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Editor–

I plant only heirloom seeds but want to know how to save seeds from root crops like beets and turnips. We love beets but buying the seeds every year gets expensive. Can you help me out? I love this site. I have it bookmarked.

-Janet

Janet–

I sent your question to the seed experts at Heirloom Solutions who told me about their new, helpful Growing Guide. In it there is all kinds of information about saving every seed they sell — and then some! Below is the information about beets, turnips and other root crops.

Beets
Beta vulgaris

Beets and Swiss chard will cross-pollinate, as they are from the same species. Beets/chard must be separated by wind-proof caging, bagging or up to 2 to 5 miles of distance to ensure purity as their wind-blown pollen is exceedingly small and light.

It’s easy to leave the base and center of chard plants to over-winter, flower and produce seeds while still eating plenty of leaves. However, to save seed from beets you’ll have to plant 20 to 30 plants to leave in the ground to over-winter if you want to get seeds. You can harvest tasty beet greens for the first part of the season, and you can crowd the plants a bit. You don’t have to pamper them with lots of room, water and fertilizers to get plenty of seeds in the spring—just make sure they’re big enough to get through the winter and re-sprout.

Allow beet seeds to fully mature and become dry on the plants before harvesting. After final drying the seeds can be easily rubbed off the stem.

Beet Family
Chenopodiaceae

Wind-pollinated members of the Beet Family have very light pollen and need up to 2 to 5 miles for safe distance isolation. Chard and beets are in the same species (Betula vulgaris) and must be isolated from each other or they will cross. Different Beet Family species will not cross-pollinate, so that one beet or chard, one quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa), one red (Chenopodium giganteum) and one white (C. alba) lamb’s quarters, one orach (Atriplex hortensis) and one spinach (Spinacia oleracea) can all be grown together without danger of crossing.

You can bag or cage varieties of the same species for isolation, but techniques vary depending on whether the species will self-pollinate or not. Quinoa and lamb’s quarters are self-pollinating, so large paper bags can simply be fastened over individual seed heads for protection from cross-pollination. Since quinoa and lamb’s quarters produce many small seed heads up and down their stems, mark the protected seed heads so that you can tell them from unprotected ones at harvest time.

Beets, chard, orach and spinach will not pollinate themselves. These plants need to be caged or bagged in groups so that they can pollinate each other. At least 10 or more plants should be included in each cage or bag for adequate cross-pollination, and to help insure that there are twice as many female as male plants.

Bags or cages need to be windproof to prevent intermingling of the very light pollens. Shake the plants together within their bags or cages regularly, to help the pollen mix move around inside the cage/bag for good pollination.

The Beet Family includes the following species:

  • Beta vulgaris: beets, chard.
  • Chenopodium album: lamb’s quarters.
  • Chenopodium ambrosioides: epazote.
  • Chenopodium giganteum: magenta-centered lamb’s quarters.
  • Chenopodium quinoa: quinoa.
  • Spinacia oleracea: spinach.
  • Brassica rapa
  • Turnips are in the same species and will cross with—and must be isolated from—Chinese Mustards and Chinese Cabbages by 1 mile of separation or by alternate-day caging. Turnips are mainly self-sterile, so grow at least 10 plants for adequate pollination and seed production.

Turnip

As with other Brassicaceae, allow seeds to ripen thoroughly on the plants before harvesting.

Thanks for being an avid reader of Off The Grid News!

4 comments

  1. I need help starting a garden, ANY garden. There are so many articles on your website that I am overwhelmed. Do you have a list of articles for beginners? So far, the only thing I’ve been able to plant and that hasn’t died is one pineapple and mint plants. I think the garlic is still alive, but barely.

    Where do I start?

  2. Hi Ambar,
    your best may be to seek out some experienced gardeners in your local town. Offer to help
    out in their garden so you can learn how and when they do different tasks. Articles may help
    if written for your local climate, but what works in Alabama won’t work in Oregon. I hated
    working in the garden as a kid, yet wanted to start a garden when I got out on my own.
    My first attempt looked pathetic, yet through the years and trial and many errors I learned
    a thing or two. Some years are better than others. Last year my tomatoes didn’t produce
    enough to can ANY, other years I can’t keep up with the plants….
    Dan

  3. Kids, just dive into it. Try anything and judge your results. Being a master gardener is a decent goal to pursue……

  4. I’ve been growing quinoa for 25 years in Colorado but depend on other grower for seed, and want to produce my own.

    At what stage do I choose my seed plants and cover them with paper bag to protect from crossing with lambsquarter and other less preferred quinoa?

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