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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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!!!!

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!

Progress on my Homebuilt Lulzbot Mini

Today i made significant progress on building my own Lulzbot Mini 3D printer from scratch. Technically i now have two 3d printers i’m building from scratch, but the other one is bigger and one i’m designing myself. Just like me to not finish one project before starting another. At least i’m going to work on this one and finish it before continuing on my other one (which might be converted into a homemade CNC mill).

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Today was a major milestone because most of the components are put together and i finally was able to test part of the electronics i wired up myself. I was able to test the Y-axis motor and limit switches as well as the X-axis stepper motor. All seemed to function correctly using Lulzbot’s Cura software. The software did have an unexpected safety feature however, it wouldn’t let me turn any of the motors on without the bed thermistor wired up. So i had to wire up a temporary 10k thermistor for testing purposes. It worked great. I was running the Cura software under Ubuntu Linux. The Cura software gave me an error that it could not autodetect the serial port or something like that, so i ran it as the root super user and that fixed the problems.

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Since i’m building this thing from scratch instead of buying one premade i’m trying to find ways of cutting costs. Although i think i will end up spending more than i hoped. But anyway, part of that is looking into ways that i might be able to replace expensive commercial products like the IGUS bearings and the Leadscrew nut. I’ve already drafted up a 3d printable version of the leadscrew nut and posted it here on Thingiverse. The nut has yet to be tested, but i’ve also had some RJM-01-08 IGUS bearing replica prototypes made in Nylon. The RJM-01-08 IGUS replica bearings turned out to be too tight, but with a drill i was able to make them usable. They are currently being used to remove the wiggle and slop i was experiencing from using the 1mm too small LM8UU ball bearings.

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I originally got the LM8UU bearings as a cheaper alternative to the commercial RJM-01-08 IGUS stock bearings the Lulzbot mini uses thinking they would work. They work, and i am currently using some, but the stock STL files from Lulzbot have holes that are 1mm too big because of the slight size difference between them and the LM8UU. I might try to modify the STL files [i have modified the lulzbot solidworks files] to make LM8UU compatible parts in the near future, but for now i’m happy with my 3d printed nylon ones. I’ve heard PLA might work too, so i will experiment with that in the future as well.

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Here are some more pictures:

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‘Wild Pueblo’ Squash Variety (2015)

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Wild Pueblo Squash, Loveland Colorado 2012

I feel somewhat bad that i haven’t done much with plant breeding posts or other projects like my homemade Taffy Machine, or chemistry. I had some of those projects listed on my website. Unfortunately my website has been neglected my me and is currently down and redirects here. Perhaps by next year i can work on it again. Until then, i will try my best to diversify my blog and post some of it here.

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This year i was able to grow some squash. In particular i was able to grow a few plants of my ‘Wild Pueblo’ Squash. Cucurbita maxima ‘Wild Pueblo’. Wild Pueblo is the name i have given it after both of our native pueblo ancestry. The woman who was kind enough to give me seeds was originally calling it Wild Hopi. But since i do not know if this is specifically a squash grown by the Hopi i decided to rename it. In any case it seems to be an Ancestral Puebloan variety of squash that is very old.

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Photo by Bobbi HolyOak, 2011, Moab Utah

In the past i never really cared that much about squash. Probably because i always had the attitude that all squash are the same. But, since I’ve been trying to find my own crops that are personal and thrive in my climate (even resorting to breeding some from scratch), I’ve decided that it would be incomplete without my own squash. In fact i think my squash are becoming my favorite thing to grow. I have a feeling that squash are going to be my favorite crop. There is just something special about seeing a squash plant growing from seed. Almost sacred and special. It’s hard to explain. Corn has a similar effect on me, but even more so with squash.

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Wild Pueblo was originally recovered growing in the wild of southeast Utah somewhere around the Monticello area. Close to the famous Newspaper Rock historic site. It was said to be found off the beaten track growing behind an old somewhat hidden pueblo ruin. Next to the ruin was a small stream. Growing next to the stream was a large squash plant with several large ripe squash fruit. I estimate that it is possible that it could have been growing undisturbed in that area for over 150 years! If so, this thing could have some awesome genetics. I’m doing my best to grow out the seed and preserve this variety.

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Wild Pueblo Squash, 2012
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Wild Pueblo Squash, 2012, Loveland Colorado
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Wild Pueblo Squash on the left. Hopi White Squash on the right.

I suspect Wild Pueblo is an older variety of squash which may be related to a landrace which may have been used to breed the variety called “lakota squash”. according to reports…

“The Lakota squash, a mid-1990’s open-pollinated introduction developed at the University of Nebraska by Dr. D. P. Coyne. Dr. Coyne experimented with crosses and selections to assure more uniform pigmentation of this beautiful squash before making it available to the trade.

Lakota squash was developed from seeds obtained by the University from Nebraska’s Fort Robinson, once a prairie Cavalry post, later an agricultural site, now a National Park. The variety it was derived from is no longer in cultivation. It had been grown by Native American peoples along the Missouri Valley for centuries before the arrival of Europeans to the continent. This indigenous squash was also cultivated by the troops stationed at Nebraska’s Forts Atkinson and Robinson, and by early Nebraska settlers.”

Edit: after talking to someone at the University of Nebraska who worked with Dr. Coyne with the original germplasm of the non-hubbard parent landrace of squash i am told the fruits were actually oblong. Still might be worth trying to grow out that accession of seed before it’s no longer viable and available… i will see if i can get some seed…

I have only grown this variety twice, but even so it has some incredible diversity which i find absolutely fascinating. In time i think i can do some great things with it, perhaps even selecting it to grow even better.

