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Starting a landrace

 
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Thomas Agresti wrote:what would be the first type of plant and then the workflow you would recommend for landracing considering let's say, the person has grown a garden or more, but has never engaged in what you outline in your book? Something simplified like, do these 5 steps with this plant and...  you have begun to landrace.



The first step to starting a landrace, is to start saving seeds from your favorite varieties. Local adaptation is only possible if you are saving your own seeds.

The second step for starting a landrace is to introduce some diversity. That can be as easy as planting two or three varieties close together. It could also be accomplished by planting an F1 hybrid.

The third step is to encourage promiscuous pollination by planting different varieties close together.

And finally, repeat year after year, recruiting your community to participate, until the variety is being grown as a beloved community resource.

Local adaptation works easiest and quickest with the more out-crossing varieties: runner beans, fava beans, corn, squash, melons, cucumbers, spinach, radish. These crops have large seeds that are easily collected, so that's an added benefit for starting with them.

I classify landrace development of domestic tomatoes as hard, due to the low genetic diversity and low rate of cross-pollination. I started the Beautifully Promiscuous and Tasty Tomatoes project to fix both of those issues.
 
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Interesting to hear this promoted. There is so much push to keep purity. This is different twist. I like it!!
 
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Thank you Joseph, for the outline, and for thinking and working your way through everything like heirlooms and open pollinated plants being dangerously inbred and everything else we've been misled on.  

I've been saving seed forever but with all the unfounded worries and work about purity, unintentional crossbreeding, etc. etc.

It's a breath of fresh air to have someone point out how the easier way is the better, and more sustainable way.

I bought your book and I'm looking forward to its arrival.

One question, I had no idea how large an area you had under cultivation and the historical/family aspect of that is great.

Do you cultivate and plant seed mechanically via tractor, tiller or whatever or something else?
 
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How big a scale does a person have to be to create a landrace?

OK, let's say I'm a typical gardener for home consumption and limited sharing with friends and neighbors, not a market grower. Therefore, I tend to grow small amounts of everything.  A bed of snow peas, a handful of "hills" of potatoes and pumpkins, a row of beans, a hoophouse with 8 tomato plants and 16 pepper plants. Just eight melon vines.  

I would think you'd need a minimum number of plants to keep a landrace going, to ensure enough plants to carry the gene pool year to year.  Therefore, a decision to start a landrace is also "scaling up" and committing to a multi-year effort with that plant group.  As an individual gardener, maybe that makes sense as a special project for one or two crops.  

Or am I thinking about this wrong?  Seed saving is one thing, but another thing is allowing the plant to reseed itself and naturalize on its own. In that case, let's say in a semi-wild forest garden, we could have self-seeding varieties of a dozen vegetables, and lots of plants, way more maybe than we would have if we were planting it ourselves every year in a raised bed situation.  

But thinking this through, if I save seed consciously and plant the selected ones, I'm managing the landrace actively.  If I allow the plants to reseed on their own, I'm allowing the plants to do the work and create their own landraces.  

And in any climate, location, and garden conditions, some species will be able to naturally complete their cycle and reseed, and maybe others won't as easily.  So thinking of all the species, some I might choose to reseed on their own with no management, some I might intervene and do selections, depending on many factors.

So for all of us: which species are you planning on intervening and selecting on most (by saving selected seeds) and which are you going to just allow to do their own thing?  And which are you just saving seeds, not intending to do a landrace?  And which are you planning to just buy seeds or starts?  What's your landrace strategy?

 
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Gordon Hogenson wrote:
But thinking this through, if I save seed consciously and plant the selected ones, I'm managing the landrace actively.  If I allow the plants to reseed on their own, I'm allowing the plants to do the work and create their own landraces.  



If this is the case, I'm all for allowing the plants to do the work! I'm sitting here with tons of different squash seeds, and I'm thinking I might just throw them out in the back part of the yard where we're felling pines and see which ones come up in the acidic soil and what they do. If nothing else, they can be a groundcover until we can do something else!

 
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Gordon Hogenson wrote:How big a scale does a person have to be to create a landrace?

