Growing Watermelon Landrace in Colorado 2017 Success!!!

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Most of the watermelons are done for the year and eaten already. Many of them were good tasty Canary Yellows. One Salmon-yellow and one Pink were so/so. I’m trying to not save seeds from now on from any that taste bland like the salmon-yellows. Or others that grow poorly. I think i will also start selecting against those that have bacterial rot at the flower end and those that split open. But i’m happy in the direction these are headed. I have a side breeding project where i am letting some Colorado red-seeded citron being pollinated by the landrace watermelon. I’m hoping that in the future that leads to a more cold-tolerant yellow fleshed red-seeded watermelon strain. Some seeds from those are all crazy colors this year with some partially red-black and others with unique gray spots. Just a side project for now.

Generally the small bowl-sized watermelons are from my garden. I had the opportunity to have a small local organic farmer grow some of the landrace watermelons for me in fertilized soil and on black plastic. Those ones grew a little bigger for him. I was able to purchase and collect a few of those back. The long one looked like a yellow-fleshed Lofthouse Charleston Gray strain to me… but i don’t know for sure. I cut it open a little early. Apparently the long ones take longer to ripen so the dry three-tendril method didn’t exactly work on those, but it did for my small round ones!

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All in All i’m happy to finally be able to grow decent sized tasty watermelons here in the heart of Northern Colorado. Where few are able to succeed at growing watermelon at all! Success!!!!

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Improving the Tomato Genome by breeding with wild tomatoes [2017]

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Solanum peruvianum (wild tomato with desert tolerance)

So i haven’t written a blog post in some time. Sorry about that. It has been very hectic this year. That’s not to say that i’m completely dead. And despite my busyness and absence i am still dabbling a little bit in the garden and plant breeding scene. I didn’t have the time, energy, or space to work on my purple Indian Corn or Teosinte this year. I barely made room for beans, peas, tomatoes, and a row of watermelon.

The beans are my special four corners native beans which include, New Mexico Red Appaloosa (aka. Gila River bean), Anasazi, Zuni Gold, Rio Zape, and maybe a few others. The Peas are a large growout of my 17-23 different varieties of genetically unique and rare pea varieties, some of which are segregating crosses that i did two seasons ago. And tough i don’t have many pictures i will post one below of a purple podded umbellatum-type (aka. crown pea) where all the pods come out in a jumble all at once. To have a purple podded one of these is new and kind of cool. I hope to have a yellow and red-podded umbellatum-type pea someday. The watermelon are the result of mine and Joseph Lofthouse’s Watermelon Landrace project. Joseph Lofthouse seems to be world famous now for his widely successful landrace seed varieties and breeding techniques.

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Purple Podded Umbellatum Crown Pea

Anyway, back to the tomatoes. The Tomatoes are a brand new project and sort of an offshoot of one of Joseph’s new landrace breeding projects as well and a few other fellow collaborators and breeders as well. It all started when Joseph was working on wanting to convert tomatoes to a landrace like many of his other successful crops. But there are a number of problems with that and domestic tomatoes in general.

The first problem is that domestic tomatoes are entirely self pollinating and don’t outcross all that much and have tiny closed-up flowers. Another problem is that domestic tomato flowers are not very attractive to pollinators. And the third major problem is that domestic tomatoes went through several genetic bottleneck selection events when they were domesticated that they have a very narrow genetic base. This narrow genetic base means that 1. Most tomatoes are subject to easily succumbing to disease and 2. that when they do outcross there is not much variation anyway. An average bad-tasting disease susceptible red tomato that crosses with another average bad-tasting disease susceptible red tomato means that in the end all you really get is more of the same.

My interest in all of this starts with the basic fact that in my climate here in Northern Colorado with my soil (mostly a dry clayish sandy soil where mostly desert plants grow), and the high altitude with intense sunlight and UV and the dry wind that wicks moisture out of the ground means that most garden varieties of anything don’t do all that well here unless intensely babied. This applies most especially to tomatoes. Even worse when it comes to Heirloom tomatoes. Sure heirloom tomatoes generally taste better, but to have a tomatoe plant produce like ONE good tomato through a whole season… That’s a MAJOR FAILURE in my book.

