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John:

The first year I grew okra, I planted about 100 seeds. None of the plants got over about ankle high. Only one plant managed to produce seeds.

The second year, I planted my saved seed and seed from an Indiana landrace. Most of the seeds failed. Two plants got as high as my knee before the fall frost and made seeds. One of them even survived the first fall frost, but succumbed to a frost of about the same intensity the next night. I saved seeds from the most frost tolerant, and replanted. There may have been some cross pollination going on by plants that were well enough adapted to make pollen, even if they didn't make seeds.

The third year, the plants grew six feet tall. That was the startling year... Nothing I had previously grown gave me any reason to expect that. I was still harvesting okra in November, months after the start of our fall frosts. I also trialed more varieties. Like the previous year, the new varieties failed. Perhaps getting ankle high, to knee high. Perhaps sharing some pollen.

The fourth year, my okra was more or less at a steady state. It grew about 5 to 6 feet tall. To as much as 8 feet tall. I was still harvesting okra into November. The new varieties I trialed mostly failed. I just checked my seed stash. I don't have the seed available to test if seed from the same plant harvested in cold fall weather would grow better for me than seed harvested in the hottest part of summer. This summer, I intend to save seed that might allow me to answer that question.

As a general observation... Okra has been one of my favorite species to work with. It seems to me like it has more inherent genetic diversity than most crops. It seems like it wasn't highly inbred during domestication, and that it has survived modern plant breeding relatively unscathed.

Typical variety of okra in my garden.


Third Generation Okra: What a surprise!


Fourth Generation Okra. It finally peaked out at 8 feet.


My okra is self-selecting for black seeds instead of green. Wondering what survival advantage that confers?


 
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Hi Joseph,

With regard to the frilly leaves, this may be a reflection of the generalized "von Humbolt effect". As you are in a higher, drier, and night-time cooler climate than that where perhaps your seed sources were originally adapted, you have now minimally selected for the phenotype that is more conserving on water loss. As the Cache Valley probably has no deficit of summer sun, the plants are getting ample energy from that source. Just one possibility, although founder effect and radiant cooling aspects may be involved as well.

If I were to guess, based both on your own personal impression that your cultivated okra stocks seemed to have good genetic diversity at the start of the project and on the rapid gains that you made in a few years, I would wager that you have selected on cross-pollinated progeny to yield a landrace that is well adapted to your area AND may be exhibiting strong positive heterosis in terms of getting tall tall quickly, then stabilizing for average height in subsequent generations. Although it's not been studied enough to date in detail, epigentic improvement would tend to be rather gradual and, if operating within a relatively uniform genetic background, would likely max out with less increase than what you are seeing. The gains or survival would still be statistically significant, but what you are seeing is a pretty huge jump in a pretty short time, leading me to suspect there are some major gene players here, the alleles of which are exhibiting positive heterosis, versus simple gene dominance. All just speculation and still allowing for some part of the gain to be epigentic, but that would be my suspicion.

Great looking plants....do you fry them, pickle them.....gumbo them?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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It seems like in my garden, tall plants have a survival advantage because it helps in out-competing weeds.

There is definitely no shortage of brilliant summer sunlight around here.

Most of the green okra that I pick goes to the farmer's market. I get reports that people are eating them raw, and fermenting them, and frying them. I typically use okra as gumbo.

 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Inspired by R Ranson's Giant Kale Project, I finally caved in, and started a kale landrace yesterday... I was cleaning up a friend's garden from last fall, and went through and scavenged anything kale-like that survived the winter. There might have been cabbage, kale, broccoli, and/or brussels sprouts (all the same species). I moved them to a bed where they can flower and cross pollinate. I intend to add some kohlrabi and broccoli to the patch... I might have scavenged a bok choi as well. Whatever. Plenty of time later to sort it all out.

I'm intending to select for winter hardiness, so that I can plant a fall crop, and have early spring greens. I really dislike the taste of summer kale, but spring kale and fall kale are fine.



 
John Weiland
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@Joseph L.: "I'm intending to select for winter hardiness, so that I can plant a fall crop, and have early spring greens. I really dislike the taste of summer kale, but spring kale and fall kale are fine. "

Yep, summer heat just makes them quite bitter. Was poking around in the garden early with intent to rototill tomorrow. The only think sprouting just now are a few parsnips from last year, some unidentified herb that had been mulched, and a few eager weeds. If you get something that you feel is cold hardy down the road, I would be interested in trying it. Our tall and very dead kale plants will be mowed tomorrow and tilled under in the afternoon. Asparagus patch will be mowed as well which will make sprouts in a few weeks easier to see.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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There were some red plants , perhaps chicory, that survived the winter, and were growing great already. I tasted them, but I'm not a fan of bitter food, so they got culled.

