A Teosinte Christmas in Colorado

So, i know I’ve blogged a bit about experimentally growing Teosinte in my post about growing prehistoric corn and also in my post about differences between teosinte species. Both posts have gotten quite a bit of traffic over the years and have brought people to my blog who are interested in Teosinte specifically.

For those of you who don’t know Teosinte is a progenitor to modern Corn (Also known as Maize), which is still able to interbreed with Corn. Some teosinte is annual, while others are perennial (or maybe bi-annual). There are many people who are interested in breeding perennial teosinte with corn to make perennial or bi-annual corn.

The major problem with trying to grow Teosinte in a moderate climate as here in Colorado in the United States is that it is adapted to grow in the climate of mexico and our growing season just isn’t really long enough. Even more so since Teosinte is day-length sensitive and does not even start to tassel, silk, and pollinate until the days get short and the sunlight shifts deeper into the red spectrum. By the time that happens here it is usually around August and often we get snow by September or October. Definitely not enough time for Teosinte or Corn seeds to mature and dry down for saving. …Or is it?!

Well, this year it just happened to turn out just barely long enough. I’m calling it my Christmas miracle! haha. I think it was a combination of it being a La Nina weather year with an unusually warm fall with no snow until here in December. But also with the fact that i dug up my clump of teosinte plants and put them in a pot in the garage. Though they were a bit unhappy in the garage and were touching the ceiling.

Still i was able to keep them in there long enough to hand pollinate them. But to be honest i thought i had again failed to get viable Teosinte seeds. But when the plants were dead i went out and happened to find some! Above is a picture of what i believe to be seeds of ‘Zea mexicana’ teosinte seeds.

If there is one moral of this story that you should take away it is this: Never give up even when everyone else thinks you are crazy or tell you that what you believe is impossible. I learned this in gardening from my friend Joseph Lofthouse of Utah. He has had success with so many of his unusual crops that no one else in his valley of Utah is able to grow. He often starts with many varieties of a plant as possible and grows as many as he can. Often more than 90% of them die or fail to produce seeds. But he only needs a few that do. Once he gets seeds he can start to effort to plant them year after year and adapt them to his climate. If they still fail to thrive he lets them die or culls them off himself. But he has a variety of unusual crops, such as Landrace Watermelon adapted to Utah (and by extension Colorado), Landrace Cantaloupe, Landrace inter-species hybrid squashes, Tomatoes that are self-incompatible and are highly attractive to bees (modern tomatoes are not at all and are highly inbred), and more.

 

On the left here is a photo of one small cob of a teosinte hybrid (zea diploperennis-corn hybrid from the USDA) pollinated with what i believe to be flour or field corn pollen. On the right is the same teosinte-corn hybrid cob line but i believe this one was self pollinated with its own pollen. It seems to have popcorn heritage as the seeds show popcorn / flint corn characteristics.

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Here is another strain of day-length neutral teosinte (decended from Zea mexicana) that a collaborator Joseph Lofthouse of Utah is growing and having success with. I believe he got the seed originally from NativeseedsSEARCH in Arizona. He decided to test if it makes good popcorn.

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Here is my Teosinte clump in the summer of 2016.

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Here is the same spot with snow on it now in winter.

If you’d like to follow the discussion about growing teosinte in places it is not normally supposed to grow (or other unusual crops) then visit the Alan Bishop Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum here!

Gardening with Conductive Helical Coils 2016

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So despite the blog and my internet presence being quite mute as of late i actually have been up to quite a lot. My homemade Lulzbot Mini 3d Printer this summer was a success, amd i have constantly been improving it. At some point i will take some photos of it’s final progress. A few of my pea breeding crosses from last year were successful, including one i’m excited to grow again which is a cross of the Purple Passion dark purple seeded pea (which is a small genetically weak pea variety) with another stronger pea variety. That should produce something really cool in the coming years. And this fall and next spring i’m experimenting with school by going through a Precision Machinist course and am learning how to use milling machines, lathes, and CNC equipment to produce Aerospace quality components. Not sure if that’s something i want to do long term, but they are skills i’m interested in and can use throughout my life. So that’s new.

Anyway though, as a throwback or a revisit to my post in 2010 titled “Do Plants Really Need Sunlight?“, which has actually been one of the most visited posts on my blog over the years, i finally got around to building a few of those coils that sounded so interesting.