OK, let's say I'm a typical gardener for home consumption and limited sharing with friends and neighbors, not a market grower. Therefore, I tend to grow small amounts of everything.  A bed of snow peas, a handful of "hills" of potatoes and pumpkins, a row of beans, a hoophouse with 8 tomato plants and 16 pepper plants. Just eight melon vines.  

I would think you'd need a minimum number of plants to keep a landrace going, to ensure enough plants to carry the gene pool year to year.  Therefore, a decision to start a landrace is also "scaling up" and committing to a multi-year effort with that plant group.  As an individual gardener, maybe that makes sense as a special project for one or two crops.  

Or am I thinking about this wrong?  Seed saving is one thing, but another thing is allowing the plant to reseed itself and naturalize on its own. In that case, let's say in a semi-wild forest garden, we could have self-seeding varieties of a dozen vegetables, and lots of plants, way more maybe than we would have if we were planting it ourselves every year in a raised bed situation.  

But thinking this through, if I save seed consciously and plant the selected ones, I'm managing the landrace actively.  If I allow the plants to reseed on their own, I'm allowing the plants to do the work and create their own landraces.  

And in any climate, location, and garden conditions, some species will be able to naturally complete their cycle and reseed, and maybe others won't as easily.  So thinking of all the species, some I might choose to reseed on their own with no management, some I might intervene and do selections, depending on many factors.

So for all of us: which species are you planning on intervening and selecting on most (by saving selected seeds) and which are you going to just allow to do their own thing?  And which are you just saving seeds, not intending to do a landrace?  And which are you planning to just buy seeds or starts?  What's your landrace strategy?



I think these are great questions, and a very logical (at least in my head) thought progression. My thoughts are running similarly, and I can't wait for Joseph's response! There are only two of us, and we're both disabled - but, we've been working on building our community, and I think help may be on the way. We've been working on building enough soil to plant *anything*, and I've finally (after 2yrs of working at it!) managed to get enough built up to support a dozen strawberries - with more building, just not ready to support anything, yet. Our soil is primarily rocks and clay (and I'm done killing my back and equipment, to dig), so I'm doing a few small containers, and made some good progress on building some raised beds - I just don't have enough soil to fill them, yet. Another year or two of composting, maybe getting some above-ground hugels going, again - but hugels still require more soil than we have, and that's why I gave up on them, for now.

So, what can I do to start my landraces, in the meantime? What types of plants can I start with, in my situation?
 
Gordon Hogenson
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Regarding throwing squash seeds in the old pine grove, probably not, I will agree (I assume you were being facetious or sarcastic). But certainly possible for the vegetables and herbs that already readily self-sow such as, in my area that's kale, chard, mustards, carrots, radishes, fennel, potatoes (at least vegetatively), various herbs, and probably a lot more if I let more plants complete their life cycle.

For the squash, maybe throwing the whole fruit, seeds and all, into a somewhat favorable site, or the seeds into the compost pile, would get the process going, as long as you live in a suitable climate with a long enough growing season.

More realistically, I would create lists, one for the crops I wanted to breed with selection, ones I will allow to self-sow, and ones I will purchase and grow in prepared beds in the usual way. Maybe purchase the ones least adapted to my site to begin with, for me, maybe the warm-weather crops like peppers and melons, and the ones that would cross with the wild strains on my site, like broccoli and cauliflower. Breed intentionally with a few selected crops like squash and Joseph's landrace outcrossing tomatoes, let what can self-sow in a forest garden situation or polyculture garden space, and the rest, cultivate in the conventional way.
 
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When I decided to start doing this, two years ago, I started with Three Sisters. I built up a grex of field corn, pole beans, and winter squash from various sources. Then I planted the corn, waited for progress, planted the beans, and later planted the squash. For a variety of reasons, my performance wasn't very good, but I got seeds to save of all three crops which I kept separated from the starting commercial seeds, but when it was time to plant I mixed my saved seeds half and half with my starter grex and planted those. I'm not really producing enough yet to save at the volumes I should, but I'm growing as I go. And I think, having read a lot more now than when I started, the only dumb thing I did was not realize winter squash were three species.

Since getting rolling with this though, I have in mind to basically grex up each kind of plant I'm interested in and let them all form into landraces.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I saw a lot of people that were terrified of saving seeds, because they might get "contaminated", or they might mess them up, or they might become poisoned mutants. I just don't see that in the real world. The offspring of great parents tend to be great.

