Mentee Blog #3 – Suzy Coulter

Mentee Blog #3 – Suzy Coulter

I have a confession to make. I’ve become very attached to my parsnips over the course of this seed saving mentorship.
We began our relationship at the 2015 Seed Gathering in February, where the seeds were generously offered up by Kootenay Joe Farm. They were Lancer Parsnips, I’d never grown that variety before, having previously tried Harris Model and Hollow Crown. Lancer are the preferred Open Pollinated Variety, having long slender smooth roots, improved uniformity etc etc.
These handsome indehiscent mericarps didn’t make it into their carefully prepared 100 ft. bed until near the end of May, so a bit of a late start and by then the hot, hot weather had settled in. We were hand watering much of our garden for several weeks, with the parsnips getting special attention, being watered sometimes twice a day ( my dear mate was very devoted to them as well) but it paid off, as the (slow) germination was very good.
They spent just over 18 weeks in that bed, looking healthy and robust by early October. It was a nail biter, betting on the risk/benefit ratio of keeping them in the ground as long as possible to size up, versus risking decimation by our voracious vole population that was working its way over from the carrot and beet beds.
What a relief it was when we dug them up! Only one small section succumbed to the vole appetite, so we had about 270 parsnips to assess.
This step of selecting the “best” ones for seed production was a first for me. Up until this experience, all my seed saving in the past had been simply to randomly save some seeds from a plant or all the seeds from whatever plants I was saving from, with no thought about selection, roguing etc.
So I studied the characteristics on which parsnip seed selection is focused:
  • shape (relative length/width)
  • crown (degree of depression)
  • quality (incidence of fanged or forked roots)
  • colour
  • surface texture
  • resistance to pathogens
  • and bolting plants.

The big confusing question for me was, How do you know how much of the expression of any trait is due to environmental conditions or genetic expression? many of my parsnips had fanged or forked roots. yet looked rather lovely to my biased eyes otherwise. Could the fanged forked roots be due to the drought like conditions? Even though we watered religiously, I’m not certain our eventual drip tape watering penetrated deeply enough. So I wondered if the forked roots could have been an adaptation to dry conditions, trying to seek out more moisture? I’m very interested in selecting for changing climate conditions…could the forked and fang-y roots be a good thing? don’t look pretty, not great for marketing, sure, but is that what should determine selection?

In any case, after a wee consultation with Chris and David at the lovely Brassica Field Day in mid October,  I decided to keep for storage 220 parsnips, and about a third of those have forked roots.
On October 14th we tucked them into bins buried in damp peat moss (thanks to David for the donation for their winter home 🙂
Now I cross my fingers and wish them well, hoping most will survive their vernalization rest over the next 6 months! (They only need 10 weeks of 10C or less, but we probably can’t replant them at their wider spacing until May).
If we have 200 ready to plant in the spring, that would be a decent population size for genetic diversity. The trick will be keeping them at a steady cool temperature. So I’ll be fussing over my wee charges for awhile yet!
Good luck brave souls! I want to meet your offspring!

 

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