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Conductive Helical Coil around the stem of a plant

So the basic premise or idea behind using a coil of wire with electricity is that it produces a small amount of electricity or a magnetic current through the air. This is the same idea Nicola Tesla was after all those years ago when his imagination was captured with the idea that everything could have wireless electricity. And in many cases his dream has come true with an ever increasing amount of technology these days using induction to wirelessly power or heat things. The basic premise of applying this technology to plants comes from an article i read once that talked about how researchers were able to measure a small direct current from trees in a forest by placing nails in them. They then had ideas about placing nails in many trees and hooking them up together to power small electronics like a battery or cell phone charger, or a smoke alarm. Basically all plants (and maybe all living things) produce a bioelectric field of energy. If one can tap this field to harvest electricity, then why cant we tap into it and feed these plants with extra electricity to help them grow.

One question i asked in my old blog post was if plants even need sunlight at all as long as they are getting some form of energy to grow. I still haven’t done an experiment to test that idea, but it’s still an interesting question. Because it makes me wonder if there are ways plants could be grown in complete darkness.

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Regardless, this summer i finally built a prototype plant coil. I built it rather late in the season, so i really wasn’t able to give it a good test. My original plan was to plant 3 or 4 genetically identical tomato plants near each other in the relatively same soil with at least one plant being the control. I was then going to observe over the course of the summer f the tomato plants within the coils had larger and better growth than the control. That was plan anyway, i just didn’t quite get to it.

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You can see here we were trying to use a volt meter and another coil to see if we could detect that our coils were working. We weren’t having much success with the meter in the beginning and i don’t remember if we did later after increasing the power supply a bit. But in theory you should be able to measure with a second coil.

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I placed it on three smallest tomato plant clusters in the very late planted tomato patch. Interestingly enough, the three plants it happens to be on might be the only three blue tomato genetic varieties that survived my haphazard tomato disasters this year. Since placing the coils on these plants i have noticed an improvement in them and they have since catched up to the growth of the other tomato plants in that spot. Although at the same time i did also make a furrow and started watering them more. But even so i’d be willing to go out on a limb and say that the coils did help them go from “runt” status to catching up to the others. I may yet get a few tomatoes from the larger two before winter hits. Thanks to Gilbert for providing the motivation to actually build this project. And a thanks to the Homegrown Goodness plant breeding forum where i get so many of my adventurous gardening and plant breeding ideas. You guy’s are the best and a continual inspiration to me. Read more: http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/8623/breeding-tower-potato-ideas-wanted?page=13#ixzz4LoiDtFZE

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So, while my experimentation was a bit haphazard this year i think i still did ok. It was a fun project that went from an interesting patent to a cool project idea in my head and at the back of my mind, to a fully functional project / prototype. Plus i think these coils look cool. haha.

But it makes me wonder what other cool patents are out there that i can exploit, reverse engineer and build to experiment with. One of my next projects i think will go the opposite route and will be heavily steeped in Open Source as i think i will try and build a “Food Computer“. Basically it’s a small climate controlled aeroponic grow box. It should allow me to continue my plant breeding efforts even in the winter which is really what i want. Plus it will allow me to learn more about this “urban gardeng”, “vertical gardening”, and “aeroponic” stuff. I can’t wait to get back to pea, bean, and tomato breeding even though the summer and fall are waning fast. I think i’m going to repurpose my 2ft x 2ft t-slot frame that i was intending to turn into a large 3D printer and/or CNC mill. But it’s still going to be a long time before i finish that project, so i figured hey why not actually use it for something useful in the meantime! So.. that’t the plan.. 😀

 

 

Orange, Yellow, and Red-podded peas.. oh my!

Sorry for not posting anything about plant breeding lately. I’ve been rather busy this year. But i still have a few plant breeding projects (mostly from last year) that i dedicated garden space this year  for. These include my Colorado bred / adapted Watermelon Landrace, which did quite well last year (even a racoon thought so and ate one that was overripe). My Wild Pueblo squash from Utah. An attempt at a sweet potato growing / breeding project. A mass tomato growout / trial. Some perennial teosinte-maize hybrids. And my various pea variety growouts which includes: Salmon-flowered pea and crosses, mummy-white and crosses, mummy-pea, Biskopens and hoped crosses, Joseph’s red-podded peas, Joseph’s yellow podded peas, Orange-pod, Virescens Mutante, Sugar Magnolia, Sugaree, Green Beauty, Purple Passion, Dwarf Grey Sugar, Spring Rose, Canoe, Mighty Midget. I also finally made one successful cross this year between Mighty Midget and Purple Passion. That should eventually give me a super dwarf with purple seeds and also improve purple passion to have stronger stems as it’s normally a very spindly plant.

