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Mendel's peas - what varieties work?

 
R Ranson
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I want to teach my friends kid about plant breeding. Not only is it awesome gateway to gardening, but it's going to be some good prep for high school math and science.

It's a long term project, the kid is only four years old, but he can't wait to plant out his own tomato bush again this year. I think I have him hooked on growing food.

Mendel's pea plants seem a good place to start getting the kid hooked on plant breeding. I see next year planting the different kinds, seeing how some are tall, some are short, some are yellow, &c. Save the seeds. The year after, try some crosses, and so on and so on until he either falls in love with peas or gets tired of it.

The question is, what pea varieties work for Mendel's experiments? From reading Deppe's Breeding your own Vegetables book, she says the gene has to be on the same al--something something, it's late at night and I don't have the book in front of me. What modern day pea varieties work well for this experiment?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I am working on a couple of pea breeding projects. Peas are a tough crop to do plant breeding with... Because they are viney and twist all around each other, so it's hard to tease them apart. But if you plant them far enough apart that they can grow as specimens, then it wastes a lot of garden space. Cross pollinating peas is tedious and meticulous because the flowers are so small, and there is such a small window of viability, and you get so few seeds per cross. And few seeds per plant in the next generation... As the oldest of a whole passel of kids, I do not think that a pea breeding project is suitable to any kid. And to only the most anal of adults.

Here's what my project looked like to develop a red-podded sugar snap pea.

Mother:


Father:


Children:


Grandchildren:


I've got the red-podded part of the project handled, but not the sugar snap part of it.


Winter squash are a great species for a plant breeding project... The flowers are huge and easy to cross pollinate. A single fruit produces hundreds of seeds. Lots of great selection work can be done. I recommend forgetting about Mendel and his work. He was using highly inbred varieties with simple one-trait dominant/recessive genes. And even then, he barely managed to deduce anything useful from the data. In the real world, plant breeding is messy. Multiple genes are involved. They may be penetrant rather than dominant or recessive, they can be activated or not by the environment. There are tons of modifier genes. For 10,000 years the traditional plant breeding method has been, "It's in the blood." In other words, plants tend to resemble their parents and their grandparents.

Hybrid Squash: Lots of fascinating shapes and colors to capture and hold a kids attention.


Corn is a useful crop for doing Mendel style genetics experiments, because the first generation of seeds can show that a cross was successful, and ratios can be calculated the next year for things like sweet vs flour... Crosses are easy to make either by hand, or by detasseling the mother plants.
 
Su Ba
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Wow, your pea breeding experiment is really interesting. Do you know if your red podded peas are breeding true yet? I'm making a wild guess that it's a recessive?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Su Ba wrote:Wow, your pea breeding experiment is really interesting. Do you know if your red podded peas are breeding true yet? I'm making a wild guess that it's a recessive?


There are three dominant genes responsible for making magenta pigment in the pods. At least one copy of each of them has to be present for red to show up.

In addition there are three known recessive genes in play. A double dose of any one of them causes the pods to be yellow.

Red pods result from magenta pigment on yellow pods. Purple pods are formed when magenta pigment colors green pods.

Presuming that they don't cross-pollinate again... what that means in practice is that a yellow pod will always give yellow-podded offspring.

A red pod may produce red or yellow offspring, but not green or purple. I currently have F4 seed in the ground. I think that mathematically there is a 5% chance that there might be a recessive gene hiding in there to mess up the ability to make magenta pigment. So the population is around 95% stable for the red-podded trait, and about 5% yellow pods are expected.

A green pod might produce yellow offspring, but it can't produce red or purple offspring.

A purple pod can produce offspring with yellow, green, red, or purple pods.

The genes to make sugar snap pods are more elusive. Perhaps I'll need to back-cross the closest candidate to a good purple podded sugar snap. Some great looking snow peas have shaken out of the mix in greens and yellows, but that's not the focus of my project, so I haven't been saving them. It could be a person's life's work just growing out the offspring of this one cross and using them as the foundation of new and clever pea varieties.

I daydream a lot about this project. Seems like such a slow project. Lots of time available for daydreaming. This pod is a failure as far as the goals of the project, but it sure is pretty:


 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Here's an example of a cob of corn that could be used for Mendel-type genetics observations...

A hybrid between sweet corn and flour corn.
 
R Ranson
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Your plant breeding work is amazing. Thankyou for the ideas and photos.

Can you recommend any good resources on plant breeding? Something a bit beyond 'there are genes and stuff' but not completely saturated with mathematics.

I like the idea of working with squash and corn instead of peas.