Sure, I went way back into the wild ancestry of some crops, and introduced unfortunate traits. Then I get to fix that, either by going back a generation and planting older seed, or by selection to eliminate the wild traits. For example, one year, I planted a wild-type muskmelon, and it tasted horrid (poison). I threw away a whole year's worth of seed, rather than risk introducing bitterness into my melons. I introduced the "hard seed" trait into watermelons. That means they might take weeks or months to germinate. My ecosystem selected against that trait, because of the short growing season.

Dave Bross wrote:One question, I had no idea how large an area you had under cultivation and the historical/family aspect of that is great.

Do you cultivate and plant seed mechanically via tractor, tiller or whatever or something else?



I am currently growing in one 3/4 acre field, with a few small gardens in people's back yards for isolation of the promiscuous tomatoes. My fields have varied in size over the past decade between 3/4 acre and 4 acres. I left 1/4 acre of my main field fallow this year, due to drought. I till my fields once in the fall just before snowfall, and once in the spring, just before planting. I do all planting with hand tools: A hoe, a planting stick, or an Earthway seeder. All harvest is done by hand, sometimes using secateurs.

I weed with a hoe, wheel hoe, front-tine cultivator, or a lawnmower. What little weeding I do.

The only input to my garden is water. I do not mulch or fertilizer. Soil fertility is maintained by growing plenty of weeds, which get returned to the soil where they grew, as do crop residues.

I grow about 100 landrace varieties. Some varieties might only occupy a ten foot long row. For smaller varieties, or varieties that like to grow in clumps that is plenty of space.

 
Diane Kistner
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Gordon Hogenson wrote:Regarding throwing squash seeds in the old pine grove, probably not, I will agree (I assume you were being facetious or sarcastic).



LOL! Actually, no, that's what I've got. A big back yard that was full of old diseased pines that we've been having taken down as we can afford it. Eat up with pine bark beetles, eat up with armyworms, eat up with squash vine borers, etc. I'm working on it a little at the time, woodchips, beneficial insects, just letting what grows grow until I decide it needs to go. I feed anything I pull up to my chickens, so I don't have a compost pile per se. I could plant seeds in their run, which is super-rich earth now, but they'll scratch whatever sprouts all to hell and back.

I figure I've got the tons of squash seeds I saved from my Misfits Market boxes that I can stick out where I haven't done much soil-building and such...what was under the pines before they came down. They probably won't do anything, but if they do at least maybe it will be a little green something that can feed the soil and hopefully keep the ground covered some. I guess I could also put some squash in the front "flower" bed.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Gordon Hogenson:

Regarding the scale of a landrace, start where you are at... The seed saving literature is full of dire warnings that if you don't save seeds from X number of plants, that your plants will get inbreeding depression, and your garden will suffer dire consequences. And to follow up on that recommendation, you are supposed to plant only one open pollinated (highly inbred) variety and not let it get contaminated...

WTF?

I'm worried about inbreeding depression, therefore, I'm going to plant an inbred crop, and make sure it gets even more inbred?

Ugh!

If I can only grow 8 melons, and I choose to plant 8 different varieties, there is more genetic diversity within my garden than among all of the grocery stores in my town combined.

Supposing that I plant 7 seeds from one variety of melon, and 1 seed from a different variety. My garden is more diverse than any particular grocery store, which typically carry only one variety of melon.

Work with what you have to work with. If we are saving seeds, we are doing (perhaps inadvertent) selection for local conditions. We might as well be deliberate about it.

The minimum number of plants to grow is based on the premise that we are growing highly inbred crops. When we grow genetically diverse crops, those recommendations become irrelevant. If I notice that a crop is losing vigor, I can add diversity to it any time I want.

Making a commitment to grow your own seeds, is a huge step for a lot of gardeners. Crops like squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and dry beans are easy, because we are already harvesting when the seeds are mature.

I love self-seeding annuals. In my ecosystem, rye grows feral all over. Turnips, radishes, and wheat are feral in my fields. Feral crops make lovely landraces. My landraces often begin with intense survival-of-the-fittest selection which is done by the ecosystem. I don't have to manage it.  

