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Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe

 
Burra Maluca
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souce: caroldeppe.com

Published by Chelsea Green Publishing

Summary
All gardeners and farmers should be plant breeders, says author Carol Deppe. Developing new vegetable varieties doesn't require a specialized education, a lot of land, or even a lot of time. It can be done on any scale. It's enjoyable. It's deeply rewarding. You can get useful new varieties much faster than you might suppose. And you can eat your mistakes.

Authoritative and easy-to-understand, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's and Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving is the only guide to plant breeding and seed saving for the serious home gardener and the small-scale farmer or commercial grower. Discover:

- how to breed for a wide range of different traits (flavor, size, shape, or color; cold or heat tolerance; pest and disease resistance; and regional adaptation)
- how to save seed and maintain varieties
- how to conduct your own variety trials and other farm- or garden-based research
- how to breed for performance under organic or sustainable growing methods

In this one-size-fits-all world of multinational seed companies, plant patents, and biotech monopolies, more and more gardeners and farmers are recognizing that they need to "take back their seeds." They need to save more of their own seed, grow and maintain the best traditional and regional varieties, and develop more of their own unique new varieties. Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's and Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding and Seed Saving shows the way, and offers an exciting introduction to a whole new gardening adventure.

Where to get it?

amazon.com
amazon.co.uk
chelsea green

Related Videos

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Related Threads
http://www.permies.com/t/46886/plants/Saving-Seeds-Breeding-Plants-Landrace
http://www.permies.com/t/27470/plants/Breed-Vegetable-Varieties-book-Carol
http://www.permies.com/t/31939/forest-garden/Landrace-Gardening

Related Websites
http://caroldeppe.com/
 
Michael Cox
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I've just about finished reading this excellent book and found the implications for permaculture facinating.

Basically she is talking about starting with existing varieties, deciding what traits you want in your new vegetable, then crossbreeding and selecting over a few generations for the right qualities. Some breeds can be stabilised in as few as three generations and the principals seem really easy to apply in the garden.

If you were designing vegetables from scratch for permaculture use they would probably be selected for very different traits than have been bred for in recent history.

So here are some thoughts on desirable traits for permaculture plants:

Perennial
Tolerance to local soils
Tolerance to unfertilised soils
Vigorously selfseeding
Sufficiently vigorous to grow without weeding, eg in a food forest
Pest resistant (eg hairy leaves resist slug damage)
Adapted to local climates and growing seasons
Shade tolerance to grow in an understory
Indeterminate for continuous cropping

Ideas for new varieties:
Perennial slug resistant runner beans - runners are already supposed to have a perennial tendency, with roots that go dormant. This isn't typically selected for as conventional growers grow them as annuals. I've read that the roots can be frost killed so that would be something to work on? My beans get slug munched so it would be nice to give them some protection - anyone know a slug proof runner variety to breed from?

Larger multiplier onions - the ones we have are good, but the smallish size is annoying when cooking. Multipliers are great as you only need to plant them once - perhaps the multiplying trait could be bred into other alliums?

Tomato - i doubt a perennial is possible, but you could probably breed some varieties that were vigorous enough to hold their own against weeds and effectively selfseed. There is a thread about a tomato growing copious but tiny fruits and selfseeding - could it be crossed to grow slightly larger fruit but still be prolific? For us here we always struggle to ripen tomatoes, so crossing in some really early varieties could be good. Indeterminate for continuous fruiting.

Perennial grains - not my idea this one, but wouldn't it be nice. Perennial grains would grow more vigorously and have strong roots etc...


I've barely scratched the surface but it seems facinating - take your favourite plant and adapt it to suit your growing style and conditions. Wouldn't it be nice to have a range of permaculture varieties specifically adapted to what we would prefer? What would you want to breed?

Mike
 
David Hartley
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FYI... tomatoes actually ARE perennial... When grown in their native environment...

In fact; if you grow them in pots... At the end of the season, but before frosts set in, cut the stock and hang (if there are any remaining unrippened tomatoes on it). Then bring the pot indoors and place in a root cellar and similar location: dark and between 45~60 degF... Then once your Spring starts to warm up, put the pot(s) back out. The rootstock will regrow with incredible vigor
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Haven't read Deppe's book, but it keeps coming up, so guess I will.

Here are 2 breeding projects I am intent on, though I consider them slow motion projects. I live in an area that has mild winters, but we do get frosts. So I am breeding primarily for perennial habit and frost tolerance.

Hardy Perennial Tomato:
I have an heirloom-type tomato that overwintered last winter and currently has fruit on it. It lives in a neglected corner of the yard, doesn't get much water or light, but somehow survived a few frosts last winter. I've taken cuttings and am transplanting to more favorable locations in the garden, where I should get more fruit and seed. Obviously, the seed gets saved and replanted.

I also obtained seeds from a container-grown cherry tomato in San Fernando Valley that supposedly has produced 4 years in a row. I am growing them out now. Unfortunately, I was out of the country at tomato-planting time, so they have still not fruited.

Bottom line is that I am just going to keep resowing whatever survives my mild winters. Once I have some reasonably hardy tomato plants, then I will focus on increasing longevity, productivity, and flavor.

I suspect that pruning tomatoes back at the right time and in the right way may be one of the keys to long-term productivity.

One of the great things about perennials, is if you can keep a parent plant (or clone) alive, you can breed back to that parent to stabilize the genetics.

Perennial Sweet Pepper:

I already have a yellow rocoto (capsicum pubescens) that is in it's second summer of production. Pretty plant and it is currently pumping out dozens of yellow medium-hot peppers. Rocotos can live for 15 years and grow to a size of 4 meters. I really don't need that many hot peppers, but sweet peppers, YES!

