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Pee shoots of heirloom varieties in the laboratory at Department of Agriculture and Ecology, Copenhagen University (Copyright Ingrid Nolde)

Last weekend I joined the Danish seed savers at the laboratory at the Department of Agriculture and Ecology (Copenhagen University). Gunter Backes and Jihad Orabi led us through a study of our heirloom pea collection. It was a fantastic and educational weekend!

In preparation, we had grown peas for 3-4 weeks, so they were ready for analysis. We had to use leaves that had not been given too much light. Chlorophyll can make it difficult to extract DNA material from the rest of the leaf tissue. For safety’s sake, we were two cultivating the same peas. It went well and we only used one set.

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Test tubes on ice (Copyright Ingrid Nolde)

We were divided into four groups. That way we could manage to work with all the varieties we had brought. After a brief introduction to laboratory work, to use gloves and gowns – take them off when you leave the lab, we started slicing the pea leafes.
Once cut, the natural enzymes in the leaves activates. To inhibit them, we set all tubes in a tray of ice. Millimetre small pieces were placed in the tubes, a solution of caustic soda were added and the tubes were boiled for 1 minute to denature the proteins. Then we blended the boiled leaves with the tip of a plastic stick and added a resolution that brought the pH down to a desired level. To separate DNA from the rest of the leaf broth, test tubes were centrifuged.

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Pea leaf broth bottom, DNA located at the top in the clear part of the liquid (Copyright Ingrid Nolde)

Now we could move the purified DNA into new tubes, still set in ice.
Then it was time to mix liquids with primer for the DNA fragments we searched for. We looked at 6 different micro satellites. Micro satellites are good to tell the difference between varieties of a species. A primer is the DNA sequence immediately before the micro satellite, leading the DNA strand to be cut at the desired location. We used a primer for each end of the micro satellite, because it must be “cut” at both ends. To the liquid is also added Taq DNA polymerase, an enzyme that replicates DNA at specific temperatures.

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We used pipettes for several hours. Even with multi pipettes there was plenty to do (Copyright Ingrid Nolde)

Next the test tubes are undergoing repeated temperature changes between
94 °C, where DNA strand separates
64-55 °C, where the primer binds to the DNA strand, and
72 °C, where Taq DNA polymerase copies the DNA strand from the primer and forward

By the repeated changes in temperature, we multiplied the selected micro satellite exponentially. The first cycle gave very little DNA material, but for each cycle, there was more copies. Just like reproduction of yeast in a bread dough.

Finally, we let an electric field pull micro satellites through a viscous liquid in capillary thin tubes. A dye was coupled to micro satellites, for a photocell at the end of capillaries to detect how quickly they passed by. Small micro satellites migrate faster through capillary tubes than larger.

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First presentation results

The photo shows the horizontal bands, each representing a pea variety. The small vertical bands are micro satellites. The red vertical band marks a scale, so we know how long the micro satellite strands are.
Jihad and Gunter did the analysis work Sunday morning, before we all met up – thank you!

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It was best to group the peas in 7 groups

The results will soon arrive in my Inbox. I look forward to delve deeper into the results. I might have a more to write about then.

Big thanks to both Gunter and Jihad for a learning and rewarding weekend :-)

PS: I’m just a happy amateur. Feel free to comment if I’m wrong in some of the techicalities :-)


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After visiting organic farm Mørdrupgård, and growing naked barley in my garden, I want to bring Anders Borgens video on YouTube to your attention. He gives a tour in his organic breeding projects, mostly grains. Language english. 9 min. Enjoy :-)

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Naked barley ‘Hora’ and graypea “Errindlev ært”

As I some years ago started growing graypeas (oldfashioned fieldpeas) I soon started to wish growing them together with barley or oat. I remember this kind of fields from the homesteads around where I grew up, back when others enjoyed the sixties in other ways ;-)

Asking around, I was kindly informed, that this co-growing was harvested green for fodder, not for human consumption. But I still cling to the dream of this co-growing.

I want the barley to be naked, so I can cook and eat it straight forward. Ordinary barley is for malting and brewing, unless you have special equipment.

The varieties of graypea and naked barley must support each other in one way or the other, to compensate for the competition. Naked barley supports the peas by their straight straw, graypea fix nitrogen and share it with the barley. Last year I mixed graypea Lollandske Rosiner and naked barley Hora. The high number of tendrils in Lollandske Rosiner was almost strangulating the barley, being too short for a fair competition. It was OK, but with room for improvement.

This year I have mixed graypea Errindlev Ært with naked barley Hora, and it seems to be a perfect match. Spikes of barley raise well above the graypeas. The gentle tendrils doesn’t strangle the barley, and the leaves suppress weeds in the bottom.

For graypea Lollandske Rosiner I try to find another naked barley variety. This year I’ll try Gängel, a swedish variety, said to grow tall.

