Breed Your Seed

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you know all about my tomato situation. (If you are a new DIYeter, here is the crux of it ) Mr. Food It Yourself and I decided that this is a perfect opportunity to try to develop our own tomato variety. A somewhat daunting task, to be sure. Thankfully, there is a plethora of useful information about the plant breeding process on the internet. Here are just a few of the resources I found:

UK plant and seed company Thompson&Morgan actually has a £500 bounty on new varieties. Their page regarding this prize begins with a pick list of possible characteristics to select for breeding into a new variety.  I know my tomato weed seeds have the ability to survive in the ground through seriously bad New England winters, that selection has already been made. However, I have honestly not given much thought to other characteristics I would like to see. Tastiness is a must-if a tomato is not tasty I argue it is no tomato at all. I really like the shape of the Pink Accordion tomatoes which parented my tomato weeds, so might select for that, too.

Not such a good picture, but I assure you this is a bunch of tomato volunteers hanging out with a bean plant

Not such a good picture, but I assure you this is a bunch of tomato volunteers hanging out with a bean plant.

Jack Row’s Seed Saver’s Handbook (which is free!) offers an easy-to understand guide to the science of plant breeding. Also, it offers this important reminder: do not narrow the genetics of the new variety too far. A certain level of genetic variability is required for the ultimate variety to withstand changes in the environment. I other words- we don’t want a tomato that will only grow well in the Food It Yourself garden after really rotten winters. Given the number of tomato weeds we have I feel confident that we have adequate genetics to create a variety that will thrive in many places.

Illinois University College of Agricultural Consumer and Environmental Sciences has a really great article that details how to control which plants cross breed. I bookmarked this sight. I will definitely need it. Also, I’ll need to save the seeds from our amazing and unique tomatoes. Seed Saver’s Exchange has instructions for saving seeds from all kinds of plants.

This stout fellow popped up in an area which has received no fertilizer or irrigation this year. In fact, he's thriving amongst some serious weeds. If the fruit is good we may have a winner with this guy!

This stout fellow popped up in an area which has received no fertilizer or irrigation this year. In fact, he’s thriving amongst some serious weeds. If the fruit is good we may have a winner with this guy!

Right now, we are still playing a waiting game. If I get some super tasty, ruffled fruit from one or another of our volunteer plants we may start isolation and hand pollination this year. We might give it another year or two of open crossing, just to see what we get. Even after that, it may take five or six years of selective crossing to get a “true” seeding variety- one that always yields the tomatoes we expect.

If we want to market our new variety the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has a Plant Variety Protection Office where we can file for intellectual property rights on the name and characteristics of our new tomato. Given how expensive the process is I think we’ll probably skip this step. However…what’s the exchange rate to U.S. dollars on £500?

So if you get a particularly tender string bean or extraordinarily sweet melon this year consider saving a few seeds from that plant and propagating it next year. You may have your very own variety. Give it a try! I know we’re going to.

Oh look- a random potato! I think it's a potato. This may turn into a serious hobby.

Oh look- a random potato! I think it’s a potato. This may turn into a serious hobby.