My hope is to be able to hybridize c. annum with c. pubescens, though no idea if this will be successful. The goal would be to end up with a sweet pepper with the hardiness & perennial habit of a rocoto, but without the dominant spiciness gene. I wasn't able to get sweet peppers in the ground in time this summer, so I don't think I'll get any hybrids this year. I have started collecting and broadcasting seed from any sweet peppers I can get my hands on. Bottom line is mass sowing to see if anything grows and survives my winter. Probably too late for anything to get any traction this year, but I'm just using 'free' seed from peppers bought at farmer's market. Even if I am unable to come up with a c. pubescens hybrid, I hope that a few seedlings might survive and give me some breeding stock. Regardless, next summer is when the fun will really begin as I will attempt to hand pollinate.

I might also see if grafting c. annum onto c. pubescens might confer some frost tolerance to the c. annum.

 
Steve Flanagan
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I would love to try to breed my own varieties at some point.
 
John Polk
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If you are interested in crossing peppers, this chart should be helpful:

Pepper-crossing.PNG
[Thumbnail for Pepper-crossing.PNG]
 
Su Ba
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Michael, your description of the desired traits accurately describes plants deemed invasive in Hawaii. Boy I had to laugh! Plants like that quickly are termed undesirable because they get away and thrive on their own here. Christmasberry, ironwood, eucalyptus, strawberry guava, prickly pear cactus, fountain grass, fireweed, Spanish broom, albezia, etc. Rather than developing an economic value, the State ag department looks for some biological control to release. If there is none, then public educational info warns people that the plant is a danger. So I can just see the future now......(yellow paper with red border, large picture of a healthy runner bean) "Have you even this plant? Dangerously invasive! Report it to your county agricultural station immediately!"

All laughing aside, aggressively growing plants have caused problems when they get away from the farm or if the landowner abandons it. Not that I'm saying these plants aren't great, but aggressive self seeding can be a future problem. There is a down side to these successful plants. On my island, prickly pear cactus at one time ruined thousands of acres of pasture. Currently Spanish broom and fireweed are doing the same thing. Fountain grass has taken over thousands of acres north of Kona, with resultant massive wildfires associated with it. Strawberry guava and spreading bamboo have congested acres making them totally unusable and difficult to clear. Christmasberry has spread to hundreds of acres, choking out everything else. I've seen land overcome in englsh ivy. I see guinea grass so dense that landowners resort to bulldozers once a year to try to control it. I see gardeners get so frustrated with the escaped tropical pasture grasses that they resort to using herbacides out of desperation.

So in breeding new plants, perhaps we need to be careful what we wish for.

...SuBa
www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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John Polk wrote:If you are interested in crossing peppers, this chart should be helpful:



Uh...yeah. C. pubescens crosses with...itself....

I'll try anyway.
 
K Nelfson
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Better for most of us to just put in the time and effort with conventional seeds than develop our own. ?There's lots of heirloom seeds out there and most gardens would benefit from more labor input and more educated gardeners. At least, that's where I am. I'll save some seeds now and then but I'm just not experienced enough to justify the efforts or even know that the properties I desire aren't in an established cultivar.

 
Michael Cox
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Su Ba - sounds like you are struggling with some real problem species over there. My list of traits wasn't supposed to be suggesting that you would want all of those in on species however. A vigorously seeding hardy perennial does sound rather nasty!

We have a sufficiently harsh winter climate that invasives struggle - giving our garden plants any kind of edge is definitely desirable. In the book Carol describes an accidental crossing she did of some squashes that turned out to be vigorous large vining plants and hardy to cold and damp conditions that killed all her other squash. Something like that would be very nice here - we could plant out in open soil earlier, harvest summer squashes for a longer season, need to worry less about weeding etc...

Alternatively (as i mentioned in my earlier post) I'd love to breed for a runner bean that could be established as a perennial in a food forest. The trait is already there, but hasn't been selected for. Once the trait was well developed you could back cross it with other bean varieties - perhaps even to other bean families. All that is needed is more frost tolerant, deeper root system.

In your climate chances are runner beans could be grown as perennials anyway!

So yes, you have to be careful, but the point is you can breed to suit your own needs. You could even look at native hawaiian plants to improve.
 
Michael Cox
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K Nelfson wrote:
Better for most of us to just put in the time and effort with conventional seeds than develop our own. ?There's lots of heirloom seeds out there and most gardens would benefit from more labor input and more educated gardeners. At least, that's where I am. I'll save some seeds now and then but I'm just not experienced enough to justify the efforts or even know that the properties I desire aren't in an established cultivar.



The first step in breeding your own is actually learning what is avaliable and growing them. My vague plan for next year is get hold of seeds for as many runner varieties as i can find and plant half a dozen of each in the veggie patch. I'll grow them out, eat them, store some, let some go to seed and taste test the dry beans etc... I'll let the frost kill them and see what, if any, make it through the winter.

This bit takes very little extra time over my normal planting approach and could be a lot of fun. I won't save any seed in this first year, but i'll have a better idea which varieties to start from. It might actually already be the case that there is a variety that is already hardy enough for my needs.
 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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Fact is if we save seed we ARE breeding plants, just with varying degrees of intentionality and precision.

I belong to a seed library http://slola.blogspot.com. The emphasis is on breeding for local adaptability, while maintaining the characteristics that define the variety.

The practices I follow for 'my own' seeds are different than when I am growing a seed library variety. I am much stricter with their seeds - making sure to get early seeds, middle seeds and late seeds and seeds from a few plants. Nothing that doesn't look like the original. And save from the healthiest plants. Depending on type of vegetable, I might isolate them in time or space from cross pollinators. It requires some attention, so I only grow a few varieties from them. One of the most common forms of error in seed saving would be accidentally selecting an early or late variety.

For 'my own' seeds, I tend more towards the STUN (Sheer Total Utter Neglect) approach, many variants on that theme used by Mark Shephard, Fukuoka, etc. The seeds that thrive with little attention get resown, leading to resilient genetics.