This winter, i think in February i  experimented with making a small cold-frame and using it to plant some of my peas super early. You can see it here where i watered it with snow and then a few weeks later the pea seedlings emerging but it still being rather cold outside. It worked great though. This particular cold frame is more suited for super dwarf or extra dwarf peas or lettuce or something. If i had a greenhouse i’d totally experiment more with growing vegetables in the winter.

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A nice segregating yellow pod from the red-podded breeding line. Very nice.

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A nice yellow and red mottled pea pod. The contrast is what makes this one really stand out! A line to keep an eye on for sure.

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A remnant from Dan Quickert’s purple snow pea project. This is one of the few that didn’t die off a few years back, so this one must have had much better genetics than it’s siblings. A nice example of a purple snow pea, which are still quite rare. This one is called ‘Midnight Snow’.

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And some of the orange-pod gene peas (orp) i’m growing from the Gatersleben gene bank. These have an interesting orange color on the inside of the pod. I hope to use these to make better yellows and better red podded peas in the future.

Pea Breeding Resources

Pea Breeding is actually really awesome. Especially when you can get really neat colors to recombine into new combinations. Punnet Squares to predict the genetics of pea breeding is also very helpful and fun too. This page contains a multitude of information on pea genetics.

(This page was originally hosted on my test website Biolumo.com, but since i am hosting it myself on my own computer it is not exactly a reliable place, and hence i have copied all of the relevant information here to my blog as a permanent place to find it.)

Details of Mendel’s Pea Breeding

Here is a copy of Mendel’s original paper, for those who are interested.

biologyThe Results of Mendel's crosses for seven characters in pea plants

The following pea breeding illustrations were obtained from the Eighth Edition of Biology by Neil A. Campbell. I’ve scanned the relevant illustrations about pea breeding. If you would like to view the genetics section in PDF form instead, then here you go: You can read the whole genetics chapter in a virtual pdf online.

crossing pea plantsF1 Hybrid Pea Plants

Pea Alleles, Locuspeas F2 generation

random combination of the gametes results in the 3:1 ration that Mendel observed in the F2 generationMendel Pea TestcrossMendel Independent Assortment

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Rebsie Fairholm's Red-Podded Pea
Rebsie Fairholm’s Red-Podded Pea

If your still interested in pea breeding, then you might be interested in Rebsie Fairholm’s breeding projects involving peas. Not only is she breeding a very neat yellow sugar snap pea called Luna Trick, but she is also breeding an awesome red-podded pea as well! She not only shares photos and info about her crosses on her blog, but she has also provided 2 excellent tutorials for crossing peas with photos! Many of us amateur plant breeders are attempting and making progress on recreating Rebsie’s red-podded pea success here.

Trying to figure out the gentics for this rare red-podded pea is facinationg! Here are my attemopts to figure it all out with punnett squares below.

Parent Generation (P)
F1 generation if purple-pod parent is homozygous for the purple gene

F1 yp yp
GP GyPp
purple pea
GyPp
purple pea
GP GyPp
purple pea
GyPp
purple pea
OR
F1 generation if purple-pod parent is heterozygous for the purple gene
F1 yp yp
GP GyPp
purple pea
GyPp
purple pea
Gp Gypp
green pea
Gypp
green pea

But as it turns out, Rebsie’s results actually had mostly green pods. And upon doing some research about the genes responsible for the purple-podded trait, we actually find that there may instead be 3 genes needed for the anthocyanins to be present. One gene commonly called “A” is a master swich gene and is epistatic to the other genes coding for anthocyanins. The other two genes are also both required for the pod to have purple-pod’s. If this is correct than that means the punnit squares i completed above are no where close to being accurate. Here is the F1 hypothesis again, and this one as far as i know is correct this time. I have used the letter “A” to represent the on/off gene, along with “P” and “U” to represent the two purple-pod genes. I have left out the yellow podded gene because all offspring will be hetozygous for a base pod color of yellow/green.

