Saving Carrot Seeds

Saving Carrot Seeds

Saving seeds was one of the things that inspired
me to start growing vegetables in the first place, as I felt it was a crucial part of
being able to engage with the full cycle of producing my own vegetables. I started saving seeds on the first year that
I had my own vegetable garden and continued to do it for quite a number of years after
that. But then I stopped saving seeds for a few
of reasons, mainly because seed saving didn’t really fit into the research focus of the
series of family scale gardens that I was working on at the time. Apart from a few bean seeds, I haven’t saved
any seeds at all for the quite a number of years, but this year I’ve decided to start
again, and I’ve saved my very first batch of carrot seeds. Over the past few years I’ve been quite
pleased with the carrots I’ve been able to grow, most of the time, especially with
a main crop variety called Autumn King, which has been producing large yields of tasty carrots
that I store overwinter. It’s become a variety that I really like,
and I’ve developed the skills to be able to grow this crop quite well, which are two of
the criteria that I think are important in determining what vegetables I’m going to save
seeds from. But more than many other crops, saving seeds
from carrots can take a fair amount of time, can be tricky to get right, and uses up a
fair amount of space. This is mainly because carrots are a biennial
crop, which grow slowly in the first year and store lots of energy in a root that overwinters,
and then uses that energy to produce lots of seed in the second year. There is also the possibility that the insect
pollinated carrot flowers can be cross pollinated with any other carrots that are flowering
at the same time or with wild plants such as Queen Anne’s Lace. This means that I need to be a bit careful
about where and how I grow them, and I should really test the seed to make sure that it’s
true to the variety that I wanted to save. And if I want to ensure that the seeds from
this variety of carrot don’t become less productive and inbred after successive rounds
of seed saving into the future, I should really save seeds from quite a few plants, which
will take up a fair amount of space. Last year when I was harvesting a decent crop
of this variety of carrots from one of my gardens, I set aside about 40 roots for seed
saving. I selected some of the best carrots, the ones
that seemed to most closely match the shape and characteristics of this variety. This is one of the unfortunate things about
saving seeds from crops like carrots, that you don’t actually get to eat the some of
best of the carrots that you grow. I carefully re-planted these carrots in a
patch of soil beside my polytunnel garden, which was in a relatively sheltered spot,
and wasn’t being used for any of my other explorations. It was also right beside a couple of honeybee
hives which I thought would help with the pollination these carrot flowers. I re-planted the carrots about 30cm apart,
with about 70cm between the rows, in a prepared bed which took up about 8m2. These seed carrots need to be re-planted at
the spacing quite a bit wider than they were originally grown in, as apparently the flower
stalks of these plants can take up quite a bit of space, and it’s best to encourage good
ventilation between the plants. I’ve watched a lot of carrots grow from
seed, but I’ve never seen a bunch of carrots regrow in the second season like this, and
it’s interesting how different the growth and structure of the plants are. During the summer the umbrella shaped flowers
that are characteristic of this family of plants started to form, with each umbrella
made up of many tiny flowers. It was also interesting to see how many of
these umbrellas each plant produced, with significant variation in size, and most of
the pollination seems to occur in around the middle of July. A lot of different types of insects were attracted
to these flowers, and apparently many of them can act as pollinators as they walk across
the umbrella clusters, or when they fly from one cluster to the next, spreading pollen
around. We had a period of quite strong wind during
the middle of August, as the seeds were starting to develop, which caused a lot of the tall
flower stalks to fall over onto each other. In hindsight I probably should have put up
a few posts and tied up the tall plants to prevent them from lodging like this, but it
still seemed that I would be able to harvest most of the seeds. In early September, I begin testing to see
when the seeds might be ready to harvest. I wanted to wait until the seeds were mature
enough, but to not leave them so long as they might shake loose and fall to the ground. I was also concerned about the relatively
wet weather that we had been having, so I waited to harvest the seed until there was
a breezy and sunny day, to try reduce the amount of moisture that might be in these
seed clusters. Each plant had a least one larger umbrella,
which apparently contains the strongest seeds, but I also picked a lot of the other umbrellas
that seemed to be ready. I left the smaller seed clusters and the ones
that didn’t seem manure enough yet, and I was planning to harvest these the following
week, but I didn’t get back to the task in time and I figured I probably had more
than enough seed. I carefully laid out all of the flower heads
onto trays and placed them into a ventilated propagation space so that they could completely
dry. Once they were dry I went through the methodical