BTW - Scarlett Runner beans are available for cheap in bulk from Whole Foods Market bulk section. I've had almost perfect germination rate on those.


 
John Polk
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My experience with most of the bean/pea families indicates that they do best if you treat the eating plants different than the breeding plants. Those plants, like all other annuals have 1 goal in life: reproduction - bringing forth a new generation, so that the species can survive.

In order to survive, they need to set viable seed. Once they have done this, their mission in life has been accomplished, and they quit. For maximum harvest yield, we need to keep picking new pods before they mature (which is when they are at their prime eating stage). As long as we don't allow viable seed to set, they just keep trying, as long as they can.

Perhaps, taking advantage of this tendency, one could harvest as if they were all to be eaten fresh, until a certain time. This time would be an estimation of when the first frosts are due. Stagger the dates by a week or two. The object being to allow some of the plants to go through at least one frost before the seed is viable. Seeds from those plants could then be saved to continue the 'hardening off' process in next years crop. After a couple of years, you should be growing plants much more likely to endure the worst that your climate can offer. These would be a 'localized' strain, the forerunner to a land race. A huge step towards sustainability.

I have used a technique for snow peas that has worked fine in USDA zones 7 & 8: Plant them 3-4 weeks before the first expected frosts. They establish their root systems before the frosts put them into dormancy. They just sit there all winter, looking half dead. In the spring, once the soil has warmed to the right temperature, they resume right where they left off in the autumn. I have also found this to be the time that the first spring planting can begin; the plants have told me that the soil is 'just right'. With this technique, I have enjoyed fresh peas from last years starts a full month earlier than my neighbors, and my first spring planting usually beats theirs by a couple of weeks.



 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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John Polk wrote:
Perhaps, taking advantage of this tendency, one could harvest as if they were all to be eaten fresh, until a certain time. This time would be an estimation of when the first frosts are due. Stagger the dates by a week or two. The object being to allow some of the plants to go through at least one frost before the seed is viable. Seeds from those plants could then be saved to continue the 'hardening off' process in next years crop. After a couple of years, you should be growing plants much more likely to endure the worst that your climate can offer. These would be a 'localized' strain, the forerunner to a land race. A huge step towards sustainability.


Sounds like a good plan. I would watch out for any signs that the bearing season might be shortened by selecting only late pods. I'd probably leave a few early pods in there to make sure the plants didn't develop the habit of waiting for first frost to pod up.

John Polk wrote:I have used a technique for snow peas that has worked fine in USDA zones 7 & 8: Plant them 3-4 weeks before the first expected frosts. They establish their root systems before the frosts put them into dormancy. They just sit there all winter, looking half dead. In the spring, once the soil has warmed to the right temperature, they resume right where they left off in the autumn. I have also found this to be the time that the first spring planting can begin; the plants have told me that the soil is 'just right'. With this technique, I have enjoyed fresh peas from last years starts a full month earlier than my neighbors, and my first spring planting usually beats theirs by a couple of weeks.


That's pretty much what I hope to accomplish with tomato & sweet pepper - plants that will perk up and start producing as soon as it warms up.

Great observation about using those plants to ascertain planting times.

 
Jonathan 'yukkuri' Kame
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A lot of discussion of increasing cold tolerance and overwintering.

Here's a fava that looks like it has successfully oversummered, in brutal socal summer, regrowing and flowering again amongst dead buddies and sweet potato. Hope it holds on through the next month and starts producing pods again.


fava oversummered.jpg
[Thumbnail for fava oversummered.jpg]
 
Su Ba
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John said, "...do best if you treat the eating plants different than the breeding plants."

Yes! Right on, John! How true!

I keep a separate area for producing seed. I normally don't save seed from my veggie garden except in the case of vegetative starts (sweet potatoes, potatoes, yacon, taro, pipinola). Seed production plants are culled and selected for the traits that do best in my area, plus traits that I want. For example, peas. I select for for height 24"-36". Plants maturing over or under this height range are removed. At that height they are easy for me to pick and also nicely fit my trellises. I prefer two pods per node over just one. I prefer earliness and pod setting in warm weather. I ruthlessly cut out non-preferred plants so that my seed has a better % of carrying these traits. Couldn't do that if it were my veggie garden. It would be very difficult to isolate the preferred plants, and gee, I'd want to eat everything anyway.

I suppose it depends on how serious one is about producing plants adapted to your area and your needs, plus if you have enough land to use just for seed production.

...Su Ba
www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I read Carol's book many years ago. I decided to start raising my own seed for every species that I grow. It was a steep learning curve, and I still struggle with overwintering biennial root crops, but I've made great progress. Last time I counted, I was growing my own seed for something like 70 varieties in 55 species. I love it! My crops thrive because they are genetically very well suited to my climate, soil, bugs, microorganisms, and way of doing things.

For most things, the seed crop is also the eating crop. For example with corn, I walk through the patch and put flags on plants that I want to save for seed. Red flags for the most productive plants. Green tags for the cobs that had the earliest color in the kernels. Yellow tags with writing on them for other traits I want to keep.


I might even cut off part of the plant for eating and leave part of it for seed. For example, this corn plant just had to be tasted. And marked with two flags because it was that precious.



I flag other crops as well. For example these pea plants were the earliest flowering. Earliness is important to me because of our short season, and also because First-To-Market commands the highest prices at the farmer's market. The one instruction that I drill into everyone that helps in the garden is: "Do not harvest plants or rows that are flagged!".


Squash might get marked by scratching the baby squash with a knife. I'm showing off these particular squash, because it was only in the 5th growing season of trying different varieties that I was finally able to harvest a good crop. I'm really looking forward to next year's crop.



I have one emotional pain due to growing my own seed. The best of the best always stays home so that it might become an ancestor of next year's crop. That means that I take seconds to the farmer's market. That's nothing to feel bad about, because my seconds are higher quality than anything that can be purchased locally. But I still miss out on some bragging rights by leaving the most clever specimens in the field. I cull mildly to heavily depending on the crop. The spinach that I don't want producing seed gets eaten.