Here is the corrected F1 generation hypothesis using the three genes for purple anthocyanin colors. We are ignoring the gene for green/yellow pods for the moment since all offspring in the F1 generation are heterozygous for dominant green and recessive yellow.

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That gives us a ratio of 28 Purple : 36 Green.

So I guess Rebsie was right; in the F1 generation mostly green pods appear.

Here is the F2 Generation Hypothesis using the rule of independent assortment. Now this table is not entirely correct, but represents the “average” offspring collected from the purple-podded plants in the F1 generation. I say the average because in the best case scenario you can get purple-podded plants that be homozygous for ALL of the purple genes. On the other hand, the worst case scenario is that the purple-podded plants in the F1 will be heterozygous for ALL of the purple genes. In most cases though i think that the average purple-podded plant in the F1 will have two homozygous genes and the third gene will be heterozygous. In that case you would only need to worry about two sets of genes in the F2, nameley 1 set for anthocyanin and 1 set for yellow pods underneath.
Which in this “average” scenario results in the typical 9:3:3:1 Phenotypic Ratio.
And in this case the red-podded peas are the recombinant offspring that we are loking for.
If we take that a little furthur, that means that if you plant 50 F2 generation seeds, you should get a ratio of about 43 non-red pods : 7 red-pods.

Inheritance Of The Colors Of Pea Flowers

Mendelian Inheritance Of The Colour OF The Flower In The Culinary Pea

Pea flowers (the edible kind) come in three major colors. They can come in the “wild” form which is a Bicolour Purple, White, or Salmon Pink (pink-and-white). I first encountered this information on Rebsie’s blog, and after doing some research of my own, i found one refrence to the same imformation in a very old book from 1912 (Breeding and the Mendelian discovery by A.D. Darbishire). The purple form is dominant and is a trait mostly common in field peas. The pink form is recessive to the the purple, but is dominant to the white. The white form is recessive to all color, and is commonly associated with modern peas that have been selected for high sugar content. It’s a bit amusing the way the book talks about the purple form in relation to the other two. Apparently if you breed the pink with the white you will get purple in the F1 generation because the pink has the gene that expresses color, but the white is actually hiding the gene for purple flowers. In the book this is talked about as an ancestral trait, a throwback, and the theory of reversion.

In Darwins book, The Origin of Species, Darwin himself encounters something similar with his breeding of pigeons. Darwin bred a pure white pigeon with another white pigeon (with black tail feathers), and was very surprised because in the next generation he got a blue pigeon (which has the same coloring as the wild rock pigeon). But Darwin didn’t know about genetics, so he could only conclude that it was a ancestral throwback phenomenon. We now know that the white one with black stripes had the gene for color (black) and the pure white pidgeon was actually a blue pidgeon but did not have any active color genes. To my knowlwdge the only variety of pea known to have pink flowers is the one called ‘Salmon-flowered’.

Salmon-flowered, pink, pink-and-white pea flower Bicolour Purple pea flower white pea flower

DIY Modified Bread Machine Incubator

I hereby present: “The Breadman Incubator”… TaDa!

I will admit that i never truly got into the DIYbio movement, but to say it didn’t leave an impact on me also wouldn’t be truthful. So what is this machine? And what is it for? Well, I’m glad you asked…

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In short this is a modified bread machine. Only modified to the extent that the native electronics have been replaced with an arduino (in this case an old low-cost diavolino), an arduino screw-shield, the native thermistor replaced with my own 10k ntc thermistor, and a 7 segment display from sparkfun electronics. Oh, and my own custom orange plexiglass cover! I’m quite proud of that cover! It’s main design is to regulate specific temperatures. In the case of DIYbio, in theory it can be used to regulate a temperature to be an incubator. Mainly bacteria, but it could also be used as an egg incubator, or a “hyper germination chamber” for squash seeds!. This last one is the only one i have actually tested, and i was able to see a squash seedling emerge in only one day! All of these potential uses still fall within the category of do-it-yourself biology.

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Currently the programming is limited to a pre-set temperature at 37 degrees Celsius. This is often the optimal temperature to cultivate bacteria. Or so i’m told by Wikipedia. It is also the max temperature listed as being able to germinate squash seeds. huh, who knew?