and relatively slow process of separating the seeds from the seed heads, trying not
to pull off too many tiny stems. Each of the seeds has many tiny spines or
hairs attached to it that are usually removed in order to make it easier to sow the seeds,
but apparently this isn’t necessary for the seeds to germinate. I had researched a number of different options
for cleaning the seeds, and tried out a few of them. I found that rubbing the seeds gently between
two pieces of sandpaper was quite effective, as was rubbing them with my hand in a sieve. I separated the seed from all of the dust
and tiny pieces with this sieve, and then gently blowing and winnowing, and removed
some of the larger pieces by hand. I wasn’t so concerned about having completely
clean seed, as a bit of debris in with the seed really doesn’t matter, as I’m currently
sowing all the seed by hand. No doubt there’s plenty of other ways of
being able to do this task, especially for larger quantities, but with the scale and
context I’m working at I’m usually interested in finding really simple solutions, even if
they do take a little bit of extra time. I ended up with about 120g of clean carrot
seed, which is a lot, and I could have got quite a bit more, perhaps even double that
amount, if I had harvested all of the smaller seed heads, but then these seeds might not
have been as strong. Apparently there is about 800 carrot seeds
in each gram, so this means that I might have harvested up to 100,000 seeds, which is a
huge amount of seeds. The small packets of seeds that most gardeners
would buy, typically contain only about a gram of seeds, but I generally purchase seeds
in much larger quantities, typically purchasing 50g of seeds for this variety each year, though
I generally don’t sow all of it in one season. So I’d estimate that this one harvest of
seeds could be enough to last 3 years of sowings that I typically do in all of the gardens
that I currently grow in, and three years is apparently how long the seeds could remain
strong and viable, if they’re stored properly. But looking at it in another way, if I was
to purchase this much organic Autumn King carrot seeds it would cost between 15 and
40 euro, depending on the supplier. And given the amount of time that it took
to grow, and care for and harvest all of the seed, and the amount of space that it took
up to grow them, it would be a lot easier to simply buy the seed. On top of that I wasn’t able to eat or sell
almost 8kg of really good carrots that I set aside in order to be able to produce these
seeds. I can certainly understand why many farmers
and growers don’t bother to save their own seed, assuming that they’re even growing
open pollinated varieties, as it doesn’t make sense financially, and it takes a lot
of time. But there are a lot of other reasons for seed
saving, including gaining a better understanding of the whole process and to develop the necessary
seed saving skills, which is something I’m really interested in doing. So I have loads of carrot seeds of a variety
that I like to grow a lot of, but I’m not keen on using them just yet, not until I’m
relatively convinced that they are good enough quality. The first test would be to check the viability
of the seed, to ensure that the seeds germinate strongly, and this can be done by simply sowing
a certain number of seeds in a tray of seed compost. And then there’s the issue of testing them
to make sure that they’re true to the variety, to make sure that the flowers hadn’t been
cross pollinated. I had checked the area to make sure that there
weren’t any other varieties of carrot or related weeds flowering at the same time,
but I can’t be certain of this. So for next season I am going to continue
to grow mainly seeds that I’ve purchased in all of my gardens, which I still have a
lot of, and to to sow a test batch of these saved seeds in another piece of ground. And once they mature next autumn, hopefully
I’ll be satisfied with the quality of the seed, and I can use it for all of my gardens
in 2021. So, saving carrot seeds takes quite a length
of time, with three years from the original sowing in spring 2018 to the spring of 2021
when I will be finally able to grow with all of my own seeds. I could of course use all of these seeds next
year, but I want to make sure that I get a good crop of carrots from all of my garden
next season, as this is more important for this research project. I’ve been able to grow another really good
crop of the same variety of Autumn King carrots this season, and I’m planning to save seeds
from another batch next year. Assuming everything works out okay, from 2021
onwards I’m only going to be growing this variety of carrots from my own seeds. And then I’ll have loads of seeds from these
two batches, and I won’t need to save any more of this variety of carrots for a number
of years, and this opens up the possibility of saving the seeds from other varieties of
carrots in the following years. There are also lots of other vegetables that
I want to save seeds from, and to really get back into seed saving in a significant way. But I only want to save seeds from varieties
of vegetables and I’m really happy with, so I’m planning to grow a few variety trials
in order to figure out which ones work best in my context. And I want to start with the types of vegetables
that I fee that I’ve developed the skills and knowledge to be able to grow them really
well, so that it increases the chance that I can produce really high quality seed.

