Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More Carrot Mixups

I was stopping to smell the flowers on my deck the other day when I noticed that my "carrot" flowers smelled like... some kind of spice.. maybe licorice. If this is normal for carrots, I've never noticed it before.

I pulled a few leaves and crushed them between my fingers. Some shared this scent while others smelled just like carrot roots. I then noticed that some of the leaves were more finely-divided than others. I think the plant on the left (with flowers) is actually anise.

Chances are, the (cheap!) seeds I bought were contaminated by anise seeds. Sometimes you get your money's worth with seed. Cheap, poorly-produced seeds are often contaminated with weed seeds, pests and pathogens.

Another good reason to know your plants!

In grad school, we were repeatedly encouraged to recommend "certified seed" to farmers. It costs a little more, but this certification is a guarantee of minimal seed quality. The AOSCA helps to coordinate this with crop-specific requirements that generally fall into 4 classes:
Breeder Seed - is the original, genetically pure seed carefully produced and stored by individual plant breeders
Foundation Seed - is the offspring of Breeder seed, is often contractually produced by local Foundation Seed organizations and is labeled with a white tag.
Registered Seed - is the offspring of above, is sometimes skipped for some crops in some states and is labeled with a purple tag.
Certified Seed - is seed bought by farmers growing food, is produced by a smaller group of farmers (who sell high quality seed instead of food) and is labeled with a blue tag. Farmers who grow crops in order to sell certified seed often locate their farms far away from the places where these crops are normally grown in order to avoid pests and pathogens.
Overall, this certification scheme (which is increasingly stringent as you move up the list), guarantees that a given crop has passed field and laboratory tests for:
Kind/variety - e.g. that the seed are from the correct crop and variety
Purity/Inert matter - e.g. that the seed has minimal non-seed debris
Germination percentage - e.g. that the most of the seed is viable
Other crop seed/Weed seeds - e.g. anise seeds in my carrot seed!

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