Naked barley is one of the good flavours that for some generations has been neglected. It’s a pity, as naked barley boiled and added a lump of butter has a heavenly taste, similar to sweet corn (much more demanding to grow in cool Scandinavia)

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Tendrils of graypea Lollandske Rosiner

Ps. My “field” is just 1 m2


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Turnip (Brassica rapa) Petrowsky “Gulia”
Breeders name: Vangede (P 1948)

NordGen, former Nordisk Genbank, the Nordic countries common gene bank, send seeds to us ordinary people. It’s a bit demanding to find the wanted variety in their database SESTO, but not impossible, and worthwhile. Try clicking on “Cultivars” gives you the full list. Or search by the Latin species name clicking on “Taxons”.

I fell in love with Petrowsky “Gulia”, as it is a Danish breeding line of the tasty turnip Petrowsky. It was created by Ohlsens Enke, and approved in trials 1948 in Vangede, just outside Copenhagen. It was marketed first time in the same year.

In my old J.E.Ohlsens Enke seed catalogue from 1954 I find this turnip:

Petrowsky Vangede P. 1948.

The seeds I received was harvested in 1983, NordGen got them in 1989.
Now I hope to succeed with these old seeds. Fortunately they have been in professional care in the time passed since harvest.

When I gooled “Petrowsky”, I noticed the spelling “Petrowski” gave much more results. I found, that Petrowski was an important crop in Alaska around 1921. (Botanical Abstracts, 1921)

I also found, that Sperli in Germany seems to believe, that Petrowski and Teltower is two names for the same variety – how would that fit with descriptions of the Teltower having a unique taste? I’m sure this in future will mix up the two cultivars. Best thing we can do is to keep good records of what we grow and the source. This can be an quick and unintended way to get rid of old varieties. Thanks to the gene banks, who try to get accurate informations when they invent seeds.

Do I learn more about Petrowski, I intend to add it here, although it isn’t good practice in a blog.

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Garlic Gazebo Grande and Søren

I the picture I’m just about the tallest, but if I took off my sandals Gazebo Grande would no doubt be taller. This garlic is double height of most of my other garlics, only rivalled by Susan Delafield. I hope to find a big strong garlic at the bottom end of such a strong stem.

It is my first year growing Gazebo Grande, a porcelain garlic (expect the garlic to be porcelain white). It was the first garlic to get garlicrust, but still holding up strong leaves. Patrick of Bifucated Carrots shared it with me. He got it from a seed saver in Wisconsin. She had been growing it for ten years, selecting for the best. She got it from a local friend, who don’t remember wherefrom it originates.

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Virovskij Skorospelij (red) and Katja (pink)

I used to be unsecure if there were any other difference than color between the tomato varieties Virovskij Skorospelij and Katja. The are quite similar, just as early and vital. Katja jump started at sprouting, then they followed each other closely, until Virovskij Skorospelij flowered almost a week ahead of Katja. Today they ended up ripening on the same day. Virovskij Skorospelij might have slightly smaller tomatoes than Katja, but I´m not sure just from these first two tomatoes.
By the way, they are both russian heirlooms. Virovskij Skorospelij means The early from Virovsk, Katja is named after the elderly woman who still grow it in her Datcha on the shore of Lake Bajkal in Sibiria. You can almost catch a glimpse of it from the transsibirian railway.

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Ljungdalen turnip Brassica rapa

Earlier posts on turnip

The turnips for seed are now in bloom. It is the swedish heirloom Ljungdalen. One selected turnip didn’t survive the winter, but 15 are blooming. Swedish seedsavers SESAM recommend minimum 5 plants and preferably 20 or more. Ideally I should have a few more plants in bloom, but its allright. If I make a bacth more, before the original seeds get too old, I can quickly have more than 20 plants in all in my genepool. Then I just have to remember mixing the two seed batches, and variety in the genepool is secured.
This variety have two distinct colors of the roots. As I weighted the number of each color according to what I had seen in my garden, to conserve the balance of the two colors, I at the same time ensured a certain plurality in the genes. I believe 15 will be a sufficient number in this case. But I would never go below the minimum of five plants, even if I had more distinct features to balance with.

Did I only have room for 5 plants, I would grow seeds every year, and then in a jar put 50 seeds every year. Over 10 years 500 seeds would have passed the jar and mixed up on the way. A jar of a well mixed genepool. For the first years I would grow out from the original batch, not starting to take seeds from the jar, until more than 20 plant are parenting the jar. Turnip seeds can be expected to last for 10 years.

Why a minimum of five plants?
Most Brassicas, including turnip, are self incompatible. They have a genetic barrier to ensure outbreeding. A single plant can’t pollinate itself or any other plant with the same version of the genetic barrier. Having let’s say two plants in bloom, there’s a high risk the both have the same version, and there will be produced no seeds on either plant. With three plants the risk is much smaller, but still significant. Only with five plants or more is the risk so small that we can ignore it.
In outbreeders we also want the genes to mix well in every generation. It allows a good adaptability in years to come, f.ex. different genes for disease resistance will all be secured for future generations if “the cards are shuffled”.

There’s a lot of tips and tricks to overcome seedsaving in small private gardens :-)

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