 
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What an interesting thread.

Before I get going, I want to say Joseph, I've really enjoyed your landrace writing in Mother Earth News blog. Very inspiring. Love the photo of the corn you posted here. It does look delicious.


I think there is a great advantage to selecting our own seeds. Going back to the idea of heritage varieties - it might be useful to remember that humans have been selecting and growing things by seeds for a few thousand years prior to the invention of seed companies - or even the mass utilization of taxonomy in agriculture.

Preserving the genetic diversity of our food crops in the face of current commercial and political pressures has never been so important as it is today. Although, I wonder, by growing only a few thousand heritage varieties, and keeping them pure, avoiding cross pollinating and interbreeding with other similar crops... all this also limits our genetic pool (albeit not so badly as other methods).

As an example, let's talk grass munchers - sheep and goats. I'm a sucker for heritage breeds - I really am. My first goat was Oberhasli, a breed that about 5 years ago had only 12 in all of Canada. That's twelve goats to replenish the breed. Up from 7 a couple of years prior. The gene pool is so incredibly limited, that any attempt to replenish the breed with only the goats that remain, can and probably would result in intense genetic defects. Until recently, an oberhasli goat could only be registered if it had two purebred parents. Thankfully for these goats there is now a system in place where we can 'breed up', that is start with a goat not of the same breed, introduce it to the boy goat, take the baby goat that comes from that meeting, introduce it to a different boy goat of the desired breed...until the offspring is x% oberhasli goat, then we can register it as oberhasli. This process works, and according to Rare Breed Canada, we are up to 30 registered oberhasli goats in Canada, and rising.

With my sheep on the other hand, Black Welsh Mountain. There were only 2,000 in Canada a couple of years ago, about 1,500 now (that over one fifth of the global population of the breed - according to the American Black Welsh Breeders Association - in comparison there is an estimated 30,000 sheep on our island at any given time). This breed standard (in Canada) allows little or no interbreeding, so I can't grade up by introducing new genetics to the flock. The gene pool is limited and shrinking and it won't be much longer before we won't have enough population size to replenish the breed. Shame really, they are a delightful sheep. In fact, there are only two ram lines available locally, both of which are already in my herd, so any further breeding I do must be inbreeding (not as bad as it sounds, but not my goal for my flock).

Although plants are different genetically, the analogy with the grass munchers does hold enough similarities to show us how dangerous it is to be overly snobbish about genetic purity.

My thoughts about heritage varieties - yes, they should be preserved. It's good 'genetic storage' to draw from.

But is it necessary for every tom, jane and harry vetch to grow only specific heritage breeds in their garden? No!

Some of my reasons for encouraging people to develop their own varieties and landraces:
- it increases genetic diversity
- it empowers people to take control of their food system
- it's traditional, linking us back to the beginning of agriculture, and beyond
- it increases the speed that plants adapt to different regional, and increase the resistance to change (three years instead of the standard 30 years of adaption when genetic purity is the focus)
- it gives people the freedom to save their own seeds without stressing out about 'doing it properly'.

This last point is more important than you may know. I've met and talked with many people who would like to save seeds, they even save and dry beans for eating, but planting their own bean seeds - oh no, that's far too complicated. They say they haven't read the right books, don't have the required degrees, lack the equipment, experience... &c., excuse, excuse. Excuses they come by honestly because they are taught that seed saving requires specialized skills and equipment. People who read this forum are possibly shocked that this is a real life problem. If this post wasn't so long already, I would tell you some of the amazing things I heard at the seed exchange table at Seedy Saturday this last weekend. This is a major problem and the social pressures that cause it are devastatingly strong.

But why not just by local seed? Well, there is local and there is local, and there is local. I've had several years where seeds from a highly prestigious local seed company caused complete crop failure - germination less than 20%, those that grew sucumbed to pest or illness. Part of the problem is our microclimate, the other being that the seeds developed for the local market, are not always grown locally. I found out much later that they are simply seeds grown and developed for our zone - not our actual climate. Seeds of similar varieties that I saved and planted the same years suffered very little setback.

Basically, you need to trust your seed source. Not everyone has this luxury.


Invasive species issue. This is a big issue and one we battle with on our little island. The Scotch Broom (which came from Hawaii, but that's a story for another day) is one of the worst plants here. It systematically destroys many of our native ecosystems and oak forests. The shoots also make a not-bad substitute for hops in beer (hint hint, you commercial brewers out there - wild broom shoot ale, drink your way to conserving our native ecosystems). The only possible good that broom may do is add nitrogen to the soil. but there are better plants for that sort of thing.

Adapting varieties for a garden setting and adapting varieties for a permaculture setting require different considerations. Broom and kudzu (which I wish we had here, apparently it's delicious) are exceptionally yummy for goats. But unfortunately, we don't use livestock to control invasive species... so the best solution would be prevention.

Ah, but that's okay. You know there are many regional food crops to draw on that are already adapted to your native conditions. There is a traditional school of thought that suggests the healthiest food you can eat is that which thrives or is native to in your local climate. Of course, I'm not going to give up potatoes in favour of camas bulbs, even if I could remember which colour flower isn't poison, but I don't plant sunchokes in my perennial beds because they spread and invade. When planning my perennial food beds I focus on what grows locally first, then add to it my favourite crops. It's amazing what local food sources there are. Big Leaf Maple Syrup - delicious!

There is a fine line between vigour and invasiveness. 'Though I wonder if it's more a management issue than actual plant problem.

The three broom (cutting/seeds/roots - oral legend varies) that Captain Grant brought from The Sandwich Islands to court the homesick Scottish housewife (the mill owners wife, not his own), weren't a nuisance until the Hawth Brothers ran out of hops and needed something else to preserve their beer. Broom shoots were perfect, so they began invasion of the broom (alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of lifes problems). Three plants were easy to control - three thousand... not so much.