What do you think about tomatoes for future breeding projects? He's already in love with planting and harvesting his own tomato plant. Perhaps a simple playing with different coloured tomatoes?

He's 4 years old but can remember how last year he planted his own tomato bush and enjoyed the harvest. This year he's been pestering me all winter to plant his tomato again. He also helped shell lentils for seed and loved it. He's not yet at the stage where he connects the pictures in the seed catalogue with the plants growing in the garden.

So I think, given what stage he is at, I'll try getting him involved in planting corn and squash as well and be more involved in harvesting seeds. I'm also thinking that this year would be a good year to play the harvest seed from groceries game on days when the weather is grumpy.

I don't know what sort of skills he's learning in pre-school, but maybe as a way to teach record keeping skills, I could buy him a note book and take some crayons to the garden to draw pictures of the plants.

What do you guys who know things about kids think?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Tomatoes are a bit problematic for plant breeding, because there is so little diversity within the cultivated subspecies. So you get minor variations on a theme, rather than the wide differences that are available in some of the other species. Often times I scratch my head wondering if the offspring are actually hybrids. The flowers are big enough and the fruits produce enough seeds that making hybrids is reasonably productive. The F1 and later generations typically produce a huge abundance of seed, so there is plenty of seed to play around with. There are tons of amateur tomato breeders, so there are plenty of tutorials about how to breed tomatoes. I expect that we will see a revolution in tomato breeding in the next few decades due to problems with new strains of Late Blight... I suspect that many of the heirloom and favorite hybrid varieties will need to be replaced in many regions with new varieties that show some tolerance or resistance to Late Blight. Genes for resistance might be discovered in some of the wild tomato species that missed the founder effects of modern tomato varieties. So one of the projects I am working on is to cross domesticated tomatoes with wild tomatoes. I'm just starting, but I expect it to be one of my more productive breeding projects. I'm hoping that some of these wide crosses might create a tomato fruit that is actually palatable to me... First thing to do would be to get rid of that bitter red lycopene flavor in favor of yellow or orange. I don't currently have a problem with late blight in my garden, so I can't test for it, but mailing seeds to other areas is trivial. These wide crosses may also provide more frost/cold tolerance that would be useful in my garden. I'm expecting to select for promiscuous pollination traits from these crosses as well.

Another tomato breeding project that I am working on is to create an extremely short season saladette tomato that tastes and looks like Hillbilly. Those types of breeding projects are within the reach of kids... Cross a red determinate cherry tomato with a yellow indeterminate beefsteak and watch out for all the variations.... I think that SunGold aught to be used in more amateur tomato breeding projects due to my suspicion that solanum habrochaites is an ancestor.

I got serious about plant breeding after reading Carol Deppe's (rhymes with peppy's) book entitled "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties". For the sake of full disclosure, Carol and I have collaborated on projects and she offers one of the varieties I developed in her seed catalog, and she wrote about it in her newest book, so Carol has had a profound influence on my life, and I have blessed her life a bit. The style of plant breeding that I ended up selecting for myself is "landrace gardening", so I don't put as much effort into isolation as what I remember Carol recommending. I also don't put as much effort into labeling, record keeping, or pedigrees. I'm intending to re-read her book to see how much we have diverged after 7 years... I suppose that will have to wait till next winter. My growing season is starting to get busy.

I love hybrid dry beans!!!

For example, these beans all descended from one naturally occurring cross pollinated bean seed. Manual pollination pretty much sucks in beans, but you only need a few seeds to get started. Some gardens may be able to generate natural hybrids by planting different varieties close together.


A couple weeks ago, I got a notebook, and took it to the garden with me, and was going to write down what I was planting... The brain fog was so dense that it was like I had forgotten how to write. I suppose that I was channeling all the illiterate plant breeders who had gone before me and developed all of the varieties that I am growing.

 
Hester Winterbourne
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If you want to do plant science with a young child I would suggest studying something that has quicker results. Like putting a bean in between a roll of damp towel and the side of a glass jar and watching how the root and shoot emerge and one grows up and one grows down, and what happens if you turn it the other way up, or grow it with a light source on one side... or growing plants in different substrates to see what they need to grow. Sure you can have the long term experiment running as well, but just in case his interests change, or it doesn't go as planned, you have something to keep his attention in the meantime. At this stage, just growing seed gathered from an F1 hybrid and discovering that the babies all come out different would be enough to spark that question of how does this happen and lead into studying it in more detail if it's something that interests him.
 
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I think corn would give quicker results. From what I remember, the genetic variation is visible on the kernels, so you can do the experiments with just the one generation instead of having to wait for two. I don't really know any details though.
 
