Saving Seeds of Root vegetables
Root vegetables are, and, in each case, the root you eat contains the store of energy and food which the plant 2 has built up throughout the summer to allow it to send up a towering flower stem in time to ripen its seed, whatever the weather, the following summer. The wild carrots, for example, which were traditionally first domesticated by Cistercian monks at Coggeshall Abbey in Essex, had two strains; a red-rooted strain which grows these tall flowers and a yellow-rooted type that races ahead and flowers the same summer, with a thin root only, containing few food reserves.
All root vegetables have these two forms and therefore seed should never be saved from those which flower in the rows. These are known as ‘bolters’ and you cansee them across fields of sugar beet, as well as in every garden. Pull them up because they are space-wasters, and more important, if you are growing from seed, the flies (not bees) that pollinate members of the carrot family, the Umbelliferae, may take pollen from these bolters to your own seed specimens, increasing the number of bolters.
Choose the best and largest roots from those you have stored for the winter and plant them in late winter or early spring about 60 cm (2’) apart each way. They will grow 90-120 cm (3-4’) high, so support them with stout bamboo canes, and watch for the ‘king head’ or central flowerhead to ripen in late summer, when some of the seed vessels will split and spill their seed. Then it is time to cut the side shoots and hang them head downwards in a large paper bag with four holes cut in its sides for ventilation, in a dry shed.
About mid-autumn, rub the seed heads through your fingers, discard the stems, spread the results on a firm flat surface, and run a rolling pin (or an empty milk bottle) over them to crush the seed vessels. Seedsmen take great care to take all the husks and small stalks out of their seed, but for home sowing or giving away it is enough to sift the seed through a piece of perforated zinc set in a small wooden frame, or to use a coarse mesh kitchen sieve. The small seeds can be stored in manilla envelopes and kept in a dry cool drawer, or hung in labelled cotton bags like those of; never store them in plastic bags.
Parsnips also belong to the family Umbelliferae, but they are hardier than carrots and can stay in the ground through the winter. So if you sowed yourin a plot where several 120 cm (4’) tall specimens will not be in the way, you can merely leave in a few good roots, 60-90 cm (2-3’) apart in the row, and let them grow on, giving them the same treatment subsequently as carrot seed.
Salsify and scorzonera belong to the daisy family (Compositae) and have rather attractive dandelion-like flowers, yellow in scorzonera and purple in salsify. They can also be left in the ground until they produce their seed-heads, which can be gathered in the fingers as soon as they are loose. Remove the fluff and store the long seeds in bags. With parsnips, salsify and scorzonera, you can dig up the plants and move them to a more convenient place, but do this in early winter or mid-winter, because they start growing again early in the year. Salsify has grassy leaves which can be cut and eaten as an asparagus-flavoured green vegetable in spring.
Bothand Hamburg parsley are biennials and members of the family Umbelliferae, producing their flower stems in the second year. Remove and store the seeds as for carrots. Celery belongs to the same family, but the disease celery blight is carried via the seed, so home saving is not advisable. None of these different kinds of root vegetables will cross together, so although parsnips and carrots are related, seed of both can be raised in the same garden.
Turning to the beet family, Chenopodiaceae y the flower stems of beet are so attractive that the beet roots can be planted about 45 cm (18”) apart in the flower border in late winter or early spring. When they reach a height of about 45 cm (18”), cut them back to 30 cm (1’) so they branch and do not get too tall. About the end of late summer, the whole plant will change colour from blood-red and dark green to brown. Cut the stems off level with the ground and hang them up to dry. Then you can remove the seed easily for storage. Beet seed resembles tiny, pale brown dried-up raspberries, and is in fact not a single seed but a cluster of seeds together (it is for this reason that beetgerminate close together and have to be thinned, unless you use specially prepared ‘monogerm’ or pelleted seed).