Runner beans do over winter here if I forget to dig them up. Collecting the beans, letting them mature, cutting it back, not cutting them back - has no obvious effect on the root overwintering or not. Without mulch, 20 to 30% survive most winters, with mulch, it's over 50%. I've often wondered if digging them up and preserving them like biennial root crops would be an option, but then again, not a permaculture solution. We have wet winters, but when the runner bean vines climb up to the tall trees where I can't reach them, the pods over winter well and the seeds drop down in the spring and self sew. Another way to think about runner beans.

For a self seeding tomato, start with Wild Cherry Tomato and breed up from there - but most tomatoes will self seed if the fruit is left on the ground.
 
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There are a bunch of people at the Facebook group "Plant Breeding for Permaculture" with great projects

https://www.facebook.com/groups/PlantBreedingForPermaculture/
 
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Not perfect, but sublimely worthy. I give this book a 9.5 out of 10 acorns.

Oh, the looks I got from my very urban and utterly un-permie friend when I listed this book as what I wanted for my birthday a few years ago. He just couldn't imagine what in the world I thought was going to be so great about this book.

I honestly can't recall what it was about the author that drew me to it originally. I'm pretty sure I had read an article or some other thing from her and been duly impressed. The topic dovetailed nicely with something I had been toying with as an idea at the time, so it was the perfect choice at that moment.

I'm glad to say I wasn't disappointed in the least. The book was full of fascinating information about plant breeding. As surely as the combination of 'fascinating' and 'plant breeding' seems impossible to some, it was none-the-less true. I find myself so rarely faced with a wealth of information I've not heard before, which made this a refreshing read.

Her tone stayed personal the entire book, even while she laid out facts and information. She offered insights into the origin of several plants I have seen for years in catalogs, along with snippets of history and personal experience. It even included mutation rates per genome and lamented the varieties lost to those who didn't realize what they had in a plant with odd quirks.

I would say that if you are interested in trying your hand at plant breeding, get this book. If you are intimidated by the prospect of breeding your own varieties, then I doubly recommend this book! At one time I thought it might be a huge labor to try breeding my own varieties. Armed with the information the author provided, I now feel confident in my capability to manage with relative ease. When I get my own land again and can start working towards the goal of plant breeding once again, I will have to let everyone know the results. That and to point anyone who cares to listen towards this book.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:I read Carol's book many years ago. I decided to start raising my own seed for every species that I grow. [...] Last time I counted, I was growing my own seed for something like 70 varieties in 55 species.


Carol has just released her 2016 seed catalog. I feel honored that she is offering two of the varieties that I developed: Moschata (butternut) squash and muskmelons: developed for short-season and low-input subsistence-level growing conditions.

Fertile Valley Seeds -- 2016 Catalog

Lofthouse Landrace Moschata Squash


Lofthouse Landrace Muskmelons

 
Glenn Herbert
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My father developed his own variety of butternut squash, selected for long necks and small seed cavities. All meat and little cleaning! I had an envelope with a few seeds from his last crop, and eight years later planted four seeds. One grew, I got six butternuts, and the variety is preserved I'll plant the remaining old seeds as well as some new ones next year to try for some diversity.
 
Neil Layton
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I've been reading this book - review to follow at some point over the next few days, but I wanted to raise this before I forget.

Michael Cox wrote:

Tomato - i doubt a perennial is possible,


I disagree. The genus contains a number of perennials, most probably 2N=12.

The problem is that many of them also contain lots of really interesting (for which read "lethal") alkaloids. What I would do is identify one of the low-toxicity perennials in the same genus and cross until you find one that isn't sterile or that you can propagate vegetatively (the tamarillo (S. betaceum), naranjilla (S. quitoense) or the pseudolulo (lulo de perro) (S. pseudolulo) would be candidates: tamarillos will hybridise within the genus to sterile offspring, but you might be able to propagate the hybrid vegetatively). If you find one that's not sterile you could try backcrossing it with the tomato, I suppose.

It wouldn't be a tomato, but something new - but luck and forethought might result in something analogous.

All the latter plants are wide open for breeding work in their own right, as are others in the genus.

I do recommend being very careful when testing new hybrids in this genus, however.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I taste poisonous tubers, leaves, and fruits pretty commonly. No big deal for a plant breeder...

Of about 300 tomatoes that I grew last year, one had poisonous fruit.

When I grow potatoes, about 15% of them have tubers that are too poisonous to keep.

The cucumbers are always flirting with being too poisonous.

I'm careful with melons and squash to not stray too far away from domesticated strains in order to avoid introducing poisons.

The only time eating poisonous plants got me worried about my well being, was after I had eaten a lot of a type of nightshade berries. They were exquisitely tasty. But about 6 hours later, just the time that nightshade poisoning manifests, they hit me like a baseball bat to the gut. I got out of bed. Positively identified the species. Put a sample of them on the nightstand beside my bed. And wrote the name of the species with magic marker on my chest, with an apology... Just in case I died during the night. Then I went back to sleep.
 
Neil Layton
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I give this book 9 out of 10 acorns

Permaculture faces a range of problems as regards the availability of suitable plants. Some of those are also faced by conventional gardeners, who find themselves with a limited range of plant varieties, but who want to grow for size, flavour and so on in the conditions they find themselves with. Others are unique to permaculture, where we need varieties that will grow in the partial or even complete shade of a forest garden.

Others are more profound, such as the realisation that it has now been several thousand years since humans domesticated another staple food crop, and the fact that climate disruption means that we need plants more resistant to drought, intermittent but possibly unusually heavy rain (with the implications that has for nutrient leaching in soils, for example), heat and other extremes. We also have the problem that many of the plants we grow, pretty much by definition, do not complete their life cycle in only one year, which will slow down the rate at which we can propagate new varieties.

