25 April 2012

Purple snows, homo and heterozygosity and seed sources.

All the written material says purple pod colour is determined by 3 dominant genes, A,Pu, and Pur - so I'm trying to figure out what is going on in my purple podded snow pea crosses.
I grew 4 different purple poddeds last spring, and crossed them to a range of snaps and snows, some of which carried the A (anthocyanin) gene - they had purple leaf axils, and purple flowers.

Of the purples, two (at least) were indistinguishable, although from different seed companies - Lost Seed Co, and Select Organics. The F1s from all these crosses should all have purple pods, if the parents were homozygous. Not so. One of the F1s has big green snow peas developing. I figure that was one of my hangover crosses, and in the tangle of stems and shiraz induced fog, I've accidentally crossed two green snows by mistake. Ah well. But of the proper purple crosses, one of the F1s bears lovely deep purple pods, but the others are dappled purple.
My guess is the deep purples from the Lost Seed Co cross, were homozygous for A, Pu, and Pur. But somehow, the Select Organic parents weren't homozygous either for Pu or Pur, the two genes for expressing purple colour in pods. I grew 6 plants each of each purple parent, so would have expected at least one of the parents to show dappled pods if they had been heterozygous. (This happened with one of the six Angela's Blue, which exhibited just such a trait).

I'm not sure if I used the same parent plant for each of the SO crosses, but both of the SO crosses are exhibiting this dappled purple trait.
I could grow out the original seed again, but rogues wouldn't necessarily show up - if they are heterozygous, they will still be deep purple even if a non-purple recessive was lurking in there. A smarter move would be to grow out the (uncrossed) seeds I collected from these parent plants to see if they segregate for deep and mottled purple. That would be a clincher. Will have to see if I have room - I'm rapidly running out of garden beds, with all these growouts, and hundreds of F2s potentially to be grown next spring.

16 April 2012

Sugar snap breeding resources

I've been delving around looking for pea breeding resources. There are a couple of good demonstration videos on how to physically cross peas. Rebsie's video is great, and I recently found this YouTube resource as well.

A great resource is "Origin, history and genetic improvement of the snap pea" by Myers Baggett and Lamborn in Vol 21 of Plant Breeding Reviews - but this can be a bit hard to find - my library doesn't have access, and I had to go to a Melbourne University Burnley campus library to find it.

Another good paper is "Inheritance of Stringless Pod in Pisum sativum" by Rebecca J. McGee1 and James R. Baggett.

But this video of a recent lecture to an organic grower's' forum in the US, about sugar snap pea breeding is a beauty, at least for the amateur breeder. The sound is pretty questionable, but the information is invaluable, particularly the final slides on back crossing stringless sugar snaps.


I'm particularly interested in the information that Sugar Ann is a stringless variety - great news, since I've got some seed, and even better, seedlings. My purple podded pea project has just taken a new turn - stringless coloured snow peas. The poor productivity of Cascadia in their trials is also of interest - I was going to use this as a new parent for breeding, after tasting them at Annie Smithers restaurant. The restaurant sources much of its supplies from their own edicated market garden in nearby Malmsbury.

So I'm growing out my first F2 purple X snow crosses - and I'm cogitating on how I might apply this new knowledge - will the Sugar Ann flower in time to cross to the purple snow F2s? If I do find a purple snow in these F2s (and that is a bit problematic), should I cross it to Sugar Ann, or perhaps one of the other tasty snows or snaps, or should I wait until the F3? This might be all academic, if I don't get any coloured snows.

how to cross peas video

Did a search today, and came across this you tube video on pea breeding. While I think Rebsie Fairholm's is a bit better, this is worth a look. And check out the tendrils on these field peas!

15 April 2012

Flower number in peas

The John Innes pisum genetic database indicates there are two recessive genes that regulate flower number, fn and fna - "Fn Fna is one-flowered; Fn fna and fn Fna two flowered; fn fna three-to several flowered". Other information I've read (but I can't remember where) suggests this is mediated by environmental conditions. [Note: when JI write Fnfna, they are talking about homozygous genetics - such a pea would actually be FnFn fnafna, bt they shorthand it, as I will, mostly, throughout this post.]

My growouts indicate this is a bit complex. My original varietal growouts were tightly planted - so they were subjected to some environmental stress, but each variety was replicated, and results were consistent. Some varieties had alternate double flowering - the first internode was single flowered, then double flowered, then single flowered up the stem. All of the purple podded plants were exclusively single flowered, as were most of the tall snow peas. Some varieties were consistently double flowered, and none had more than two flowers per node.

