Due to living in a high-altitude desert, the cross pollination rate on my beans is closer to 2%.
The industrialized seed industry, and heirloom preservationists have put tremendous effort (perhaps inadvertently) into selecting for a low cross pollination rate in common beans. That has lead to rampant inbreeding depression and low yields.
By replanting seeds from naturally occurring hybrids, I am selecting for beans that cross pollinate more readily. I am also selecting for insect populations that are more interested in bean flowers.
The simple habit of growing mixed populations of beans increases the natural cross-pollination rate, and yield, even without specifically identifying hybrids. That happens because the naturally occurring hybrids (between distinct types of beans) are more productive. The whole population shifts towards being more promiscuous.
My favorite type of bean are what I call semi-runners. Their growth habit is mid-way between pole beans and bush beans. The vines tend to just lay on stuff rather than twirling around things. They are very productive. I grow them sprawling over the weeds that grow with them. I harvest by throwing entire plants onto a canvas, and then jumping on them, or beating them with a stick.
In beans, a cross only shows up in the next generation. You can't tell by looking at a seed whether the embryo contains a cross or not.
The cross pollination rate of common beans averages about 5% across gardens and ecosystems, but people don't notice because if a highly inbred variety crosses with itself, it hasn't really crossed. I plant many different varieties of beans, all jumbled together, to encourage cross pollination.
Here's an example. What the mother looked like.
Here's what the second generation looked like:
Here's what the next generation looked like:
And the population a year later:
You can't tell, by sorting random beans from a factory, that a bean is crossed. It might just be mixed up. Plenty of seed gets hung up in combines, trucks, and factories. It's good training to pay attention to shape, size, glossiness, color, patterning, etc.
Some varieties of ground cherries have the same number of chromosomes as tomatillos, and they are in the same genus, so crossing might be possible. It's not easy to determine which is which, so it's a trial and error process to work it out.
When attempting inter-species hybrids, a best practice is to use mixed pollen from many different donors, and applying it to many different recipients. That way, the rare combinations that work are more likely to be discovered.
In the pragmatic world in which I find myself, it's easier to only keep one landrace per species. By planting one landrace in both the spring, and in the fall, I am selecting for a population that can be reliable in either scenario. There might be a cost associated with that choice in that populations selected for only fall or spring might yield somewhat more. The simplification in record keeping and seed saving entices me to keep only one population per species.
There are a lot of environmental and gardener influences on a population that will be the same regardless of whether they are spring or fall planted. If I were keeping two populations, I would plant some seeds from each population with every planting, in order to maintain diversity, and to share adapted traits between populations.
Sweet corn seed becomes viable at about 17 days after pollination. The earliest I can stand to eat sweet corn, at the very earliest watery stage is about 25 days. I think the best flavor is at about 32 days after pollination. The seed is fully mature by 40 days after pollination. It takes weeks after that for it to dry down if left on the plant.
So you could harvest plants at their regular harvest time, taste each cob, and save those you like for seed. I commonly harvest sweet corn for seed at about 40 days. I taste each cob. There can be huge differences in taste. Any that are spitters get dropped in the field. Any that taste extra good, get saved separately from the bulk seed.
I also take pruning sheers into the field, and cut off ends of cobs for tasting. If any are extra tasty, I tie a ribbon around the cob. I can taste a cob a number of times during the growing season.
When given plenty of space, a corn plant may produce several cobs. One can be for food, and the other for seed.
When the sugary enhanced trait is homozygous, the dried seed coat is finely wrinkled. Otherwise it's coarsely wrinkled.
In general, if you save seeds from bienials, during their first season (carrots, chard) you will be selecting for offspring that don't produce their normally harvested food crop. If it's their second season, then no worries.
Annuals are great for seed saving. If you collect seed from the last plants to flower, you will be selecting for slow-bolting.
I have spent a lifetime guerilla gardening food forests. My general strategy is to spew millions of propagules into the forest, without a care about whether they live or die. And then watch the forests in coming decades to see what took.
