New Watermelon Breeding Project 2018 and Beyond…

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Today i’m sharing about a new plant breeding project i am planning on working on. The Watermelon Landrace project I’ve been developing for Northern Colorado has started to progress quite well and i am very pleased in the direction it is heading. This past summer of 2017 i harvested many that were of decent size, grew in my soil, and tasted excellent. I started to eliminate the ones that still develop blossom end rot and other poor traits such as funky shape or poor flavor. Starting to only save the best seeds.

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I originally added some Colorado Red-seeded Citron melons to my watermelon landrace because i wanted to breed watermelons with red seeds and frost tolerance. Citron Melons are supposed to be pretty damn hardy and supposedly have this desired frost tolerance. The problem? Citron melons aren’t exactly edible. They are not poisonous, just super hard white flesh and bland bland bland. Actually they are a very old heirloom type of watermelon called the Colorado Preserving Melon or the Colorado Red-seeded Citron. Apparently they have lots of natural pectin in them which is useful for making jams and jellies for toast. And did i mention they can breed quite easily with modern watermelons?

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When it comes to the Colorado Red-seeded citron i absolutely love their red seeds. I really want that trait in my watermelon landrace. I guess there are a few red seeded watermelon varieties out there already, but they are few and far between.

So, what happens when you breed a modern red or yellow fleshed watermelon with a citron melon? Well, i don’t exactly know. Yet. This year i planted a few of the red seeds i harvested from the citrons from last year that were mixed in with the landrace. The seeds i got were all still red so i figured they probably self pollinated. Regardless i added them to the landrace watermelon seed i planted this year in hopes that they would grow (not die), cross, and produce viable seed.

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I’m happy to report that so far that part of the project was a success. The top photo above shows what i think are confirmed F1 Citron x Watermelon hybrids. I suppose they could be F2, but i’m just going to assume F1. The seed was harvested from fruits that showed the characteristic “white cloverleaf striped mottling” that Citron Melons have, and from fruits that had hard white bland flesh when all the other watermelons had ripe yellow or red flesh. How do i know these seeds are hybrids? Well because the seeds were not red this time! In fact they were all different kinds of patterns and colors. Some red-black, some pure black, some greyish, some grey-black-mottled, etc.

Looking forward to growing this line of seeds out and reselecting for the traits i want. Red seeds would be awesome, but not necessary. Frost tolerance would be even more awesome, but not necessary. Even without those traits what impresses me most about Colorado Citron Melons is the fact that they grow so darn well in my climate, with my poor soil, and still grow full size melons even when over crowded with other watermelons that don’t do well, and even thrive with relatively low amounts of water. These traits alone are so very desirable to be folded into my watermelon landrace that this project is so exciting even now when i’m just beginning.

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I’ve heard a rumor that way back the Soviet Union (USSR) did lots of plant breeding experiments (maybe because of the breeding genius known as Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin), and part of these experiments involved Wide Hybridization or Distant Hybridization, which means crazy breeding like interspecific, intergeneric, intrageneric, and intraspecific breeding and attempted crosses that most people would never try or attempt. Some of these crosses were successful. What i’m interested in is the Soviets work on Citron-Watermelon hybrids. Apparently they experimented with these long before i have and rumor has it that they were able to recover some nice tasting watermelons that were able to be stored for several months into the winter. Awesome. I will update this blog post when i have more information about this. There are already supposed “Winter Watermelons” that supposedly keep for several months, but i’m sure those can be improved, or i can just breed my own winter watermelon variety. Exciting stuff!

Edit Nov-15-2017:

Okay, so i finally received a copy of the rare book titled “Wide hybridization of plants (Otdalennaya gibridizatsiya rastenii) Proceedings of the Conference on Wide Hybridization of Plants and Animals; collection of reports” from inter-library loan. A mouthful, i know. Thanks to WorldCat to helping me track it down. Not many copies of it left around.

Originally written and published in Russian in the U.S.S.R. in 1958, and Translated into English in Jerusalem Israel in 1962. The Soviet Union was known in those times for great scientific advances including launching the space race, the first cosmonaut in space, Sputnik, and other crazy medical advances like the Skenar and Bacteriophage medicine, to strange sci-fi spy weapons in the Cold War. Apparently they also were advancing in novel plant breeding techniques and programs. Michurin was one of these guy’s. If you’ve never heard of him or his plant breeding techniques and success go look him up. I honestly don’t know much about him myself, but i do know he was an accomplished plant breeder, most notably with wide genetic crosses that noone else thought would work.

Anyway, back to the Interspecific Hybridization of Watermelon work done by the Russians with Citron x Watermelon crosses in 1958. Turns out they did have success with it. The F1 generation was mostly like the wild Citron with bland hard tasteless flesh. F1 and F2 Hybrids with Citrullus colocynthoides are similar to their wild Citron parent genetics. Late-ripening, coarse compact unsweet fruit pulp and a thick rind. Quite unremarkable. But that’s what i was already expecting. One cool note though is that some of these in future segregating generations or backcrosses to domestic watermelons can produce some sweet watermelons that have some storage ability. Meaning they ship well and can store for many months. In fact some of them get sweeter over time whereas domestic watermelons do not. So all in all some cool potential in the project after all! I’m even more excited now!

If you want to read the Soviet’s 1958 watermelon research yourself, i have taken the effort to scan some of the book into a PDF for you. It’s not the whole book, but it has the relevant chapter on Watermelon and Citron crosses.

Here’s the PDF: Wide_hybridization_in_plants_TSITSIN

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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!

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.

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.

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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.
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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.