This would suggest that all the purple poddeds are FnFna, that the alternate flowering varieties are either Fnfna or fnFna. But what about the consistently double flowering varieties - are they multi flowered, and environmental stress has forced them back to double flowering, or is there something else going on here? Perhaps  either fn or fna is responsible for alternate doubling, and the other for the consistent double flowering?

For the record, one of the most consistent double flowerers was a Nepalese accession, simply labelled 'Salahi' (which I think is a transcription error for 'Sarlahi' but I'm letting it stand). The others were Swiss Giant, and Golden Podded. All my lines I'm assuming are homozygous - that is I'm assuming that these lines have been inbred for a long number of generations, which should result in homozygosity. So, my crosses between multiflower snowpeas (which should be fnFna or Fnfna) and purple poddeds (which should be FnFna) should yield heterozygous F1s in the recessive genes - they shouldn't be multiflowered.

[To spell it out in longhand, a multiflower homozygous pea should be fnfnFnaFna for example - or FnFnfnafna, but let's just go with the first example. The single flowered purples should be FnFnFnaFna. An F1 cross should yield FnfnFnaFna - no homozygosity at the important recessive fn locus. The same would hold for the othermultiflower gene or even in the case of double recessive fnfnfnafna - if I had it.]

So how come some of my F1s are multiflowered? One, Chamber of Death X PurplePodded (Lost Seed Co) has some alternate double flowers in the F1 - but my records suggest they are both single flowerers. This is a curious phenomenon. Stay tuned.

14 April 2012


I've been trying to grow saffron for about 10 years. I started with some small, 1 centimetre bulbs in a mesh pack that cost about $3 each from a domestic nursery. Not having any experience with them, I tried thm in a pot. They sprouted leaves, grew, and died back in spring, just like they were supposed to, but never a flower. I persisted for a few years, with only one flower. I came home from a trip, and Ms T remarked that 'that pot of saffron had this lovely purple flower on it, but it died off' - my only chance to harvest three saffron threads, gone.
I kept growing them, supplementing my stock with the occasional purchase when i saw them for sale, planing them, removing them every spring to store the bulbs, replanting every autumn, getting more daughter bulbs, but I never got any bigger than about 15mm across, and no more flowers. Then a couple of years ago I posted on the Ozgrow forum, and one member had a source for good saffron - he was amazed that i had been paying $3 a bulb - he could get them wholesale for $1 each. I ordered a hundred, and got these huge 3 cm diameter bulbs - fantastic. So last year I dedicated a whole bed in the vege garden, and picked maybe a dozen flowers - 36 saffron threads, a king's ransom! But even better, from my 90 big fat bulbs ( I gave 10 away) I harvested about 70 big bulbs, the same number of 2 cm bulbs, and several hundred daughter bulbs. I started dreaming of a saffron farm....

Digging them up every year is problematic. They have no chance to establish big productive clumps, so the chances of a useful harvest are slim. But where to put a permanent bed? Sunny spots in the backyard are at a premium, and the house shades some of the beds in winter. A thin curving bed beside the clothes line had nothing in it, and probably gets enough sun. Done!

Planting depth is also critical for saffron flower production - deep planting gives less daughters, but more flowers. Some of the suggested planting depths in the literature are daunting - 25 cm, for a 3 cm diameter bulb sounds excessive. But saffron climbs through the soil over several years - I think daughter bulbs are produced above the mother, so over the space of 4 or 5 years the bulbs can become much shallower, reducing the flower crop.

So I undertook a trial - the bulbs have been planted in consecutive short rows - 3cm bulbs, 2 cm bulbs, 1 cm bulbs, at 3 different depths in each row - 20cm, 15 cm, 10 cm. I planted on the 18th of March, and picked the first flowers this morning, 14th of April. It will be  interesting to see where the most blooms emerge.

You can see the filaments of saffron emerging from the flowers in these pictures. Now I need to figure out a way to dry them at optimum temperature. Recent research at the University of Tasmania indicates high humidity drying (?) at around 80C - 90C is optimum for preservation of flavours and aromas.