There are lots of tomato freaks out there that try to tell me that here in Colorado i can grow ANY tomato variety and be successful. And while that might be true if i replaces all my soil with compost or potting mix and provided massive amounts of water, and started them all early and planted them all out perfectly then yes maybe that would be true. But that’s not what i want to do, not should i have to do that. I should be able to just start a tomato plant and plant it where i want and not have to worry about it all that much and have it produce a decent harvest (whatever that happens to be). And not have to worry about disease, or growing slow, or not being adapted to my soil or the intense UV light or whatever. That’s where all this plant breeding comes in.

The goal(s)

  • To breed a superior tomato variety that does well for me (in dry N. Colorado)
  • To increase the genetic diversity in the tomato genome by using wild tomatoes
  • To create or recreate a tomato that is highly attractive to pollinators
  • To create a population of tomatoes that are highly outcrossing
  • To create a tomato that i actually think tastes good and NOT like cardboard

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wild tomato seeds. photo courtesy of Joseph Lofthouse

This project is still in it’s early stage, but it is progressing nicely. On Joseph’s end he is having huge success by using wild tomatoes bred with domestic tomatoes that have large showy flowers with exerted stigmas and have lots of pollen available that make them attractive to bumblebees. He is using mostly Solanum habrochaites but is starting to branch out to other wild tomatoes as well. Others are working on breeding tomatoes that produce a good harvest in under 100 days from being direct seeded and that have frost tolerance.

On my end i am experimenting with as many wild tomatoes that i can. I am evaluating several accessions of wild Galapagos tomatoes which so far are not doing much. The S. habrochaites also are not doing much. The ones i am having excitement from are the Solanum peruvianum which have silvery leaves and desert tolerance (in the roots) and a F1 hybrid between a domestic tomato and Solanum pennellii which has a different form of desert tolerance (in the leaves). I am excited about these genetics since they seem to be growing very well in my garden. The largest of any of my tomatoes is this F1 hybrid of S. pennellii. It is HUGE!!

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F1 hybrid between domestic tomato and Solanum pennellii
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Flowers of an F1 hybrid between domestic tomato and Solanum pennellii
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F2 cross of domestic tomato and Solanum habrochaites

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.. 😀

 

 

Success with Watermelon Landrace in Colorado

EDIT 1-29-16: This post is probably more accurately referred to as a “proto-landrace” or a pre-landrace. This post was from 2011, but even though it was my first attempt at starting my own watermelon landrace i still feel it was a moderate success. I hope to update you with how my watermelon landrace has progressed in the 2016 season. It is starting to do really well and selection pressures have occurred that i feel it can truly be called a landrace at this point and even perhaps the beginning of a variety if selected even further. Better than any commercial variety of watermelon by far!

I’m pleased to announce that my watermelon proto-landrace experiment seems to have been a moderate success so far, and here in Northern Colorado no less!

Northern Colorado isn’t exactly known for having a climate that is hospitable to growing watermelons. In fact, I’ve tried planting and growing watermelons at least three times before, each time ended in a miserable failure. This year was different though in part by my determination to succeed and the landrace method i recently discovered. A landrace is basically a mix of a bunch of seeds with lots of genetic variability. That variability makes it easier to locate a variety that is already at least partially adapted to my climate. While some (or many) varieties in a landrace die off immediately, some usually survive. And the theory is that by selecting only the best ones year after year, we eventually get something that is really good. Much of my inspiration for this project has come from Joseph Lofthouse who has had success with a cantaloupe landrace in utah, the breeding work being done by Rebsie Fairholm in the U.K., and indirectly Carol Depp who i believe inspired the two people i just mentioned. When used modernly and deliberately some people refer to it as “evolutionary breeding”.

This is where my experiment with this idea comes into play. I’ve always liked eating watermelon, but the common belief here in Colorado is that they are hard to grow (if not impossible). There is at least some merit in that belief. I myself have failed previously on three separate occasions to cultivate Mark Twain’s angelic food. The biggest problem was that i never used the right varieties. In a sense i guess you could say that the landrace method is basically a shotgun approach. When in doubt, shoot everything!