One strategy is to sit in the forest, and eat my lunch, then bury the seeds of any apricots, plums, or apples that were included in my lunch. I gather seeds from edible trees, nuts, shrubs, grasses, and forbs, and toss them randomly into the forest. I plant cuttings of berries, asparagus, Egyptian walking onions, mushrooms, and many other species. From time to time, some of them become established. I love the patch of parsnips that naturalized.
I transplant from one part of the forest to another, to spread desired species more widely.
Another strategy is to forage my lunch from the ecosystem. That helps me to become aware of what species already exist in the forests that I visit. I can then focus on adding more of the edible species, and weeding out the less edible species. Dandelions grown in sunny lawns around here are inedible, but those grown in deep shade are delightful.
I plant edible varieties of domesticated species to compete with less-tasty varieties of the same wild species that is already growing in the forest.
Right now, I am foraging rocket (brassica flowers), oyster mushrooms, and lambsquarters from the local forests.
Two new verbs have arisen in the 13 years that I have been writing about landrace gardening.
People tell me that they are lofthousing their garden, and that they are landracing their gardens.
All I can do, is go with the flow. Since English doesn't have a regulatory body, each person gets to choose for themselves. I always write "landrace" as a single word, so I would likewise skip the space, and write "landracing" when converting it to a verb.
Thank you for asking. I will dig sunroot tubers this week. It was a drought year last year, and the tubers are small. That means that more varieties will fit into the small flat rate box. They contain the same great genetics. They are ready to start growing now, so please plan on planting them when they arrive, or storing them refrigerated until you can.
With gasoline being so expensive, I'm asking $20 this year for a small flat-rate box (shipping included). Shipping within usa only. Send me a Purple Mooseage to make arrangements.
The su and sh alleles are on different chromosomes. When combined, they produce flour corn, instead of sweet corn. It is possible (with several years of effort) to select for strains that have compatible alleles to produce sweet corn. These varieties are called "synergistic".
In my own plant breeding, I will not use the sh2 allele, because it produces seeds that lack vigor, and fail to thrive. They are only viable with heavy application of poisons to the seed.
I minimize the use of the se allele for the same reason.
The problem with breeding for "all known resistances", is that we can't possibly know what that would entail. There are resistances to soil, farmer's habits, sunlight, clouds, humidity, aridity, viruses, microbes, fungi, bugs, wind, mammals, birds, reptiles, etc, etc, etc. If we inbreed a crop enough to say that it is resistant to every known thing, then it becomes an industrialized variety that is doomed to failure when something unknown comes along.
I love landrace beans. They are the most productive beans that I grow. That is because for many generations, their ancestors have been the most productive beans that I grow, and the unproductive beans have died out. Also, because they are grown landrace-style, natural hybrids are occurring. The productivity of the natural hybrids far surpasses the productivity of the inbreeding heirlooms.
I only allow natural inoculation in my fields, with naturally occurring microbes. I don't have any tolerance for people that are trying to sell me something that I observe to be ubiquitous in nature.
Common beans are 5 times more productive in my fields than Tepary.
Tepary is much more productive for me than Runner Beans, or Cowpeas.
Adzuki and Soy don't even produce as many seeds as went into the ground.
Results may vary in different ecosystems and with different gardeners.
Peas are very productive for me, but I don't grow them for food, because a pea weevil infests my fields.
Thanks all for the kind words, and shout-out for my book.
If a seed company doesn't tell me which farm each packet of seed comes from, then I assume that they come from far away places like Thailand, Oregon, or China. I assume that the soils, climates, ecosystems, and farmer's habits were much different than mine.
So often, people blame themselves when crops fail to thrive. A more realistic explanation is that when you grow seeds that were produced far away in a completely different ecosystem, they are likely to fail. Just because a seed company has a nearby address doesn't mean that the seeds are local.
If you can find a seed company that is in your bio-region, and tells you that every seed was grown on their farm, or that tells you where each variety was grown, then that's the seed company that I'd recommend.