Some of the bok choi survived the winter. They are already going to seed, so doesn't seem like a good way to get big harvests of early spring greens. The volunteer turnips still have edible roots, and the leaves could be eaten now.

The carrot seeds spilled from last year's seed crop are already growing.

For what it's worth, I sometimes feel quite self conscious in my field, which is right next to the main highway through town. Because the field will be bare dirt first thing in the spring, and I'm walking through it, with a shovel, gathering together propagules that survived the winter... For example, last fall I accidentally tilled under the stevia seed crop. So first thing this spring, I got down on my hands and knees, and crawled around until I found some seed pods. Then I planted a post with a bright yellow flag on it so that I can remember the spot, and watch for volunteers. Before the summer is out, a number of people will have asked me about the flag... I always put flags up in the garden, but the first flag of the season is really fodder for gossip.

 
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I've been seed saving and collecting seeds for a number of years.

My tuppence worth:

Avoid over selection. Diversity is important.

I have a background in both evolutionary genetics and agricultural science, I have noticed a huge reality gap between these two worlds. Evolutionary genetics has been pondering things like the red queen hypothesis, which states that long lived organisms need to run to stand still to keep up the arms race with the shorter lived microbes, bugs etc. They need to continuously change with each generation, not necessarily improve, but just develop a novel chemical or physical defence. This is the reason that nearly all long lived organisms use sexual reproduction at least some of the time, and why diversity is so important.

It's like locks. Some locks are more secure than others, but the most important thing about locks is that they are all different, and they get changed periodically. If everyone in town got identical locks on their doors, the result after a few years would be a wave of burglary, when some smart thieves figured a way to pick the locks.

But discussions about plant breeding far too often tend to focus on concepts like "genetic improvement", "high genetic merit", identifying desirable genes etc. all of which in practice mean inbreeding and uniformity. When there is a problem of disease in crops or animals the proposed solution invariably involves more inbreeding. I once heard an agricultural vet celebrating the cloning of Dolly the sheep because according to him, cloning sheep would be a way to eliminate all the "bad genes". Same mentality. It seems to be a paradigm which predates Darwin.

I would be preaching to the converted if I pointed out that genetic engineering hasn't delivered the goods http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/our-failing-food-system/genetic-engineering/failure-to-yield.html#.VhT5lCuYQid IMO the plant breeding since WW2 has achieved little either. There has been a lot of selection a lot of "improvement", a lot of diversity loss and the result has been crop varieties which do well for a few years (provoking hyperbole) and then fail (leading to calls for more improvement). Along the way stuff like Southern Leaf blight in corn, a problem directly linked to male sterile corn, developed to make hybridisation easier. Hybridisation is justified by the observation that the offspring of a cross between two inbred strains is better than the inbred parent strains, but no one questions whether it was right to inbreed the parent strains in the first place. Individual crop yields have been generally improving, but the main reason for this has been increased fossil fuel energy and fertiliser use in agriculture, as well as a variety of other possible factors including farm subsidies/agricultural policies and increased know how of the farmers (farmers are getting older everywhere, that means more experience. I'm pretty sure most times a twenty-something inherits his grandpa's farm the crop yields drop significantly).

Anyway, getting to the point. Some of the smarter plant breeders, noticing that disease resistance often seemed to disappear after a few generations, came up with the concept of "horizontal resistance". They realised that disease resistance persists when plants have multiple defenses against disease. In a population of plants, some will be totally wiped out by disease, failing to produce seed, some will be partially affected, suffering from the disease but managing to produce seed and others will be completely unaffected. It's a mistake to only breed from the plants which are completely unaffected, often these simply got lucky, either they weren't infected, or they had a defense which happened to work this year, but which might not work in future when the bugs evolve.

The plants affected by the disease which still survived also have a variety of useful genetic defenses against disease, and by breeding from them as well as the unaffected plants, the next generation inherits multiple defences, recombined in novel ways.