10 April 2012

Baby Tuberising TPS

Finally got some time yesterday to look at the seed tray my TPS were sown in, back on 3rd of March. About a week or 10 days after sowing,  I pricked out tiny seedlings from half the tray, about 20 or so, some into square tomato seedling pots, and some into some disposable cell trays. They were planted deep, only half filling the pot, leaving space to 'hill up' the plants, which is supposed to encourage tuberising.  This is important - to get these little plants through the winter is probably going to be a bit of a struggle, even in the greenhouse. The tubers can be stored until next spring, when i can plant them into the garden. It will also allow me to assess colours and form to some exent, prior to growout.
A quick look over the tray didn't reveal any stand out foliage differences - I was thinking that 'Pinkeye' might not have much diversity in the line. A more considered inspection did reveal differences in stem colour - some were green, some with a tinge of red at the base, and others with more substantial colouring up the stem.
The stem colour was not really apparent in the early ones I had pricked out. I haven't done a count, but it looks like the early germinators are mostly pale stemed. This might just be coincidence.

I was a bit surprised when i started excavating the seedling tray to find the plants tuberising. Some reports on potato forums suggest this can be a bit difficult to initiate. I was even more chuffed to find one tuber with colour.

Another point of interest was that some plants were stolonising - sending out above ground runners. Not having grown TPS seedlings before, I don't know if this is usual or not.

 Interestingly, the potted up seedlings seem not to have developed tubers. I only unpotted one plant to look, but couldn't see any tuberisation. Things are looking good for next spring.

06 April 2012

A Parsnip Project Post

As I posted before, Ms Templeton is partial to a roast parsnip. But my soil is hard, and not particulalry conducive to growing long root vegetables. With carrots, I can choose a short or rounded rooted variety, but in Australia, the number of parsnip varieties generally available amount to one - 'Hollow Crown'.
A bit of a search showed up a bit more variety - Eden Seeds (and a few others) does 'Cobham', my local nursery carries Vilmorin seeds, who sell 'de Guernesey", and the big box store had a couple of different varieties - 'Yatesnip' from (surprise surprise) Yates, and 'Gladiator F1' from Fothergills.
And I recently came across 'Melbourne Whiteskin' from Southern Harvest in Hobart. But no short, fat parsnips.

Some of the North American specialty seed catalogues carry a couple of promising lines, but few export to Australia (Pastinica sativa, parsnip seed is an allowed import in Oz). 'Kral' is a short fat Russian variety, and 'Halblange Weisse' another, presumably from Germany. A friend from Homegrown Goodness was kind enough to forward some 'Kral' from Heritage Harvest Seed in Canada and, after much delay, hoop jumping and a flurry of emails, I received Kral and Halblange Weisse from Adaptive Seeds. While these are still wedge-shaped, they have most of their mass in the shoulders of the root, so seem good candidates to start a search for short fat breeding stock. Ideally, I would have liked to get hold of 'Halfback' but I can't find a source (let me know if you know where I can get some).

Another problem arose. Parsnip seed is notoriously short-lived, and germination was patchy to say the least. (Three cheers to Sarah at Adaptive, who, when I reported no-show from their Kral, instantly took it down from their website until they had done a followup germination test. That's ethics!)
Growing out parsnip seed is going to be problematic. Parsnip seems to suffer from inbreeding depression - you need to let a couple of hundred plants cross to maintain vigour. Because of the short viability, you can't grow out half the seed one year, then grow out the the other half and mix the seed lots - the older lot won't contribute much genetic material to the population since it won't be viable. Add to that the biennial nature of parsnip (it grows roots one summer, then seeds the next) and this is turning into a fairly committing enterprise - lots of selection work, lots of gardenbed space, and lots of time.
I'm hoping to do a bit of seed increase to start off, so I've sown seed late in summer, hoping for enough root development to get them through winter and develop some flower heads late next spring. With a bit of luck, I might even have enough fresh seed to share.
I'm also thinking of letting a bit of crossing happen - get a bit of fresh material into the Kral and Halblange lines, so a bit of phenotypic variety gets going, and maybe some hybrid vigour.

While you are not supposed to transplant parsnip, but sow it in situ, due to forking and distortion of the roots, since I'm looking for a seed crop rather than pretty roots, I've sown into some plug trays in my greenhouse, just to make sure I get some plants - I didn't want to risk all my hard won seed to the vagiaries of my vege plot, where a single scorcher of a day could wipe out the whole population.

With autumn coming on and the days being less intense, I chanced the rest of the seed straight into the bed. Some damp hessian cloth over the bed, and attentive watering (thanks to Ms Templeton in my absence) has resulted in lots of little parsnip seedlings on the way.