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Photo by Bobbi HolyOak, 2011, Moab Utah

This year was a very odd year to grow things. Perhaps the El Nino weather was to blame. I don’t know. All i can say is that my squash took all season to grow anything at all. I only got one plant that grew big and produced a large squash, the rest were small, but contained seeds. Next year i will try to plant more and do better.

Like i said before, it has a LOT of diverse genetics!

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All i can say for now is that it is good to be home.

Calculating Growing Season – Revisited 2015

Several years back i investigated using locally available weather station data to average weather data and to speculate (hopefully accurate) weather patterns and more important to me an estimate of the length of time i have to grow things in my area and climate. In a sense it worked, but it was limited by my relative lack of long-term data over a number of years. This past spring i decided to try it again and use more years if possible. These graphs are what i came up with:

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Growing Season graph of Northern Colorado

The first graph is basically a line graph. In reality i used about 5 years years worth of weather data, but to make it easier to see i simplified it to 3 years and an average line. The average line really helped because as you can see each year had some significant differences in spikes of heat and dips of cool, but the overall pattern is the same. It’s the pattern i’m interested it. Because in theory it should be relatively stable and should provide an accurate estimate of my growing season and when the best times are to plant and best times to harvest before fall frosts.

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Growing Season Graph of Loveland, Colorado

Graph number 2 is actually better and easier to read. Instead of using a line graph it uses a bar graph type to display the data which is easier to read and use. Both graphs i used a (cooling) growing degree days base of 50F.  50 degrees Fahrenheit is the stated lowest temp that warm season crops like squash will grow at. To help increase accuracy of my growing season i drew an arbitrary line at the 20 degree mark above the base temp of 50F, so that would be 70F?, i think. Anyway, this gave me a rough estimate that i could plant warm season crops as early as April 22nd-ish and that my season would end about October 28th. It turned out my end-of-season prediction was fairly dead on this year as i think we got a frost on October 27th. The beauty of not simply setting a base of 60F or 70F and cutting anything below that off is that it gives me a rough estimate of my growing season for cool season and frost-tolerant crops as well. According to this i possibly could have planted peas, radishes, etc around March 11th in spring and in fall possibly as late producing as November 18th. Interesting. I have never planted anything as early as March 11th, even cool season crops. …Maybe i should…

…so yeah.. anyway it seems fairly accurate for my uses. I have yet to graph good rain data yet. But this graph is a rough estimate for the growing season in Loveland Colorado, Fort Collins Colorado, Greeley, and any other nearby places. But if at all possible please use the weather data from your nearest weather station.

www.degreedays.net/ (download “cooling degree days” data)

Wunderground.com (direct access to your local mini weather stations)

Originally inspired by Joseph Lofthouse. The original thread that started it all: http://alanbishop.proboards.com/thread/5337/corn-breeding-heat-units-charts?page=1

Project Updates November 2015

80/20 1020 Extruded aluminum t-slot y-axis 3d printer bracket
80/20 1020 Extruded aluminum t-slot y-axis 3d printer bracket

The first update is that i’m still steadily designing new parts in solidworks for my custom 3D printer. This photo is one of two y-brackets that will hold the 1020 size t-slot extruded aluminum (from 80/20) y-axis beam. It looked good in Solidworks, now it just needs to be fabricated (3d printed) into a real-world working part (as with many other parts).

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Y-axis bracket for custom 3D printer

It’s really fun designing parts and then seeing them become real functional parts. Recently I’ve even been looking into a local program for CNC machinist training as a job. Apparently there is a large shortage of qualified CNC machinists in my area along with a booming and returning engineering and manufacturing hub here in the area.

While i was designing new parts and fitting them together i found a few minor problems with a few of my old designs being off and not lining up properly with the 1020 extruded aluminum. So i spent some time fixing that and cleaning them up a bit. Good to find those errors on the computer first than after i make the parts.

I received the prototype PCB’s for the XYZZY Motor Controller 1.0, The downside is I’ve found numerous errors that i missed, so I’ve been trying to fix those. But then to compound those problems the main circuit itself has a problem where the HIP4081A h-bridge chip circuit is only driving a motor (in this case a test load LED) in one direction. At first it was shorting out the other direction, but now i think it just loads the current down and does not activate one side of the hbridge. It’s actually driving me crazy trying to fix it and find the cause of the problem, but it’s still quite a mystery. Perhaps electronics is just not my thing. Perhaps i really should give up on that project after never being able to have good success. But i don’t know.

In plant breeding news: i was able to harvest three corn cobs this year. Two were decent sized purple husked corn cobs, the other was a good multi-colored flint. The third one had lots of kernel color diversity, it even had several speckled kernels, and chin-marked ones, and even some that had both speckles and stripes! I recently found purple sweet potatoes at Whole Foods and i will be trying to sprout one and grow my own slips for next year.

I was also able to grow a few good squash this year, some good progress on the pea breeding, and an excellent year with Joseph’s Watermelon Landrace. Sorry, i didn’t get good photo’s of the watermelons, but i had some excellent red sweet watermelons and some good yellows as well. Especially for Northern Colorado, the watermelons are the plant breeding project i’m most excited about and ironically having the best success. Can’t wait for next year! And all this despite it being an incredible difficult and strange gardening year!