My landrace strategy is to landrace everything. That starts by saving seeds from everything. If I'm saving seeds, I'm doing plant breeding, whether it's intentional or not.

The great project of my life, is creating landrace tomatoes. Neither genetic-diversity, nor promiscuous pollination were available in domestic tomatoes, so I ended up making inter-species hybrids between domestic tomatoes and wild tomatoes.  

Turnips thrive here. I haven't seen a need to put a lot of effort into trying to improve upon them.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Carla Burke wrote:So, what can I do to start my landraces, in the meantime? What types of plants can I start with, in my situation?



Grow what you love, in ways that you love growing....

I'm sounding really purple right now! But really, to me landraces are about joy and love. Do what works for you, the plants will respond accordingly.

I know a seed farmer that grows everything on and under plastic. He is selecting for plants that love growing on plastic as much as he loves spreading it out. I think that he's doing a disservice to his customers, because most people don't want to grow on plastic, therefore, when his plastic-adapted plants get into the average home garden, they struggle, because they really need their plastic.

 
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Gordon Hogenson wrote:

I would think you'd need a minimum number of plants to keep a landrace going, to ensure enough plants to carry the gene pool year to year.  



Seeds are viable for more than one year, so you can always mix and match seeds from various years to keep diversity up. Carol Deppe has a much more helpful and precise description of the process of maintaining genetic diversity on a small scale in one of her books. She uses careful record keeping of crosses, which I'm no good at. It's probably in Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties.
 
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Joseph has me out looking at my tomato flowers now.

Lo and behold, the Litchi tomato, something I raised as an entertaining freak, has the perfect flowers with the anther sticking out.

I don't know if it would be useful in tomato breeding because no one seems sure if it's a tomato or a potato.
Seems like a little of both looking at the flowers.
They're like the old joke about mullet haircuts, Potato on the outside, tomato on the inside.
There's a pic of the flowers in the second link below.

I got the seeds from Baker Creek Heirlooms.

Here's a pretty good description:

https://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/litchi-tomato-zmaz09djzraw

and more detail:

http://www.eattheweeds.com/litchi-tomato/





 
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Sort of a random idea, tell me if I am making any sense at all. Since a great many of our 'garden vegetables' are badly inbred versions of a very few wild plants, if one had a limited space to work with (not tiny but limited) could there be advantages to planting multiple types of plants from the same family together and seeing if you can get one or two landrace varieties by crossing back in as much of the genetic diversity as possible to a single type of plant (think a master crucifer from kale, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards etc...) So the property would grow a great crucifer, a great melon, a single great cucumber, tomato etc.. but it might be a cross of every melon you could lay your hands on, etc...
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Victoria Jankowski wrote:Sort of a random idea, tell me if I am making any sense at all. Since a great many of our 'garden vegetables' are badly inbred versions of a very few wild plants, if one had a limited space to work with (not tiny but limited) could there be advantages to planting multiple types of plants from the same family together and seeing if you can get one or two landrace varieties by crossing back in as much of the genetic diversity as possible to a single type of plant (think a master crucifer from kale, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards etc...) So the property would grow a great crucifer, a great melon, a single great cucumber, tomato etc.. but it might be a cross of every melon you could lay your hands on, etc...



Many of us in the landrace gardening movement are making those types of mass crosses, which we call a grex.

The sweet corn grex, that got this whole thing started,  had more than 200 named varieties as ancestors, including heirlooms, and modern hybrids.

My watermelon landrace had more than 300 named varieties as ancestors, including citron, a wild relative.

My flour corn landrace had ancestors from every major diaspora of corn.

We have scoured gene banks in order to include non-domesticated wild ancestors.

A problem that we encounter with going wild, is that the wild plants still have thorns, poisons, fibrousness, and germination inhibitors, which have to be selected against in future generations.

I love these wide crosses, which seek to combine as much diversity as possible.

It's easier to work with crosses that contain 2 to 5 of my favorite varieties.  I generally recommend that people start landraces with smaller number of ancestors, so that they can get used to saving seeds, and selection. Then add about 10% new genetics each year.
 
