammoth, F1 weighing in at a respectable 4 lbs.

I'm going to admit it right now. I'm pretty chuffed about my cabbage babies. Okay, so they aren't really my babies but the children of a couple randy Brassica oleracea var. capitata and I can't even claim any fancy scientific sounding techniques to produce the cross. Perhaps it is most accurate to say that I was the match maker. The bees were enablers. However as the cabbage and bees have little to say on the matter, I'm going claim ownership such as one can (I'll happily explain how you can make the same cross below).

Clockwise: San Michele, Red Rock Mammoth and their spawn, with the eloquent name RRMxSM F1 at the bottom.

I hadn't realized that I should be all atwitter about this cross as I hadn't harvested any until Saturday. In fact, until Saturday, I wasn't entirely sure if I had succeeded on creating a cross. Sure, they looked intermediary between the two parents - a hard headed, delicious, pest resistant heritage red called Red Rock Mammoth and a beautiful blush savoy called San Michele. From the onset, the babies had lovely violet/green leaves which got progressively brighter and more purple as cold weather set in. They did appear to be slightly more savoyed than the Red Rock but it wasn't until I sliced off the heads that I saw the remarkable difference in the texture and colour of the leaves.

RRMxSM F1: violet splashed leaves.

It looks more like a savoy in cross section to my eye but instead of merely having a slight pink/purple blush in the centre of the head like the San Michele, it is mottled right through with violet splashed leaves. Even the taste is right between the two parents being sweeter and nuttier than the savoy but still a bit more 'green' than the red.

The F1s (first generation of a cross between two varieties) seem quite uniform so far from the reports back I've heard from the seed I sent out. Assuming these babies survive the winter - I'm testing them for winter hardiness** with nothing but leaf mulch and snow - then I'll let the bees do their business and we'll if there is more variation in the F2s. I suspect so and hope for the opportunity to find out!

Overachieving cabbage with multiple, sizeable secondary heads below main head.

Most of my cabbage plenty is still in the garden waiting for a later, big harvest before the real cold and snow sets in. It leaves me with a question for a future post: How to preserve all that cabbage? Here are a few suggestions but I am open to more:

* Store in cold cellar with intact roots.
* Cut in wedges and freeze for cooked dishes.
* Freeze whole for use as a wrappers for cabbage rolls OR make cabbage rolls and freeze them.
* Freezer slaw
* Dry - interesting
* Saurekraut
* Kimchi - Extreme Gardener (link at end) has a lovely looking jar with apples
* Otherwise pickle

Rainbow cabbage in a pot.

Easy Cabbage Breeding

You may have noticed that I'm the kind of gardener that likes techniques that create maximum success for minimum effort. As a rule of thumb, this involves working with nature.

Baby cabbage cross in spring.

Case in point: last spring, a row of undersized Red Rock Mammoths and one beautiful San Michele cabbage breezed through the winter. As Brassica oleracea is an outbreeder and most varieties are reputed to be self incompatible - rejects its own pollen - I figured the pods on the single San Michele might well be crossed. At the end of the season and some close calls with people snapping off flowerheads... I got a small amount of cabbage seeds from the San Michele and a good amount of seed from the Red Rocks. I gave away a bunch of the seed around and started some myself.

The parents as plants: Greener one is San Michele, more purple is Red Rock Mammoth. If you are curious, those flowerheads draping over them are from a kind of chinese cabbage.

Turns out the bees and the cabbage cooperated. So if you have a hankering to try it yourself, you know the parents. I'd love to hear from someone who tries it!


* Yes, I wrote this Sunday night. Monday morning I'm going to the tree nursery day for fall sales!!
** A note on winter hardiness and cabbages. I find that heads of cabbages tend to turn to mush in the spring but often small heads, roots and stems make it through sprouting new leaves and flower heads. I've started to cut off big heads but leave the rest in the ground in hopes of getting seed. I might try to take some cuttings of the cross to overwinter in the cellar. Not sure yet because my interest really is in producing cabbages that you can save seed from in our northern location. For those of you that hadn't contemplated it before, cabbage is biennial so the easiest way to save seed would be to have plants that survive in the ground during the cold months. As an outbreeder, you should be saving seed from as large a population as is reasonable. Cabbage seed stores for a while so if you are restricted for space, then just save for one generation. The two cabbages mentioned in the post are both large needing at least 3 feet square but 4 feet would be better to form, in my experience, 2-4lb heads though much larger have been reported.


How do I grow Cabbage and other family members?

Saving Cabbage Family Seed

Extreme Gardener (excellent blog) also writes about this cross in Blushing Cabbages

Friday, October 28, 2011

In praise of the Litchi Tomato

The important bits: flowers, fruit and spiny leaves. Not my ungloved, unscathed hands. Not a fast procedure harvesting to avoid punctures but possible.

