Oxheart Carrot

Back in the old farm, in the dreadful waterlogged rocky clay, I used to grow a kind of carrot called Oxheart carrot. They are large, round carrots, more beet shaped than carrot shaped, and since they are short and fat they are better for dense and wet soil. I like them in stews and roasted dishes, where you want a lot of carrot for the amount of peeling effort.

Carrot seed lasts a few years, and then, one year, I couldn’t find them any more. They were out of stock or not available from the mail order catalogs… no problem for any particular year, but then it was the same story next time I looked. Then it looked like no one among the hundreds of people on seed saver’s exchange member’s listing had it. Heirloom varieties get lost when this kind of thing happens, when it is dropped from commercial listings and no individuals take it on.

I posted on the SSE forums, and no one really knew what was going on. But I found a few folks with a little seed, and Sand Hill let me have two packets, and from that, I was determined to grow them for seed. A few others on the SSE forums were also going to do that, but still, you can’t just wait around for “Someone” to do “something” about a problem. I’m not saying Oxheart Carrot is the best carrot ever, but it’s too good and too unique to let it disappear.

Unfortunately, we live in a place where the Queen Anne’s lace spreads far and wide in late summer. This crosses freely with carrots, which makes saving seed that will produce sweet orange carrots, not stringy white QAL roots, into a Problem.

The greenhouse was my solution. Carrots are biennial, the first year they just grow root and if you don’t eat it, the second year they flower and seed. I grew the carrots the first year in the regular garden. In winter, I dug them up and replanted in a set of big pots in the greenhouse. For carrots, you need at least 50 plants to have sufficient genetic diversity, so it was a bunch of huge pots, but the carrots were planted fairly close together; there would be less seed from each carrot, but the diversity is more important.

The greenhouse, being warmer, allowed the carrots to sprout earlier in the year, and flower well before any Queen Anne’s lace sprouted. Come midsummer, as the carrots were finishing up their flowering, I got extra vigilant; and started removing any new flowers umbrels from the carrots, and stopped watering them. The carrots stalks and flowers got about 6′ high (including the pot), and needed to be tied up. But by and by the green seeds appeared, and then matured and turned brown and were ready to collect and winnow.

I offered them in the SSE yearbook and those who ordered some have reported that they are very happy, the carrot seed germinated well and no mention of crossing, so I feel fairly confident that the queen anne’s lace didn’t contaminate the seed.

This year I’m relieved to see Oxheart offered in the SSE glossy catalog, and in the Territorial catalog. The pressure is off, at least for now. While my efforts aren’t what saved this carrot… I do think the energy and determination is not for nothing.

Seed companies

So, now that I’m living only 15 miles from Nichol’s Garden Nursery, I have a chance to pop in. (It’s actually much more inconvenient for me since we move – I used to drive past Nichols twice a month during daylight hours, and it was well positioned for a break from driving. Oh well). Anyway, I’ve been having less than warm feelings about Nichols since about 2007, when Monsanto bought Semenis and I took a strong position against Semenis seeds. I wrote to Nichols and they weren’t very helpful, they were relucant to clarify sources on their various varieties. I had a little better luck with Territorial, perhaps since I stopped in their store in person when the product manager happened to be around and we looked up some varieties in his system.

Anyway, now I learn that Nichols is phasing out the Semenis varieties, that they are no going to be carrying them. The Semenis varieties are on a separate rack, away from the regular seeds. This is good; I feel much better about them and trusting them for something as important as the very source of our food!

And I think it’s wonderful that we have seed companies so close! Oregon is blessed with many wonderful small seed companies as well as larger ones like Nichols and Territorial/Abundant Life. One I’ve found recently is Adaptive Seeds. These folks are pretty close to us (as the crow flies, there’s some hills between). They are big advocates of seed saving and have a wonderful instruction book: Seed Saving ‘zine.

I’ve also discovered that Tom Wagner, the seed breeder who came up with Green Zebra (as well as many other well-known tomato varieties), is around here, Washington state somewhere, breeding tomatoes and potatoes. Tom Wagner’s blog He will sell an assortment of seed potatoes from his breeding lines. It’s tempting, but we are so fussy about potatoes.

And finally short plugs for Peace Seedlings/Peace Seeds (I’m not sure why these are distinct) and for Wild Garden Seed.

I don’t really need more seed this year, though, I already have more than I can possibly use