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Thank you!! I will keep that in mind when selecting varieties, I have limited access to wild ancestors but have a fairly decent variety of heirlooms etc...I have looked into getting some of the tiny tomatoes for my food forest, but as I am still really new to plant identification I decided against getting something with tiny red berries in what will become woods if I do it right in the mid/north eastern United states where we do have several bright red berries that one does not want to eat .
 
Diane Kistner
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
It's easier to work with crosses that contain 2 to 5 of my favorite varieties.  I generally recommend that people start landraces with smaller number of ancestors, so that they can get used to saving seeds, and selection. Then add about 10% new genetics each year.



I finished the first two-thirds of your book last night, Joseph, and I'm super excited. I planted out squash varieties last night and have my fingers crossed that something interesting will happen. I LOVE your "lazy" way of gardening, and that's how I'm inclined to do it, too.

When you get to the point of tasting any crosses to see if you want to keep or cull, and feed any bitter ones to the chickens, will the bitterness transfer to the eggs? Or should bitter things be relegated to the compost bin?

 
Dave Bross
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Victoria,

If you ever change your mind on tiny tomatoes have a look at everglades tomato.

It's a Florida heirloom that goes way back, as in before white folks, and it is one tough tomato.

The tomatoes on it are tiny, as in berry size,  but terrific flavor. The plant itself can get quite large.

You can find seeds for it on Ebay, where there are two or three people who specialize in FL native seeds and plants.

Another great native plant is Seminole pumpkin.

It's the only squash or pumpkin that would survive the heat, humidity and plant diseases here no matter what.

It is a pumpkin, so you get one harvest end of season and the vines will take over everything in the meantime.

We're talking Kudzu style takeover.

The native folk used to plant them on little islands of oaks in the swamps and the vines would climb up into the trees.
They would return end of season, climb the trees, and harvest them.

They're ready to harvest when they change color from green to tan.

You can eat some before harvest time. They're reminiscent of a zucchini flavor wise at that point.

They keep really well too once they've turned tan color.






 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Diane Kistner wrote:When you get to the point of tasting any crosses to see if you want to keep or cull, and feed any bitter ones to the chickens, will the bitterness transfer to the eggs? Or should bitter things be relegated to the compost bin?



In a decade of growing squash landrace style, I have only found one fruit with the slightest bitterness about it. I'm ignorant about whether the poison is concentrated into bird eggs.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Victoria Jankowski wrote:I have looked into getting some of the tiny tomatoes for my food forest, but as I am still really new to plant identification I decided against getting something with tiny red berries in what will become woods if I do it right in the mid/north eastern United states where we do have several bright red berries that one does not want to eat .



Tomatoes may also be yellow, or orange fruited. Our taste panels prefer orange over yellow, and really dislike red.

 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:

Diane Kistner wrote:When you get to the point of tasting any crosses to see if you want to keep or cull, and feed any bitter ones to the chickens, will the bitterness transfer to the eggs? Or should bitter things be relegated to the compost bin?



In a decade of growing squash landrace style, I have only found one fruit with the slightest bitterness about it. I'm ignorant about whether the poison is concentrated into bird eggs.



I'd be more concerned about whether or not the poison might harm the chickens!
 
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Animals ain't stupid. They seem less likely to eat poison than humans.
 
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I have a heretical question, but hear me out first please. We are planning on growing as naturally as possible (I am avoiding saying organically because that has a very specific definition that I can not guarantee will apply to every action) With that we are surrounded by industrial feed producers on our little 6 acres, and we will be putting as much 'fence foliage' as possible etc.. but things happen even when your neighbors aren't being jerks on purpose. I am wondering if there might be any advantage in purposefully introducing a very little bit of round-up ready corn and soybeans to our land race just as a measure of protection from crop failures if our neighbors have accidents, or there is drift we cannot account for. To be clear, you will never catch me using round-up or any similar product on my property on purpose, that is one of the clear rules we have set for our property. SO the question is are there other things I need to consider (biological weakness etc..) out side of the resistance to glyphosate, Also we have no interest in selling our staple crops at the road side stand or reselling the seeds to companies etc.. so the final product would be for our homestead and table only. Please be kind, this is far from a set plan, just a random idea at this point.
 