It also seems worth pointing out that, if you are going to create a novel ecosystem, it makes sense for you to accelerate selection for organisms in that ecosystem.

The author's credentials are excellent. She has a PhD in Genetics from Harvard and twenty years experience working in genetics. At the same time she also breeds her own vegetables for fun. By the time of the second edition she had become a professional plant breeder (there is money – potentially a lot of money, although mostly for agribusiness, not the gardener – in plant breeding, and this may be a source of secondary income for some, but don't expect to get rich off it; there are also some nasty legal barriers to the amateur here in Europe).

I really like this book, which is (among many other things) “for every gardener who has ever been told, "You can't grow that here," but who wants to anyway.” Having often been told that, I'm keen to have a good overview of means to prove naysayers wrong. This is a positive, forward-thinking book, one that does not assume something can't be done, but provides the tools for doing it. In fact, I haven't been this excited by a book since Jacke and Toensmeier's Edible Forest Gardens (which it complements).

It's a values question as well, as the author points out. My values involve the small scale and the sustainable. The values of the seed companies are about short-term profit in monoculture. There is now a gap in plant breeding: the professionals are now largely interested in genetic modification, a technology whose outputs are predicated upon an unsustainable fossil-fuel driven model of food production, leaving the art of plant breeding wide open to those of us even with little land and little time – it doesn't take much. In this sense, plant breeding is simply good practice in Permaculture.

This is very much a practical book, full of ideas and little snippets of information, like the fact that cold tolerance seems to be a matter of resistance to extremes, so a cold-tolerant strain may be more tolerant to extremes of heat as well – a useful trait if we are to grow climate-disruption-resistant crops. It covers everything from obtaining and evaluating germplasm (which involves garden trials and yields both food and information) to practical methods, and she gives examples of how she conducts trials.

She also, and this is important, covers enough genetics to speed up what probably took our ancestors many generations. Most new varieties have been formed using only ten methods, and this book covers all of them. Rather than basic school genetics, which doesn't teach you enough to apply it, the author concentrates on the information needed to breed new plants. There is a certain amount of maths here, but she leads you through it. It's the kind of thing you might need to read slowly, but it gives you the necessary grounding. Following this would be hard work if your mind is not suited to maths, but there is probably no way of expressing it any more simply.

There are several ways in which this is useful. Sometimes you know which alleles are responsible for certain traits. If you don't, you can work this out using your breeding programme using some arithmetic.

There are some things that are not covered. For example, there is recent research that has found that fruit trees sometimes exchange genetic material at the site of a graft, and then send up adventitious shoots. This relatively unusual form of hybridisation may be a source of unique varieties, if you are lucky combining the best properties of both the rootstock and the scion (or, of course, something like a crab apple on a stunted, disease-prone root, but such are the risks). The frequency with which this occurs is unclear. The strategy of planting lots of tree seeds and selecting the best ones is a slower, brute-force approach, but can get results. These aren't major weaknesses (the former is based on recent research; the latter barely counts as crop breeding), but may be additional techniques to think about.

Another (understandable, give the publication date) omission is the question of acquired traits. With Darwin, Lamarck was relegated to a footnote in the history of the study of evolution. The modern study of epigenetics has not resurrected Lamarck, but heritable changes in the DNA of plants have been demonstrated. An environmentally stressed plant that performs well as a result of changed gene expression is worth taking seed from for two reasons. One is that the trait that allows it to respond well in the face of environmental stress is useful, especially in a disrupted climate which is only going to get worse for the foreseeable future, and the other is that the possible change in the DNA may be heritable. I would suggest always attempting to breed a line from such a plant. The author does teach you how to tell the difference between environmental and genetic variability, but fitness in the context of the environment is key to selection, both natural and artificial.

As almost invariably with US publications I found the author's insistence on archaic measurements annoying, and most readers would need to convert these to something more meaningful.

Other than that, it seems to be comprehensive, covering subjects I hadn't even thought about. The fact that she talks about the kinds of things that she thinks about when breeding new strains is something I find particularly useful. There are points about cytoplasm, for example, that I had not considered.

There are several useful appendices, from breeding details from a short but varied list of common crop plants (the variation telling you the kinds of things to look for) through to statistical probabilities for the number of plants you need to have particular likelihoods of individual traits at each point in the breeding process.

There is a top-notch bibliography in here, which covers advanced material not in this book, including references to the academic literature which gives further information not in the appendix on heritable traits in many crops. It should not be ignored, but if you are going to breed less common crops you will need to work out the details given the principles in this book.

I concur with Michael Cox's list (above) of priorities for the breeding of new varieties, but would like to add one. It's been thousands of years since humans bred a new staple crop species. This is a matter of putting too few eggs into too few baskets, and complex polycultural systems under close monitoring would seem to be an ideal environment in which to do this, especially if those species are perennial. Short life-cycle species are relatively easy to breed, but modern understandings of genetics enable us to rapidly speed up the process (pay particular attention to polyploidy). The author discusses this subject and, to me, this is one of the most exciting prospects for plant breeding.

This is a book to buy and keep on a shelf to be referred to in just about any plant breeding project. There are minor flaws, the correction of which would have meant a much longer book and duplication of other works, of which a good volume on seed saving (this book contains a good introduction, but I suggest Suzanne Ashworth's Seed to Seed: http://www.permies.com/t/46889/books/Seed-Seed-Suzanne-Ashworth) and , if you can get one, a copy of Stephen Facciola's Cornucopia: http://www.permies.com/t/51809/books/Cornucopia-II-print (itself a massive, brutally expensive, but inadequate work) would probably top the list. Pay close attention to the Bibliography, however, because there is some potentially incredibly useful material in here, although some may be out of date. I'm keen to engage in lots of plant breeding projects, and consider any plant with much less than a decadal generation range as open to artificial selection. There are plenty of tedious jobs in running a smallholding, but this is one that opens up a lifetime of fun and mental stimulation while improving long-range community sustainability. In the case of some species you will not be growing enough of the plants to engage in a breeding programme. Everything else, arguably including those reproducing on decadal time spans, should be considered an opportunity for accelerated environmental adaptation or better suitability as a crop.
 