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Now, a lot of people out there might say: “why on earth would would you want to cultivate bacteria!” and one step further: “why on earth would you make a machine to grow bacteria!; Isn’t that dangerous?!” Well, umm.. I never said i actually would grow bacteria in this thing, more i created it just because i like the “i could” factor. In reality this is more of a proof-of-concept design built only to impress myself. But to answer the second question/statement.. Yes, growing bacteria is potentially dangerous.. unless you know what you are doing, what kind of bacteria is safe to work with, and proper safety protocols. Those who are familiar with the DIYbio movement will know that such safety concerns have been discussed before and that the general consensus is basically “use common sense” and “know what you are doing”. If these two principles are followed everything will be fine.

Besides, the great thing about this is that in theory this could be programmed to be it’s own sterilizer too! That’s a great plus for safety. Wikipedia say’s this:

Eventually, the entire item reaches the proper temperature needed to achieve sterilization. The proper time and temperature for Dry-Heat sterilization is 160 °C (320 °F) for 2 hours. Instruments should be dry before sterilization since water will interfere with the process. Dry-heat destroys microorganisms by causing coagulation of proteins.

I did a basic programming test to see if this machine could reach 160 degrees Celsius. It seemed like it could. The only thing needed would be a way to accurately keep track of time (like the unused chronodot i have lying around) and a button or something to initiate a programmed sterilization routine.

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In this design i have not implemented use of the motor. One because i really couldn’t think of a good use for it. But two because in my initial testing phase i accidentally destroyed both an arduino mega and my computer (i assume by not properly protecting them from the kickback electricity from the motor). Yeah, it was “my bad”! Quite literally. Yeah, so a caution to anyone who decided to build a similar project, i recommend not programming your arduino while it is plugged into the electronics of your bread machine. Program it first, and then hook it up to test it. It was only when the usb cable of my arduino were plugged into my computer (with the motor running (i think)) that bad things happened. 😦

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I found this old piece of scrap aluminum that handily fits at the bottom to cover the motor thingy. It gives it a nice flat surface. Petri dishes or anything that needs a flat surface will need something like this.

So.. Does it work?.. Yup. At least in a basic sense. It definitely could use some improvement. The programming is very basic in terms of turning the relay on if it is under a preset temperature (in this case 37°C) and turning it off it is above. While this works, it is not efficient nor really all that accurate. A PID loop would probably improve it much. Also adding a chronodot would help to have a temperature compensated accurate time clock in case i wanted to incubate something for a specific amount of time. I probably will add the chronodot at some point. A fan to help regulate temperature might also be a good fix, but if the autoclave feature were implemented it would have to be autoclavable (or removable). The fan could unintentionally introduce mold spores, but if proper sterilizing techniques were used this could be avoided. And perhaps a magnet switch to turn things off when the cover is opened.

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The arduino code for this project can be found here.

Following in Mendel’s Footsteps

…and discovering how interesting pea breeding can actually be…

Google’s logo showing a dihybrid cross, but failing to follow the law of independent assortment (yellow pods & yellow seeds are not linked), and also failing to show that yellow seeds are dominant. But, it does show the 3:1 ratio of green:yellow pods in the F2 generation.

After noticing that Google’s logo today was in honor of Gregor Mendel’s 189th Birthday, I decided to make a post about pea breeding. On first thought pea breeding doesn’t sound all that interesting. Even to people who are interested in plant breeding in general. I myself thought that Mendel had already worked with all the interesting traits found in peas out there, but i have found that i was wrong. I’m starting to find that the traits Mendel worked with are actually very neat in person, and the ones he didn’t know about are even more interesting.