05 April 2012

The Parsnip and Carrot Projects

Ms Templeton loves a roast parsnip. But I've never really had much luck with root vegetables in the vege garden. In part, this is because Bendigo, where I live has been in the grip of a decade-long drought, and the time for sowing carrot, parsnip and beetroot seed is spring. But this is when I've been devoting my limited water (Bendigo was under intense water restrictions, virtually banning any water use outside the house) to tomatoes and salads for summer consumption, rather than thinking about keeping root crops alive, and thriving, until late autumn.

Root crops present another couple of problems. The can be rather finnicky about germinating, and growing as seedlings in trays and transplanting them can result in misshapen and forked roots - not very attractive to Ms Templeton's delicate sensibilities. So they are best direct sown in the bed they are to grow in - the best advice is to sow them then cover the row with a wide plank, checking periodically for germination. One cunning correspondent then props up either end of the board on a brick, allowing the germinated ones to get light and grow, but also shading the row while the recalcitrant late germinaters appear. Did I mention that germination is patchy, and can extend over a few weeks?

A further complication is that checks to their growth can result in woody or intensely fibrous layers in the root. Not very toothsome on the plate.

And they like soft, yielding soil, not too heavily manured - heavy soil, or too much manure can result in forking or hairy roots. Bendigo's climate, and stony, skeletal sedimentary soils aren't therefore particularly suited to root crop horticulture.

But with a couple of La Nina years filling the tanks and lifting the water restrictions, and a newly vacant bed with lovely soil, I thought - why not have a go at breeding up some heavy soil root crops?

Short-rooted carrots are available - but only come in one colour - orange. On the few occasions I've had success with carrots, sneeking them into a corner of the seasons, I've grown 'Baby' variety. Nice, sweet carrot, but how come there aren't purple, yellow and white short rooted carrots? I already had some purple carrot seed from a few years ago, when i had some success with '3 Colours Purple', and there was a bag of home-collected seed in the door of the beer fridge. And a couple of carrots were going to seed in the asparagus patch - leftovers from a relatively unsuccessful crop a couple of years ago that had dropped some seed and few volunteers had come up, and been ignored.

And there was a grower at the local monthly farmers' market who sold purple, white and yellow long rooted carrots - I could just buy some, replant them, and grow them out for seed.

So, the plan is to sow coloured carrots, and short rooted carrots, let them cross, and then select for short rooted coloured carrots. Easy! (not).

Carrots suffer from inbreeding depression - collecting seed from just a couple of plants doesn't give sufficient genetic diversity, and after a few generations, the quality declines. So a big population of seeding plants is required. No single best plant, individual pollination here - it's mass selection time. This is going to require a bit of growing bed space.

And there is a second complication - some varieties for sale are F1 hybrids. So you ask, how does a seed company get F1 hybrids if they need lots of outcrossing between plants to maintain vigour? they can't go around individually pollinating flowers. Carrots are Umbelifereae - they have huge complex flowerheads, with tiny individual flowers - not the place for individual cross pollination, particullarly if you need to produce masses of seed for sale.

They use a genetic trait that is very useful for them, but nasty for the individual breeder - male sterility (thanks to Joseph over at Homegrown Goodness for this info). Some lines of carrots (and other commercial crops) carry a gene for male sterility - they don't producce pollen. So to get an F1 hybrid, plant lots of male sterile seed next to another variety that produces pollen, and any seed from the male sterile plants will be hybrid - it can't have pollinated itself, since it doesn't produce pollen. Why is this bad for the ameteur breeder? Because the male sterility is confered on the offspring. So unless you want a pollen sterile line, best not to incorporate these into your germplasm.

Pity I didn't realise this before I sowed seed - but not to worry, I'll just eat those ones.
So my seed sowing is
3 Colours Purple - for purple
Chantenay - for short stumpy roots
Baby  - ditto
French Round - for golf ball shape

and my mistakes -
 Harlequin F1 multicolour (which might not be male sterile)
Purple Haze F1 purple over orange centre - which i guess is male sterile.

I've also got some heritage varieties as replacement, 'Belgian White' and 'Lobbericher'- these will probably go in this weekend.

Parsnips need their own post...

04 April 2012

A totally off the point post - Plains Wanderer sighting

At a property west of Kerang, spotted this Plains Wanderer out spotlighting on the native grasslands between the Avoca River and Back Creek video

02 April 2012

Progress on the TPS

Been offsite for 5 days, and can't believe the growth the TPS have put on. Must be the mild autumn weather.