How do I save beet and carrot seeds?

cabrita(9b SoCal)January 23, 2009

I posted the same question on the seed saving forum but this forum gets more circulation and I am sure many of you know how to do this....

Right now I have a carrot and a beet that I have managed to sprout in the heat of summer. They would be ready to pick, but I figured they are not going to be too tasty. I also figured if I save seed from them I might select heat tolerant characteristics, right? I can use heat tolerance here since I try to grow everything I can for as long as I can (I do sow carrot and beet seeds just about every month, it does not work in August :-( but I can live with that...)

I have never tried to collect seeds from either crop so I could use some help with them. Will beets flower and put out seeds like lettuce does? What about the carrot? I understand they are biennials, does this mean I just patiently wait another year? I hear they make nice flowers, maybe the bees will like them.

Another question: will one specimen of each give me enough seed for an urban size garden? I now have many baby beets and carrots all over the place. Should I select other specimens for saving seed? I am not asking about genetic diversity per se, just number of seeds one can collect from each plant.

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

How to collect and save carrot seeds.

Carrots are biennials so only bloom the second year and saving the seed from only one is risky genetically as well as only produces a small amount of seed. Are these a hybrid variety?

How to save beet seeds.

Beets - perhaps planting at a much different time is the solution to your beet problem - beets are a cool weather crop, not "heat of the summer" crop so aren't going to be really heat tolerant. We plant them in February here and by summer they have all been harvested When is your coolest time of the year?


    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 4:57PM
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cabrita(9b SoCal)

Thanks Dave.

Quoted from the second link you provided:

".....Carrots produce perfect flowers that are cross-pollinated by a number of insects. Flowers are arranged in round, flat groups called umbels. Carrots require vernalization (cold, winter-like temperatures for several weeks) before flowering occurs......."

So I guess I am out of luck on the carrots? oh well. Maybe I can get beet seeds though.

The links answered some of my questions, I do need more than one specimen and I might not get carrots to flower at all. Any one in zone 9 has saved carrot seeds successfully?

To answer your question the carrot is a scarlet Nantes so I believe it is a heirloom. I joke about our weather, we have fall transitioning directly into spring, but I say we only have a day of winter, Dec 21 the winter solstice. Funny this year it was the only day it froze! and I did lose some plants. We are in early spring now. Actually, some years we do get frost sometime in the month of January, not much danger of frost by February.

Dave I am aware these are winter/cool weather crops. What I am saying is that by selecting seed that managed to sprout in the summer I might select heat tolerant traits, which I would like.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 5:39PM
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Beets are perhaps a little more tricky than carrots tho most of same rules apply. They also bloom in the second year. The tricky part is overwintering them. They are not pretty when flowering but do make a large amount of seeds per plant.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 6:31PM
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If you're into garden experiments and breeding new varieties (and don't mind a bit of work), why not try it? Yes, it's true that saving seed from only one plant won't insure very good genetic diversity, but if you're breeding a new variety that would be a good thing. When breeding a new variety of anything, be it plant or animal, one way to do it is to purposely inbreed individuals with the desired trait while selecting for that trait, then outcross after a few generations to get that genetic diversity needed for health and vigor. (A joke in the horse and cattle breeding worlds is "It's called linebreeding when it works, and inbreeding with it don't." ;)

If I were you and had the room for an experiment, I'd save those seed from the one carrot and one beet, then plant them in a separate area away from other carrots and beets to grow them out for seed. I'd save those and grow those out again the next year, selecting for heat tolerance and all the while keeping them isolated to ensure they don't cross with other varieties. Here's where the work really comes in ~ in the case of beets, according to Suzanne Ashworth in her book Seed to Seed they're wind pollinated and will readily cross with any other beets or chards within five miles, so you'd need to cage or bag them. In the case of carrots, which are insect pollinated, you'll need to cage and hand pollinate if Queen Anne's Lace is a weed where you are (and I think it is ~ it's pretty much everywhere) since garden carrots will readily cross with it, and can do so if the QAL is within half a mile. Added bonus on carrots ~ since the flowers are so small, you'll have to stake them under the cages to make sure they don't lean up against the sides of the cages where bees can get at them.

If you're up for that much work, I'd keep growing out and saving seed while selecting for heat tolerance until I got to the point that there were genetic anomalies showing up (off color, strange shape, whatever weird thing) more often than "normal", then I'd outcross them (cross with some fresh genetic stock of the original variety ~ Nantes for the carrot, whatever the beet was for it) and grow those seeds out as well, again selecting for heat tolerance. (It'd be a good idea to keep the inbred strains going pure just in case your outcross doesn't work for some reason ~ so you'd have two new strains that needed isolation for purity, four total ~ or atleast save/freeze some of the inbred seed for planting the following year.)

It's unlikely but possible that you won't see genetic anomalies. In that case, I'd do the outcross after I had seed that, when grown out, produced 90% or better heat tolerant traits.

