Medwyn Williams explains how to have a go at breeding prize-winning veg
Have a go at breeding a prize-winning new vegetable selection from your own stock
You can have great fun saving your own seed, particularly if you happen to have grown a good specimen of a certain variety. Brython Stenner was a great example of this – he was a very observant plantsman and his reselection of an old show bean is still winning on the show benches today as ‘Stenner’. Brython used to select the best and most productive plants by tying different-coloured knitting wool to the plants and keeping records in his diary.
Keeping carrot seed, however, is different as you need to be aware that many carrots (other than long classes) are usually F1 hybrids. This means it would take you anything up to five years to reselect back to an openpollinated selection from a hybrid. Long carrots are usually openpollinated varieties that have been reselected over many years by keen exhibitors such as ourselves. I was very surprised to learn that the world record was broken this year using our Own Selection Long Carrot by Chris Qualley, with a specimen weighing in at a whopping 10kg (22.4lb).
Parsnips have improved so much since Dr Peter Dawson bred the first F1 hybrid ‘Gladiator’ that’s still winning today at the highest level. There are now more F1 hybrid parsnips than ever, with other breeders regularly introducing newer ones. When I first started exhibiting I used to grow the ‘Student’ and ‘Tender and True’, with the latter being the best available at that time.
Onions for the under 250g classes are generally F1 hybrids as well, but the large exhibition onions are usually openpollinated, so you can save your own seed. You need to look after the bulbs well in a dry, cool place and I usually replant them around Christmas. Planting before then will induce early growth, with the flower head appearing much earlier in the year when there are fewer pollinators around.
The bulbs are simply planted up in some good-quality compost. I mix Levington M3 together with John Innes No 2 and the bulb just sits on top of the compost in a 10-litre pot. Water sparingly, if at all, as there’s enough moisture in the onion itself to start rooting.
Plant up onion bulbs so you can collect seed next year
‘Stenner’ runner bean still wins on the benches