The Google logo itself is actually a visual representation of Mendel’s experiment of crossing yellow podded peas (recessive) with that of green podded peas (dominant), but it also shows his other experiment of crossing yellow seeds with green seeds. Unfortunately it looks like Google’s logo is not following the law of independent assortment and is showing linkage between yellow pods and yellow seeds, which is incorrect. Yellow seeds are actually dominant, so Google fails in that regard. But, even so it illustrates the ratio of 3:1. In other words, in the F2 generation 3/4 of the offspring will be green-podded and 1/4 yellow podded.

yellow-poded constricted pea pod
yellow-podded pea also with the constricted pod gene (Golden Sweet)

The picture above shows a variety called “Golden Sweet” which remarkably has both the rare yellow-podded gene, but also the gene for constricted pods. After growing this variety for the first time here in my own garden, i can see why Mendel was so fascinated with pea traits at the time. I personally think his experiments were directly inspired by this unique variety of pea, which is suspected to have become close to extinction in Europe and the rest of the world, until it was accidentally rediscovered recently in a collection of seeds from India. It certainly is a pea with some interesting genetics.

breeding peas

I’ve only just started to experiment with crossing peas this year. While it sounds like it would be hard, it’s actually fairly easy. But, it really does help to have a tiny pair of scissors instead of an exacto knife or scalpel. The only hard part is that pea flowers are self fertile and self pollinating by nature, and you must catch the flowers very early to be able to cut off the immature pollen so you can use pollen from another plant. I really don’t know how Mendel did that in his day in age, but i applaud the man. Here are two links to pea breeding on Rebsie Fairholm’s blog.

How to breed your own garden peas
How to hybridise garden peas 

The Results of Mendel's F1 crosses for Seven Characters in Pea Plants
Mendel worked with several different pea traits, and documented at least seven of those. Yellow-podded vs Green-podded, Yellow-seeded vs Green-seeded, Inflated Pods vs Constricted pods, Round seeds vs Wrinkled seeds, Tall vs Dwarf, flower position, and flower color.
My Seven Pea Traits
Several Pea Traits I’m Currently Researching (I’m actually researching more than seven)
Here is a neat illustrated table of the various pea traits that I’m currently researching. It shows a more accurate color of the purple pea flowers which is known as Bicolour Purple. It also shows Salmon-Flowered, Terminal flowers (fasciated umbellatum-type peas), red-seeded peas, purple-seeded peas, purple podded peas, red-podded peas, Tendril-less peas, and Hyper-Tendril peas. In reality i am studying more than seven traits, but i put the table together as sort of an ode to Mendel.
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Purple-podded snow pea 'Midnight Snow'
‘Midnight Snow’ snow pea (purple-podded mangetout / edible-podded pea)
Some of the most interesting pea traits are the ones that i don’t think Mendel even knew existed. Purple-podded seems to be one of the ones Mendel never seems to have written about. But it is widely reported that the purple-podded varieties of peas originated from the Capuchin monks in the Netherlands.
The Unusual Parsley Pea
The Unusual Parsley Pea
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Hyper-Tendril peas! (aka. semi-leafless peas)
Hyper-Tendril peas! (aka. semi-leafless peas)

Alan Kapuler of Oregon discovered a while back that if you outcross a pea called “Parsley Pea” which has an insane amount of leaflets on it’s tendrils, that you can get a pea that has hyper-tendrils and has twice the amount of tendrils and doesn’t require a trellis to support themselves.

Rebsie Fairholm's famous red-podded pea
Rebsie Fairholm’s famous red-podded pea

Rebsie Fairholm from the U.K. discovered just a few years ago (2008) that when you cross a purple-podded pea with a yellow-podded pea you get a red-podded pea! How awesome is that!

Pea, Biskopens
Biskopens (rare red-seeded pea). Photo by Soren.

 

I’m currently trying collect lots of pea varieties with rare and interesting traits, but one that is uniquely rare though is one called Biskopens. It is the only pea that i know of that has red seeds! Yeah, it’s a red-seeded pea!

Pea, Purple Passion
Purple Passion (rare purple-seeded pea). Photo by Soren.

This is a very rare variety i was lucky (and surprised) to get in a recent trade. I really look forward to growing out this variety next spring. Supposedly it also has purple pods. I have no idea what it’s origin is. I’m curious if it’s the same gene as the red Biskopens pea, but perhaps with a green seed underneath so maybe this one comes out purple? I’m just speculating at this point.

Salmon-flowered pea
Salmon-flowered pea

If you are still interested in all of this, then please feel free to visit my pea_breeding webpage to find out more detailed information about pea genetics and about Mendel’s work with peas (as well as  and Rebsie’s red-podded pea). Or my recently updated webpage about the seven-ish unusual pea traits that i’m currently studying at http://biolumo.com/garden/peas.html.