Mother Tree
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Victoria Jankowski wrote: I am wondering if there might be any advantage in purposefully introducing a very little bit of round-up ready corn and soybeans to our land race just as a measure of protection from crop failures if our neighbors have accidents, or there is drift we cannot account for.



Round-up ready is GMO and therefore not a fit thing to discuss on permies, except in the toxic-gick section of the cider press.
 
Dave Bross
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No harm no foul to consider everything in my opinion. Who knows what idea will lead to what.

I don't think you could even get those GMO seeds without signing reams of legal contracts that are definitely not to your advantage.

I'm guessing corn is the crop you're considering here?

If you could skip the corn it almost becomes a non problem. I say that because corn is what you would call an outbreeder, in that corn has to have pollen from another plant in the same family or they don't do well at all. This makes them highly susceptible to breeding with any pollen that comes along.

Almost all the other popular veggies are inbreeders, perfectly happy to breed with themselves, designed to be resistant to other pollen (closed flowers, etc.) and no inbreeding depression, meaning no loss of vigor in inbreeding. There are notable exceptions for things like certain bees that will rip into the flowers and breed them anyway in certain areas but that's covered in what I'll suggest next....

I'll suggest a bit of reading to help with plant selection along these lines:
Get Carol Deppe's book, "Breed Your Own Vegetable  Varieties"

In the back are appendixes and a couple of them go into great detail on what inbreeds or outbreeds, and suggested separation distances if you are trying to avoid cross breeding, which are a great indicator in the sense of much distance required = probably an outbreeder.

All the rest of the book is truly awesome on the many things no one ever told you....a teaser.....a lot of "hybrid" tomatoes are actually open pollinated but the companies that sell them won't tell you that because there are big profits in tomato seeds due to the popularity.  

There's a lot of other unique and extremely useful info in this book, well worth getting, and lots of used, inexpensive copies on Amazon or other used book sellers at Addall.com in the used section if you don't like Amazon. If you can swing it, get the newest edition you can afford because she has continually updated it over the years and the newer ones have more appendixes and even more useful info.




 
Diane Kistner
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
The great project of my life, is creating landrace tomatoes. Neither genetic-diversity, nor promiscuous pollination were available in domestic tomatoes, so I ended up making inter-species hybrids between domestic tomatoes and wild tomatoes.  



Did I dream this, or did I read you are interested in working with some folks who experience late-season blight in tomatoes? I’m in Athens, Georgia, Zone 8a working on becoming Zone 8b, and we have that in spades. High humidity. Hot.

The only tomatoes that grew for me last year were the Juliets, and were they ever prolific! Now I’ve got Juliet tomatoes coming up everywhere, so I’ll be curious to see what they do. I’ve got Marvel PhD’s in buckets, trying them new this year, and some seeds from a friend in New York that I think may be landraces (he calls them Jimmies and Vinnies, two different types, for the couple he got them from); I’ll have to see what they do here.

But I’m excited to be able to look at my tomato blossoms and know they are all closed up, and why. Your book is so great, Joseph!

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Diane Kistner wrote:Did I dream this, or did I read you are interested in working with some folks who experience late-season blight in tomatoes? I’m in Athens, Georgia, Zone 8a working on becoming Zone 8b, and we have that in spades. High humidity. Hot.



The goal of my project is tomatoes that are totally resistant (without spraying) to all the blights, rots, and other moisture diseases that are so prevalent in the eastern usa. I've been getting marvelous grow reports from the area, so it seems like there is hope.

Some of the wild species that are ancestors of the Beautifully Promiscuous and Tasty Tomato Project receive their water primarily from fog. I suspect that may help them tolerate damp climates better. This summer, I'm working on incorporating traits from galapagense and cheesmanae. Again they are species from high moisture areas.

My ability to screen for tolerance to late blight is limited. However, I distributed about 40,000 seeds this year, and about 5,000 per year during the previous two years. Eventually some of those might win the late blight resistant lottery.  I'm channeling Luther Burbank's methods: Throw tens of thousands of seeds at the problem, and watch for the few that solve the problem.



 
Diane Kistner
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Well, I’m certainly going to keep my eyes peeled for seeds to purchase. Every year the bug problems get a little better here, but the blights are pretty entrenched. Thank you for doing what you’re doing for tomatoes!

 
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