So take home message is: don't take all your seeds from one prize plant and don't even restrict yourself to seed from completely unblemished plants. The plants which get sick but manage to produce seed also have valuable genes to contribute

My seedbank www.cropscheme.org
 
John Weiland
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@Peter I: "So take home message is: don't take all your seeds from one prize plant and don't even restrict yourself to seed from completely unblemished plants. The plants which get sick but manage to produce seed also have valuable genes to contribute"

Yes, as a home gardener, I agree with this. Were I a commercial plant breeder for one of the large seed companies, if my varieties weren't keeping up with my competitors in the yield department, I suspect I wouldn't be keeping my job very long. It is clear that horizontal resistance is being introgressed ..... where economically feasible.....into *some* commercial crops, but the pressure for ROI tends to drive the quick turnaround variety that yields well, even resists disease well *NOW*, yet sacrificing resistance durability. Hence, many mono-genes still being deployed even with the risks involved.

Based on theoretical considerations, I'm sure I do not keep enough seed to maintain good diversity. Yet as you mentioned and using maize as an example, I always keep a few small ears, or ears from small plants, along with the best performers. This approach apparently was already being done by many indigenous cultures as well. Sometimes I think a home-targeted DNA-based diversity testing kit would be a nice thing to have. But then again, maybe it's just best to save things that look different,....will likely achieve much of the same thing in the end. Disease/pest resistance is of course a tough one since new pest and pathogen races come at the most inopportune times, but even there with good diversity something will typically survive. It's also another good reason to save seed from multiple years so that you will have something to which to cross the survivors of any raging infestation or epidemic.

 
Peter Ingot
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John Weiland wrote:

Based on theoretical considerations, I'm sure I do not keep enough seed to maintain good diversity.



IMO the best way around this is to exchange some of your seeds with other seed savers who keep the same varieties.

Seed banks are good, but the FAO's public seed banks have been privatised, and maybe I'm being cynical, but I can see that happening with other centralised seedbanks in future.

The best places for preserving diversity and breeding are farms
 
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The main thing is preserving the seed you harvest. I kept selecting for larger plants and larger leaves of the Lacinato/ Dinosaur Kale, achieved my goal of 4.5 foot plants and very large leaves, but I stored the seed in a too warm of a room and lost it all. I've been breeding my columbines, and they are now all yellow like yellow butterflies flying on fine stems and 5 feet high. However, I'm letting it self sow. So where to you find training on how to store seeds for long term viability, does anyone know?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Jan Cooper wrote:So where to you find training on how to store seeds for long term viability, does anyone know?



I trained myself, by saving seeds from every species that I grow, and running germination tests of them once a year. Most of the seeds that I grow are incredibly stable. Some that I grow which are rumored to be short-lived grow very well years after the Internet seed-saving-rules would have had me throw them out... They might not meet federal germination standards for selling seed, but for my own farm, they are more than adequate. I'm much more likely to have seed failures by misplacing a packet of seed, or having a family disintegration than I am to lose seeds by degradation of viability.
 
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Jan Cooper wrote: So where to you find training on how to store seeds for long term viability, does anyone know?



This book, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe, has some info on long term seed storage; however, I like her other book better for this topic: The Resilient Gardener.


Your Kale project sounds like what I'm looking for in a Kale. Have you seen the Giant Kale thread?
 
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This book was excellent. I learned a lot and highly recommend it to anyone getting into gardening. You wont be disappointed.
 
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I haven't read the book yet, but it's on 'The List'. I do have - and have read a few times - Seed to Seed, which I found very informative. All the scientific stuff is interesting to read, and gives much food for thought - but I'm more of a 'fly by the seat of my pants' girl, and will more than likely just being going by what works and what doesn't.

What I find most exciting is not so much saving seeds to 'preserve' a certain Heritage breed, but creating my own hardy happy plants that grow well right where I live. Like John Lofthouse, I am more than happy to let my plants promiscuously pollinate, and see what I come up with. I am not likely to set up cages, and walk around with a sable brush, pollinating hundreds of plants by hand - but I think it will be exciting to start with planting seeds with traits that I want - heat tolerance in lettuce, for example - and seeing how far I can take it. That is the first thing I will be working on. And as my garden area expands, I can keep on adding new experiments - such as breeding for earlier yields, drought tolerance, and cool weather hardiness, all while getting the tastiest veggies I can.

And, oh, all my dreams would be fulfilled if I could grow cilantro all year long. Then my life would be complete. Hey, a girl can dream.
 
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
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.




QUESTION?