Ann Torrence
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I think the notebook, crayons, etc is an awesome idea. If he's trustworthy with the tool, even a small camera or old phone with a camera. Learning observation skills will be so useful regardless of whether the plant interest sticks. How many different bugs did you see today? The blank perpetual calendar someone posted here would be something a kid (perhaps slightly older) could color in all sorts of observations, like the day planted, the first blooms, the first fruits, first harvest. Or days that it rained (if you live where it actually rains-it would be a boring chart in Phoenix). And if you have a kitchen scale, weigh the harvest. Kids love playing with scales, thermometers, tape measures. When does the tomato plant get taller than you? How lucky he is to have an adult in his life paying attention to his interests. Sounds like a lot of fun for you both.
 
R Ranson
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I've never seen Hillbilly tomato before. Wow, that's beautiful! And as a sauce kind of tomato? Fantastic! Put me on the waitlist for that one.

I was actually thinking about an early paste tomato, one that I could time to be ready when I am ready for it, not at the peek of harvest season. I'm trying a bunch of different paste tomatoes this year, and I also got this variety called 42 days from a seed exchange. I don't know what kind of tomato 42 days is suppose to be, but it's red and suppose to come ready 42 days after planting out. If something tastes good there, I hope to start creating my own short season determinant tomato that tastes great for drying and storing in olive oil.

I got serious about plant breeding after reading Carol Deppe's (rhymes with peppy's) book entitled "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties".


Carol's book is fantastic. I'm slowly working my way through it, usually while I'm up late at night waiting for lambs to pop out of the ewes. Daylight hours are a bit more busy these days, but once the farm is settled in to it's growing season, it's mostly just weed control and I can get a lot more reading done.

I got serious about plant breeding after reading your posts on Mother Earth News Blog. Your style of landrace breeding is far more appealing to me than preserving varieties with limited diversity. With sheep I've noticed that a lot of the old breeds have different health issues because of the limited genetic background, I worried that heritage plants might have the same problem. I've been breeding my sheep to create a landrace that meets my needs/desires. I didn't imagine I could do the same with plants until I read your writings.

Looking forward to when your book comes out: Landrace gardening by Joseph Lofthouse. You've started writing it, right?


Thank you everyone for your great thoughts. Watching seeds germinate should be fun for him. I like the idea of measuring and weight. He hasn't really got the understanding of the calendar or different days yet, but when he gets there, I'll see what style of recording he likes.

Yesterday I popped into the local art store and I saw this colourful clay like substance that you set in the oven. I wonder if that would be a fun way of recording what he sees.

I suspect that his main interest in gardening (other than it makes food - he loves eating veggies) is that there is an adult giving him their 100% full attention for really long periods of time. He gets lots of attention from his parents, but it's not the same as having a non-parent adult play with you. Mostly I just choose activities that need doing but aren't a big deal if they are done wrong - like weeding an area yet to be dug, collecting rocks from the field. We do it until he gets board or in the case of collecting rocks, until I get hungry.

I'm really glad for this brainstorming of gardening tasks I can do with him. Thank you everyone.

 
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I second the call for a Joseph Lofthouse book.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I already wrote that book. After I had said everything that I thought was worth saying, it was only 14 pages long...

I found a pleasant surprise in my greenhouse today: An F1 hybrid tomato, that I grew overwinter in the basement, under grow lights then moved to the greenhouse after it warmed up. F1 crosses are pretty boring, they are so uniform. The most interesting things in a plant breeding project occur in the F2 generation, so if this fruit actually has seeds, and if they germinate, I'll have shortened the breeding project by one growing season, and should have lots of interesting traits showing up. I also grew the Hillbilly cross in the basement... It has fruit on it. I'm hoping it will ripen in time to produce seeds for this growing season.

F1 Hybrid: [DX52-12 X Ot'Jagodka]
 
Burra Maluca
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I already wrote that book. After I had said everything that I thought was worth saying, it was only 14 pages long...


So, um, any way we can read those 14 pages?
 
R Ranson
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Burra Maluca wrote:
Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
I already wrote that book. After I had said everything that I thought was worth saying, it was only 14 pages long...


So, um, any way we can read those 14 pages?


Yes please.
 
John Louis
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I've had good luck with Amish Paste tomatoes. As for teaching plant genetics, we have used "Wisconsin fast plants" (A fast growing mustard)in Our AP Bio class. You can grow tiny plants on a small space indoors and have only a few weeks between generations.
 
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Yesterday in my garden: From the Red-podded pea breeding project.

 
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