Second best would be a walk-in seed store that sells bulk seed, of varieties that they have tested to do great in your area.
Long term, the best seed you can possibly get, is that which has grown in your garden for many generations.
I'm cynical... To me, "open-pollinated" means that every scheme known to humans has been used to insure that an OP variety undergoes one more generation of detrimental inbreeding. That's why I advocate "promiscuous pollination" -- to get rid of the inbreeding.
In my garden, in the desert, my landrace beans cross pollinate at about 2%. In Carol Deppe's garden, near the woods, in a wet climate, the pollinators are more active, and beans cross-pollinate at about 5%. Cross pollination rates of up to 20% have been measured.
By selectively replanting beans that are natural hybrids, I selected for higher promiscuity rates. My beans used to cross pollinate at about 0.5%
Planting close together, and hoping for natural hybrids is a great strategy. The naturally occurring hybrids tend to outperform the highly inbred heirlooms, so the descendants of hybrids produce more seeds, and become a larger percentage of the population than might be inferred from the low crossing rate.
Jeremiah Squingelli wrote:The one I'm most excited to grow this year is from the plant that produced bright orange fruit that tasted exactly like canteloupe.
That's exciting. We are getting closer all the time to having a stable melon flavor. I can't possibly grow out enough plants. That's why I share seeds so widely. Someone might discover and stabilize that trait. We are also chasing persimmon flavor.
The lettuce and spinach in the greenhouse have thrived.
About 6 years ago, this lettuce appeared in my garden as a hybrid between domestic lettuce, and wild lettuce. I have finally got it selected for non-bitter, and non-spiny. And it grows super vigorous, and is winter hardy, so that it can be planted in the fall, and get a huge head start in the spring.
Today, I'm the featured guest on Christi Wilhelmi's Gardenerd podcast.
Christi Wilhelmi wrote:
This week on the Gardenerd Tip of the Week Podcast, we journey down an unconventional rabbit hole with Joseph Lofthouse. He spends his days developing landrace seeds on his 6th-generation family farm in northern Utah.
He’s also the author of Landrace Gardening: Food Security through Biodiversity and Promiscuous Pollination. What’s a landrace you ask? Listen to find out. He opens our minds to resilient possibilities.
Lomatium is a very close relative of parsley, so growing conditions are similar.
Cold stratification may help with germination.
Germination can take a long time, and the soil needs to be kept moist the entire time.
As a general plant breeding note. I like to select for plants that germinate quickly, and don't require cold stratification. This sort of selection, conducted for 3-4 generations can really change the germination dynamics of a variety.
The frost tolerant sub-strain of my bean landrace started because volunteers sprouted very early. Then 90% of them got frozen by early spring frosts. But some survived, and became the ancestors of a new bean growing method.
Apple trees make a wonderful feral species. They are a great addition to a guerilla food forest. They don't need any care.
150 years ago, when the irrigation canals were dug in my community, the manual laborers, buried the apple seeds, from their lunches, in the freshly dug soil beside the canal. Today, the entire length of the canal system is lined with those trees and their descendants.
The apples live, grow, and fruit year after year, decade after decade, century after century. Taking care of themselves without fuss. Sometimes humans eat some of the fruit, sometimes they don't. It's lovely to have a food crop that is available, in the background, to be used whenever it would be most useful.
I've been having a lot of fun making video stories based on the contents of my book. Here's the one we released today about muskmelons, my earliest attempt to breed a landrace variety specific to my farm.
Basically, you get what you select for, even if the selection is inadvertent.
A pepo squash that stores from August to January seems like a keeper as long at the taste and other traits are acceptable. The seeds in it that didn't sprout, are the most resistant to sprouting when stored next to a warm radiator. I used to store pepo winter squash from harvest day in September, until planting day on June 5th. On that day, I would open the squash, and plant the seeds.
I also tend to keep a seed jar of seconds. Or more specifically, I put the best of the best in a plastic bag, inside the jar containing the bulk seed.