Ok I'm new at this, I grew tomatoes from saved seeds from previous years so why and how do you get poisonous tomatoes, and how do you know they are poisonous?  Thanks Giselle
 
John Weiland
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@Giselle B: "...how do you get poisonous tomatoes, and how do you know they are poisonous? "

In advance of Joseph L. answering your question in a more specific way, and without knowing what kind of wild tomato relatives may be producing pollen in your Australia region, if you have saved seeds from edible tomatoes that you've enjoyed in the past, you should be fine.  The poisonous traits will likely not be there in any domesticated tomato, even if you keep saving seeds from year to year.  If there are wild tomatoes around that have bitter alkaloids or toxic compounds, these *may* cause some issues due to cross-pollination, but often you can taste the bitterness, or in some cases, just won't feel so well after eating them.  In Joseph L's case, he's deliberately introducing wild tomato pollen into his domesticated tomatoes to increase their genetic diversity, ...... so to a certain extent, knows that he will have to get rid of some tomato progeny down the road that have the bitter/toxic traits.
 
Giselle Burningham
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Phew.. I think I will leave the breeding to you guys. Thanks for the reassurance. I thought some how I would get genetic throw backs and end up poisoning my self. Lol.
 
r ranson
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Giselle Burningham wrote:Phew.. I think I will leave the breeding to you guys. Thanks for the reassurance. I thought some how I would get genetic throw backs and end up poisoning my self. Lol.



Unless you are making a wide cross to a toxic plant (breeding to a wild relative, which is one of the more difficult things to do) then it is highly unlikely to get a genetic throwback, and even then it would probably be toxic and not poisonous.  Toxic being you have to eat enough to get sick - pretty much every food you and I eat is toxic to some degree.  But then again so is pure H2O.

Plant breeding is far simpler than that.  It is the simple act of saving seeds.  People have been doing that for thousands of years without fear.  It's only in the last few decades that people are afraid of it. Perhaps they fear getting it 'wrong'.  There are methods of saving seeds that can get complicated if we want to achieve a specific end, and that's what this book is about.  Simple ways to home gardener can create the plant they always dreamed of, with enough complicated stuff for those who wish to go further.
 
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Joseph
Have you thought about purple sprouting broccoli ? I have seen -5c , -10 c frosts just bounce off it . You eat the flowers in March / April multiple crops repete flowering , eat plant leaves edible too.
I could send you some seeds if you want . Pm me

David
 
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I give this book a 9 out of 10 acorns.

Its been a while since I read this book, so my review is not as detailed as many of you have provided.  This book bears the rare honor of being a reference book that I was able to read from cover to cover.  By the time I reached the end I felt comfortable gathering seed from my own garden to suit my own tastes. Because she explained everything in ways I found so easy to understand, I seldom need to pull the book out to reread but it is a comfort to always have it available.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to produce those perfect varieties for their own gardens.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Giselle Burningham wrote:Ok I'm new at this, I grew tomatoes from saved seeds from previous years so why and how do you get poisonous tomatoes, and how do you know they are poisonous?  Thanks Giselle



Sorry that I missed seeing this until tonight.

I don't worry about poisonous tomatoes. I have been tasting every tomato fruit before saving seeds from it for many generations, so if something tastes off, I just cull it. Mostly I cull for domestic traits, that are adored by mega-ag: Cardboard-like texture, bland taste, hard-fruits, etc...

Even though I'm using many different species of wild tomatoes in my breeding projects, I'm not finding many poisonous fruits. I certainly don't expect them to show up in domestic tomatoes if people are saving their own seeds.
 
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Neil Layton wrote: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.



Neil, you may be interested in our big wild tomato project.  Joseph basically started it, but several of us are collaborating on it. We all want better tomatoes,  or tomato -like things.  Most of it is discussed over on Homegrown Goodness, some of it here,  and occasionally on tomatoville, though most people on that forum are heirloom freaks and thus are not interested in breeding with wild tomatoes.

I was able to share F2 S. Pennellii hybrids with Joseph and others this spring.  It's a exciting project! We are trying to use as many wild tomato species as possible and thus tree end result will probably be only tomato -like, at least genetically. Just enough domestic traits to be edible and palatable.  Lol
 
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Carol's book is pretty good.  Probably The best out there on this topic.  But I've only read the 1st edition! I'm sure it had been improved since then!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Andrew Barney wrote:Neil, you may be interested in our big wild tomato project.  Joseph basically started it, but several of us are collaborating on it. We all want better tomatoes,  or tomato -like things.



With the help of the collaborators, the project is progressing tremendously. Thanks. This year, I was able to make the first three-species hybrids, and incorporate beefsteak genetics (super large fruits). Those crosses were only possible because of collaborators. Ten local families are attempting to make crosses for me this summer. Many dozens of collaborators are working on the project remotely.

The 3 species hybrids are 50% domestic tomatoes, 25% Solanum habrochaites, and 25% Solanum pennellii. Seeds from that cross are maturing within a week or two. I may be able to get one more generation this summer.

 
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