39 thoughts on “Saving Carrot Seeds

  1. I’m sure your aware but by saving your seeds eventually you’ll get a “strain” that is most adapted to your garden. So that for the most part. Given a few years all your carrots will eventually become perfect for your garden and produce top quality carrots

  2. This spring, I planted carrots tops in a pot just to have leaves for my rabbits. They also produced flowers. They did not had time to produce seeds but maybe you could eat your carrots and only plant the tops next time 🙂

  3. I was of the understanding that by the 3rd generation, the plants have acclimatized to the location they are grown in and that over time your local seed stock will out perform purchased seed that is not used to the climate. I don't know how true this is.

  4. Thanks for sharing. This video is amazing! I had never seen second year carrots and i was very impressed. I was surprised about the looks of the seeds too.

  5. ive read about how many plants are needed to avoid genetic degradation and it does deter me to save seeds. some need 20+ individual plants! i have too much of a small space for that.

    i wonder if would be beneficial to periodically buy a small amount of seeds in order to have healthy genetics?

  6. I saved seed from beetroot this year from beets I had last year, you do get lots of seed but the land they took up was wasted just for this, in future I will buy the seed unless I have to grow my own seed !

  7. All the seeds I’ve ever saved have grown like rockets. I think the seed we buy can be a bit old!!! Nice video. I’ve done this with onions this year.

  8. Thank you for another great video!

    I don't agree with overworking the seed saving. That is all the cleaning and washing that is insisted upon by "do it perfectly" minded gardening instructions. For a crop like carrots that will be thinned out anyway just keep the seeds as they come out of the seed head. Even keep the whole seed head. There are a lot of tasks, like seed cleaning, that can be done quickly in a  large enough scale. It does, however, not translate down to small scale gardening or farming. Far too much work to mimic the nice carrot seeds that come out of a seed packet. Also, if you collect more seed and sow more seed your thinning will become a better genetic selection process.

    Tomato seeds are another seed that is often overworked. I just squeeze a the tomatoes onto cardboard or paper and let it dry. The pieces of cardboard or paper becomes the seed storage, nice and labelled. The seeds that fall off makes for a nice tomato seed mix to give to friends and family.Again, thanks for the video. I very much like following you and the multiple gardens experiment.

  9. Given the small size of my garden, I cannot imagine saving seeds from everything that I grow. But for varieties that are a challenge to grow, once I get a good batch, I make a point of saving some of those seeds, because those are the ones that are most likely to succeed the next season. For instance, it wasn't really warm enough to grow okra in my garden this summer, but I had planted 10 plants in various spots around the garden, looking for maximum light and heat. One plant produced one large pod, and I let it continue to grow to go to seed. Next year I will plant those seeds in that spot, along with some other okra seeds from this year's packet, and I'll use extra care to boost the soil and heat in that area (cloches early on, fewer tall plants nearby, etc.). If you want to push the envelope on your growing season and types of vegetables you can grow, seed saving is how you do it.

  10. Your channel has super valuable content for beginning and future homesteaders. Thank you for sharing these projects with us. It saved me personally, probably over 20 years of experience, and that's insane 🙂

  11. Wow, your carrots are huge! I have planted that variety for years and mine look like baby carrots. You said you have gained the skills to grow good carrots, would you be able to share some tips?

  12. If flowering carrots always attracted soldier beetles like the ones crawling around 3:40, I'd plant them every year just for that purpose. I've also heard parasitic wasps like that style of flower as well.

  13. I have seen a number of times in seed catalogs of certain varieties being unavailable due
    to crop failure. This Grand Solar Minimum concerns me due to the adverse weather conditions it causes making many more seed types unavailable. I saved a large number of seeds this year from different vegetables and think this will be a very important skill in the future.

  14. I don’t feel confident with any seed I save, despite being proven wrong. The packaging of seeds and the fact that I bought them with money is what I trust.

    I would love to see if your seed saving efforts are rewarded in the future.

    Thumbs up for your quality content.
    Enjoy the Autumn in Ireland.

  15. I have just been harvesting parsley and fennel seeds that look very similar to carrot. Will just eat most of them but something hugely satisfying about saving some for sowing. Notice you didn't use badly shaped carrot for seed. Do you think that shape problem arises genetically rather than stones in soil?

  16. I am at the moment watching closely a bed of Paris Market No.5 carrots, I have very stony soil and this variety is short and round almost like a beetroot.

  17. Just found out recently that you're based in Ireland! Great to see someone experimenting in a climate relevant to me

  18. So many of these videos have the same conclusion – buy the raw materials and save yourself a lot of wasted effort.

    I like that though, it satisfies my curiosity without me losing time investigating for myself. Also my garden is FAR too small to test anything lol

  19. I planted 2 beds of carrots this year. Little Fingers did well last year, so I gave them another try this year and they have done well. The second bed was a Rainbow variety, so lots of colors. This is their first year in the garden but easily half of them bolted to seed the first year. The seed heads are just starting to look yours, so the $64 question is, do I save the seeds or do I just let them fall down to the ground a let myself be surprised by whatever Mother Nature decides to bless me with. Gardening is so much fun.

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