It'd take years to finally get a stable variety with heat tolerance (if it's possible at all that is), and in the case of the biennnial carrot it'd be double the time of other annuals, but it'd be fun imho. And if you're successful and breed varieties that last a couple weeks or month longer into the warm seasons than normal, I'd be your first customer for seed!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 9:47AM
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I kept reading my Seed to Seed book and here's another tip ~ roots being white instead of the usual orange is a sign that those carrots probably crossed with QAL, so atleast dig down far enough to see the root color before you save seed from that plant.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 10:04AM
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cabrita(9b SoCal)

Great information knittlin, thanks!

I suppose for me the first step is to wait and see if I will get flowers/seeds at all from those plants, but I might as well. Then I can proceed with the experiment. I have not seen Queen Ann lace around here but I will be looking for it more now that I saw the image goggle pictures. Also, looking for white roots seems like a good strategy.

The beet is a Detroit red, but I have also the golden, candy stripe, and I also have chard growing in different spots.

The book you mention sounds like a good addition to my library. I am confused about caging, how will the bees get in there? then you say hand pollinating. I don't know how to do that. I heard (read) this on the tomato forum too. I think I need to learn a bit more about plant sex ;-)

Farmerdilla, what makes saving seed from beets harder? I want to continue growing chard, so maybe this is why? it might cross with chard or other beets?

I do have lots of bees for sure. I guess this is a good thing.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 11:50AM
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You're sure welcome, Cabrita.

"The book you mention sounds like a good addition to my library. ... I think I need to learn a bit more about plant sex ;-)" Heh-heh! Seed to Seed explains a whole lot of "the birds and the bees" when it comes to vegetables. ;) It's an excellent book on isolation techniques for saving pure seed. It'll explain in great detail caging, bagging, hand pollinating and all sorts of other things involved in saving pure seed. The best part is it tells you which techniques to use on which plants. EXCELLENT resource for that imho.

And it's less than 17 bucks on Amazon. I just put in an order for another one as a friend came over today and I gave her mine. *blush* But that gave me an excuse to buy Great Garden Companions by Sally Cunningham, a book on companion planting that I've been wanting for a while. Gotta' spend $25 to get that free shipping you know. *snicker*

"I am confused about caging, how will the bees get in there? then you say hand pollinating. I don't know how to do that. I heard (read) this on the tomato forum too." The bees won't get in there. That's the entire purpose of caging. If you don't cage the ones you want to keep pure, a few bees will visit some Queen Anne's Lace nearby (really, I'd bet money you have it growing near you), pick up some QAL pollen on their legs/hair, land on your carrot blooms on the way back to the hive and deposit some of that QAL pollen on them. Now your carrots are cross pollinated with the QAL. Bummer. And you very well may not be able to tell ~ just avoiding saving seeds from white-rooted carrots won't be enough of a guarantee that they didn't cross since sometimes a cross will look just like one or the other parent, but won't taste or grow like them. Just like humans ~ some people look a whole helluva lot like Mom, but they're not her twin.

To keep that from happening, you build cages with some sort of screening on them that will allow air, sun and rain through but not bees. Window screen works nicely on a wood frame, as does light floating row cover on hoops tall enough to keep the cover off the carrot blooms. You cover your carrots with them, a bunch of plants at a time. Here are some pictures of what I'm talking about:
Pic 1
Pic 2 ~ second picture on that page
And here's a thread with a good picture and lots of info on how to build them.

Since there are no bees, you'll have to take their place and hand pollinate. It's as simple as moving pollen from one flower onto another. (Be sure to only do this between plants that are showing the trait you want ~ heat tolerance in this case.) This can be done with a small paintbrush ~ just touch the pollen parts, loading it up with pollen, then touch a bunch of blooms and the pollen will get desposited. Do this all over all the blooms and you're done.

Another way is to pick one bloom and use it as the paintbrush, brushing the other blooms with it ~ pick a few different blooms and brush each one on all the other blooms to ensure a good genetic mixup. But if you pick those blooms, that'd be that much less seed you'll get since of course the blooms you've picked and used as your paintbrushes won't go on to set seed. Don't think that you can just avoid that by picking the blooms of the plants that aren't showing heat tolerance and use those ~ you need to use blooms from plants showing the trait you want since their genetic traits are going to be crossed into the other blooms and their resulting seed ~ the blooms you pick are going to be Daddy to your next generation of seed. But in the coming generations when you have hundreds of plants growing out, you may find it so much easier to do it that way that it's well worth sacrificing those blooms.

The Seed to Seed book will explain all this in better detail and more accurately than I can. It's really a great book. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone who wants to save true vegetable seed. I've given away two of them so far and doubt that my third one will stay with me for very long before it gets passed on as well. ;) It's really that good of a book.

There's also a book on breeding new vegetable varieties that was recommended to me, but I haven't bought it yet (one of these days...). I can't remember exactly what it's called ~ something like "Breeding Your Own Vegetable Varieties" or something.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 8:34PM
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WOW look at these cages

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 12:55PM
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