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Neil
Any ideas yourself for a new staple crop ?

David
 
Neil Layton
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David Livingston wrote:Neil
Any ideas yourself for a new staple crop ?

David


Several, but I think top of my list would be the lupin. The beans are already used as food, but I think it should be possible to breed the species for better bean production and possibly both as a green vegetable and for an edible taproot. It's already a multifunction species, and I'd be keen to work on that.

EDIT: I'm going to throw in drought resistance. With global warming we're going to see more droughts and greater evaporation. We need to work on this urgently.
 
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Great review Neil.

You mention acquired traits. Do we have a thread on this already? I would love to learn more about it.
 
Neil Layton
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R Ranson wrote:Great review Neil.

You mention acquired traits. Do we have a thread on this already? I would love to learn more about it.


There has been a certain amount of work done on the subject already, and a web search should tell you more about it (but be cautious of the usual overblown claims).

I'm currently wondering if deliberate stressing of plants, with or without chemical intervention, might encourage the DNA methylation process, allowing preferred traits, such as drought resistance, to be passed on to offspring. You'd need either a lab or a lot of plants to demonstrate it statistically, however. It's not something at the forefront of my thinking at the moment; just something I'm aware of.
 
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Nice review, Neil. Definitely putting that book on my wish list.

You commented "There is now a gap in plant breeding: the professionals are now largely interested in genetic modification, a technology whose outputs are predicated upon an unsustainable fossil-fuel driven model of food production, leaving the art of plant breeding wide open to those of us even with little land and little time – it doesn't take much. In this sense, plant breeding is simply good practice in Permaculture."

Agreed, although in some respects, even in the face of certain envisioned catastrophes, the situation may be more hopeful than considered. Observation suggests that the merger of larger seed companies will either necessitate the hiring of more plant breeders or, the company's preferred solution, to make fewer breeders which that company has to employ work on more crops for which that company hold patent protection. Certainly, the need for fewer of those academically-trained in plant breeding eventually will feed back to the number of students embarking on a plant breeding program of study, but there will nonetheless be an increase in the amount of plant breeding knowledge swimming around in the general population as a consequence. In any event, much as certain technologies that were once the exclusive domain of large companies often filters down into the general population and become more widely understood (home electricity/power, home computing, etc.), so too do I feel that if a more permies inclination grows within society, a better understanding of the importance of food/garden diversity will take hold, even if plant breeding per se is not engaged in most of these situations.

"The modern study of epigenetics has not resurrected Lamarck ......"

Although to a certain extent, perhaps he should be given a bit more credit for his model. There is declining debate as to whether environmental stresses *target* certain regions of the genome for epigentic modification, but still ample debate as to whether or not such targeting occurs towards base changes or wholesale chromosome insertions or deletions as a consequence. Irrespective of this, if ample diversity exists within the founder populations, it becomes a matter of identifying ...**and maintaining**....that diversity, even in times of low stress, in order for it to be available as a source for selection in future breeding schemes. This is one area where the reduced cost and increased access to DNA typing.....the same technology that hospitals are courting you with regarding "designer medicine".... **may** be useful in the future. For as pointed out, very often genetic diversity exists but is not evident from the outside. So, it would be up for debate, but some surviving technology currently in existence that could assist in measuring the state of diversity within any given species might be useful in a permies context.

"I'm currently wondering if deliberate stressing of plants, with or without chemical intervention, might encourage the DNA methylation process, allowing preferred traits, such as drought resistance, to be passed on to offspring. "

Yes, this has been demonstrated---just one such open-access article: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0080253

And it's still likely that it induces more than that, since very often stressing any organism induces "transposable elements".....recall the "jumping genes" of Barbara McClintock's work....that can cause rearrangements and additional mutations in the genome. (If I recall correctly, the jumping of some classes of these elements is responsible for the multicolored seeds on a single ear of corn, providing a visual display of changes at the chromosome level.) So in addition to epigenetic changes, the heritability of which can vary and often be reversed, actual changes of the bases or whole sections of chromosomes induced by the stressful state, will be more robustly inherited.

A main point here is production and maintenance of diversity. No diversity, no plant breeding. And this is where the permies notion of thousands of practitioners with thousands of gardens harboring myriad species is, in my mind, more key than the plant breeding itself, even as it does not discourage one from venturing into that arena as well. Either by chance mutation or stressed-induced alterations, the accumulation of diversity (but not too much!) will provided the requisite raw material for the breeding program. As you noted, it won't often make you a lot of money, but in certain circles, the astute observer of useful diversity can become a household name: http://www.beeradvocate.com/mag/8935/stemming-the-rise-of-barley-diseases-how-nasty-fungal-infections-could-affect-our-grains-and-beer/
 
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In a recent conversation with Carol, we explored epigenetics, and wondered if the dramatic improvement in my okra varieties might be due more to epigenetic effects than to changes in nuclear DNA. It would be interesting to set up some kind of experiment to test... The specific adaptation of okra in my garden, is for cold-hardiness. The okra that I am growing now is dramatically different than what I started with.

 
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Mmmm lupins I must admit I had not thought of them I will think on it
Your description reminded me of that great work of Russian Satire " the life of private Ivan Chonkin " where one of the major characters spends his life trying to cross potatoes and tomatoes
Getting a plant with fruit you cannot eat nor roots that are edible
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Life_and_Extraordinary_Adventures_of_Private_Ivan_Chonkin

David
 
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@Joseph L.: "The okra that I am growing now is dramatically different than what I started with."