It sure doesn't look like any tomato you've ever grown before because it isn't though it is related. Litchi Tomato, aka Morelle De Balbis, known in proper gardenize as Solanum sisymbriifolium bears reams of tasty, juicy and somewhat seedy red fruit guarded by pretty and poky yellow spines. The whole plant is covered with them in fact with the exception of the large bluish white flowers.

To get your taste of these fruits, you will have to get ahold of some seeds (I probably have a few to share), start at the same time as tomatoes and plant out after last frost. It'll begin small and innocent enough but after a few months, it will be between the size of a tall kid or a giant adult depending. Mine have all been around 4 feet though I've heard at least one report of 8 feet. Harvesting the fruit is a delicate matter of avoiding the spines but they are a wonderful addition to the solanacaea fruit collection such as ground cherries and tomatillos. I made a sauce with tomatillos, litchi tomato and apples with a squeeze of orange juice that was reminiscent of cranberries.

If you look in the background, you'll note hoar frost on the ground. In the foreground, an unphased Litchi Tomato plant.

It's taste is often described as being similar to cherries, or at least a cherry crossed with a tomato, with a pleasantly (in my mind) seedy raspberry overtone. It will continue to pump out the bee friendly flowers and tasty fruit until AFTER first frost. That's right, if you live in a mild climate, you may be more weary of planting this thorn machine because it will survive several degrees below zero celcius.

It's thorniess could be seen as an advantage if placed at the edge of the garden to discourage larger, thinner skinned visitors like other people or perhaps a thorn weary racoon... Anyone who happens to grow a slightly less prickly variation wcould be pretty popular as this plant could benefit from a little refinement to make it less painful to pick with easier detachment from the husk, earlier and more prolific. I've heard different stories on its taste too that could be related to growing conditions or genetic variation - probably both.

When I used to garden in a city community plot, I noted the Colorado potato beetle liked them - you could see this as a trap crop or as a problem - but I haven't seen the same issue on my rural property. They would potentially be subjected to the same pests and diseases as other tomato relatives though I haven't noticed any foliar diseases but they may harbour them.

A close up of the leaves after light ground frost showing no damage but certainly possible damage to you if you were to fall into it.

I grow it as a tasty 'trail' treat as I walk through my garden or an ingredient in salads and other dishes that could benefit their fruity flavour, and as a pretty addition to the productive beds. Then again, I have a thing for thistles and their prickly friends.


My source was La Societe des Plantes

There are a few other Canadian sources listed on Seeds of Diversity

Monday, October 24, 2011

Still Harvesting Beans and Eggplants Monday

This is the year when frost did not want to come though I suspect in a few days, my faith in winter will be renewed.

Beans! Beans? Really still beans? Kid steals unexpected late beans before dinner.

The tomatoes are fruiting again, the peppers and eggplants never stopped and the pumpkin vines that had been ravished by powdery mildew have resprouted leaves and have begun to flower anew. I had been waiting for the icy leveller to end this extended bounty so I could pull up the remains and plant my garlic but yesterday I said, "enough is enough" and yanked them all anyhow. Pulling up vigorous green plants is difficult but as a gardener, you have to be tough. The back suntrap garden looks tidy now with grass and leaf clippings on top of the bare soil. Garlic is in the ground and my sights have turned to the reamining gardens for clean up.

Lazy gardener still hasn't put away all the pumpkins and gourds. I have about as many in the cold storage room. These are hanging out in my garage at the moment.

As of today, I am still harvesting:

Peas - second planting
Volunteer Tomatoes
Litchi Tomatoes
Ground Cherry - annual
The odd summer squash
Pak choi
Mustards - second generation of self seeded
Broccoli - secondary heads
Salsify & Scorzonera
Horseradish soon
Green onions, mostly perennials
Grains: Amaranth, sorghum
Apples - lots of apples
Herbs: Coriander, sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay laurel, parsley, anise hyssop and so on
Flowers: Nasturtiums, mallows, calendula, borage etc...

Seven apples trees = Lots of apple pie! (and apple fritters, and apple sauce and apple randomly thrown into various unexpected dishes - going to get myself an evaporator).

This is all I can remember right now. The squash is in cold storage with the root crops soon to follow. I have about a month before the snow starts to fall thick and heavy frost makes working the ground literally hard. This has been one beautiful fall.

Bumblebee is appreciative of late fall flowers on this litchi tomato.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Where are you?

I'm overcoming a minor ailment combined with a lot of volunteering work.

P.S. Organic Week is October 15-22 this year. There should be lots of events showing up on their website for Ottawa soon if not already. However, I have the skinny on Canadian Organic Grower if anyone is dying to know now. Also, I'm hoping some of you guys will have your own organic celebrations! How about bake a citron day? I have lots of extras... please come get them.

Back soon promise!