And while this is only the first year i have attempted this project, i feel the results so far have been extremely encouraging. This is the first year i have ever gotten any ripe watermelons, which in itself is a milestone. I got dozens of them. Many of them were tiny though, like baseball tiny. Some of those tiny ones actually ripened though, and a few tasted really good. I also got some that were of decent size too. I tried my best to select varieties that were mainly Northern, Native American, and short season varieties. My hope was that some might already be adapted to the temperature requirements, some adapted to the soil, pests, etc, and they would be able to cross pollinate with each other, so i could eventually select for one that has all the best traits.

Even with this criteria probably a third of them did not ripen properly, and went directly into the compost pile. But, i was able to harvest a few really good ones, and few OK ones as well. Something that was interesting though was that many of the early ones to ripen were yellow-fleshed watermelons. I had included some seeds from a few that were supposed to be yellow, and i had heard myths of yellow watermelons, but i didn’t really think i would actually be able to grow my own. The first yellow i ate was probably the best watermelon i’ve ever tasted. I didn’t know the yellow ones tasted better than the red ones! I’ve found out that there might actually be three different shades of yellow watermelons, and i think i saw all three this year. What’s remarkable though is that one of the yellow types is a dominant trait, while one is a recessive trait.  How crazy is that! I suspect that the yellow ones might be able to ripen better here in my climate than many of the red ones, but maybe it was just a coincidence. only time will tell.

Anyway, yeah. This whole landrace breeding is pretty darn awesome! I hope to continue selecting the best of the best, and maybe eventually i will have my own special variety that grows vigorously here in Northern Colorado. 🙂 If you’d like to see a few more pictures and details about this breeding project, then please visit my website at biolumo.com.

Calculating Growing Season

Growing Season 2010 Northern Colorado

The last few days I’ve been investigating how to take advantage of free weather data from local weather stations. I was able to download some interesting data and graph it, which gave me a very accurate view of the growing season available here in my area.

First i downloaded Fahrenheit-based cooling data with a base temperature of 50F from www.degreedays.net (using temperature data from www.wunderground.com). I was then able to generate a growing degree days chart from nearby weather stations. It looks like it is designed for heating and air conditioning, but it seems to work fine for gardening. I chose a base of 50F (10 C). I had to run the calculation as “cooling days”, since it is the temperature above 50F that I am interested in. I did a weekly chart for the 2010 growing season.

Precipitation 2010 Northern Colorado

The precipitation graph i had to use data directly from www.wunderground.com. Based on this data it appears that cool season crops could be planted as early as March if someone wanted to. I myself probably wouldn’t plant anything earlier than April 1st, and for everything else like Corn, they shouldn’t be planted earlier than May 8-10. I will plant my watermelon May 10-20 just to give them an extra week from the last frost. When both graphs are combined it seems pretty easy to guess which storms are likely to be late snowstorms. The last two snowstorm in 2010 appear to have been around April 30th and May 8-10th. Yep, sounds about right.

I’m still learning about GDD (Growing Degree Day’s) and how to calculate it properly, but from what i’ve learned.. Day’s to Maturity (often listed on seed packets) is often unreliable in Northern and colder climates. Depending on how warm conditions are, some plants will grow faster at higher temperatures. For those wishing to calculate GDD for their area i found this Growing Degree Calculator. In addition, Joseph from Utah has graciously graphed a few different locations for comparison.

Comparing 2010 growing season in different areas

https://keen101.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/calculating-and-graphing-growing-season-part-2/

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Alan Kapuler Lecture

An awesome lecture from Alan Kapuler. If you have any interest in sustainable agriculture, plant genetics, heirloom plants, Ecology, etc… I suggest you watch this lecture. You may also want to take a visit to the Homegrown Goodness plant forum. You might have to search through everyone’s blogs to get to some of the really good information, but it’s totally worth it. Everybody share’s seeds, and is committed to providing the best information available about practically any topic your interested in.

Edit:

http://untitled.pnca.edu/multimedia/show/854/

At the bottom is a tiny bar with the full audio.

The full audio is about 2 hours long. It’s fantastic. I highly suggest you take the time to listen to it all. 🙂