Did you happen to keep notes or recall on how quickly these gains/changes occurred?......How many years to see the dramatic improvement in cold hardiness or other traits? If your populations/stocks have continually been exposed to cold temps in which they need to survive, this could be keeping an epigenetic-based tolerance elevated in your okra. The phenomenon can actually be quite confounding in a breeding program since, in its simplest form, it can mask the fact that you really have few or relatively ineffective heritable genes for cold tolerance. Assuming your inter-pollinating populations were large enough, those heritable genes would still be there even after several years of not being exposed to cold temperatures, whereas the type of epigentic inheritance that we're talking about here would diminish as the plants did not "see" cold temps for a few generations. Most likely plant breeders have observed the phenomenon for some time, but if observed improvements were not robust over many years and many environments, those materials would have become marginalized in the breeding program and focus would have been placed on traits with higher, more predictable heritability. I guess from a permies perspective, my view would be to never throw out the baby with the bathwater. Variation is variation....ultimately, even epigenetics has genes contributed more or less efficiently to the phenomenon, and those genes again represent important diversity to preserve.
 
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Neil Layton wrote:
There are some things that are not covered. For example, there is recent research that has found that fruit trees sometimes exchange genetic material at the site of a graft, and then send up adventitious shoots. This relatively unusual form of hybridisation may be a source of unique varieties, if you are lucky combining the best properties of both the rootstock and the scion (or, of course, something like a crab apple on a stunted, disease-prone root, but such are the risks). The frequency with which this occurs is unclear. The strategy of planting lots of tree seeds and selecting the best ones is a slower, brute-force approach, but can get results. These aren't major weaknesses (the former is based on recent research; the latter barely counts as crop breeding), but may be additional techniques to think about.


Is this essentially a "sport" then? That's quite interesting. I think I've seen this happen on some of my grafted plants.
 
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Kim Goody wrote:
Is this essentially a "sport" then? That's quite interesting. I think I've seen this happen on some of my grafted plants.


No. A sport is the result of genetic mutation. This is the passing on and recombination, in some cases, of the existing genetic material. At a cellular level it's closer to hybridisation. I think there may be horizontal gene flow in some cases as well, but I'd need to check that, which will have to wait.

If you have space I would suggest vegetative propagation of any adventitious shoot at the site of a graft, and indeed any shoot that looks odd but not diseased.
 
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A couple more things that have come up in other threads I thought I'd flag up.

The first relates to the C4 photosynthetic pathway. This allows plants to continue to photosynthesise during periods of higher temperature and drought. They're widely distributed across the plant kingdom, but are more common some plant families than others. Plants using the C4 pathway represent 3% of species, 5% of biomass and 30% of annual carbon capture. Most, but not all, are annuals. There are efforts to convert some C3 pathway crop plants, notably rice, into C4 plants using genetic modification, but a number of families seem to be open to selective breeding work including the Brassicas (cabbage family), chenopodiums (goosefoots) and the amaranths, some of which already use it.

The other relates to albedo management. http://www.permies.com/t/54823//talk-albedo There is still a lot of science to be done in this field, and some of it is talked about in the link, but there are opportunities to increase the reflectivity of plants in order to reflect more unwanted light (and thus heat) safely back into space. This is a complicated subject, and it seems that not enough is yet known about it. but there is work we can be starting on.
 
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@Neil L.: ".....a number of families seem to be open to selective breeding work including the Brassicas (cabbage family), chenopodiums (goosefoots) and the amaranths, some of which already use it."

from Wiki: "Of the families in the Caryophyllales, the Chenopodiaceae use C4 carbon fixation the most, with 550 out of 1,400 species using it. About 250 of the 1000 species of the related Amaranthaceae also use C4. Members of the sedge family Cyperaceae, and numerous families of Eudicots, including the daisies Asteraceae, cabbages Brassicaceae, and spurges Euphorbiaceae also use C4."

From different source: " Typical C3 plants include: barley, sunflower, rice, tomatoes, wheat, peanuts, cotton, sugar beet, oats, and most trees and are found in typically cooler and wetter environments......Typical (C4) examples include many tropical grasses and agricultural crops such as maize (corn), sugarcane, and sorghum."

Hmmmmm....this is interesting and as you say, Neil, a notable area for targeting by plant breeding. It's really interesting that of the genera that are known to have C4 members within, it is the C3 species of those genera that often end up being domesticated. Would be very interesting to see the results of deliberate attempts to bring the C4 members into domestication alone, or by hybridization with the domestics.
..................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

"Looking at how C4 species are spread across the plant family
tree and comparing DNA sequences from different species
shows that C4 photosynthesis has evolved independently at
least 66 times in different groups of plants. This remarkable
case of convergent evolution gives plant biologists many
different examples to study. “There is a massive biological
resource out there for us to use to understand what it really
takes to be C4,” says Hibberd." -- from http://www.saps.org.uk/attachments/article/1266/C4%20rice%20project%20-%20the%20article.pdf
 
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Goose foot = good king Henry ?
Time for a comeback maybe

David
 
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Neil Layton wrote:The other relates to albedo management. http://www.permies.com/t/54823//talk-albedo There is still a lot of science to be done in this field, and some of it is talked about in the link, but there are opportunities to increase the reflectivity of plants in order to reflect more unwanted light (and thus heat) safely back into space. This is a complicated subject, and it seems that not enough is yet known about it. but there is work we can be starting on.


I discovered a few years ago that I have inadvertently been working on this... For me, it's more the opposite problem, how to minimize the amount of radiant cooling at night...

As examples:

My most successful tomatoes fold their leaves together at night. That both increases the mass of the leaf (clump), and orients them towards the horizon where there is less radiant cooling.

My watermelon leaves are more silvery colored than typical. I wonder if that has something to do with dealing with radiant cooling at night.

My okra self-selected for frilly-leaves. I presume because they are exposed to less radiant cooling at night.

Great shape for okra leaves in my garden:


Okra leaf that is very susceptible to cold/frost in my garden:



 
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