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Some of Tom Wagners varities of potato
Copyright Anja Egeriis anja.egeriis@gmail.com

Tom Wagner from USA gave a workshop at the organic farm Hegnstrup outside Copenhagen in Denmark.

Tom shared his lifelong fascination in potatoes and tomatoes (tater & mater). For 56 years he has been crossing and selecting on potatoes and tomatoes, and he still has many ideas to improve varieties. Tom is best known for his tomato Green Zebra.

Tom Wagner explains what to watch out for in a tomato flower for breeding
Copyright Anja Egeriis anja.egeriis@gmail.com

It is a pleasure to dive deep in to details with such an experienced breeder as Tom. He showed us how the first flower in a cluster often have a deformed style. The shape makes it more sensitive to later insect pollination, at a point we would think we had control of the pollination. He also recommended looking at the little scar in the flower end of the ripe tomato. Is it a tiny spot, the style was well shaped, a larger irregular brown scar suggest the style was deformed, with an increased risk of unintended crossing.

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Tom gently tear off the anthers of the tomato flower
Copyright Anja Egeriis anja.egeriis@gmail.com

Tom gently tear off the anthers of a tomato flower. Then he knock it over his thumb nail to release any pollen, to learn if there is any ripe pollen. There was none, meaning this flower can be crossed. He already had noticed the green shine in the yellow anthers, suggesting they were not releasing pollen yet.

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Tom pollinate a tomato flower
Copyright Anja Egeriis anja.egeriis@gmail.com

Then he pick a well developed flower of an other tomato variety, knock it gently over a brown clay tray and we can all see the pollen collected on the tray. With the tip of a brush he transfer the pollen from the tray to the stigma. Then he removes the petals, so insects will not be attracted, and add a tag to remember what he did to the flower (later tomato). Last he pick the older flowers, not letting them take any energy from his pollinated flower.

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We gather closely to see every detail
Copyright Anja Egeriis anja.egeriis@gmail.com

Tom Wagner thinks in combining good genes. For both potato and tomato this include resistance to late blight. He also want hairy plants, as insect find the plant fur unattractive. In this way both insect damage and insect transfer of disease by their bites are reduced.

He has developed potato varieties that can stay in ground all winter for eating or replanting in April, without any sprouting. They do need a mulch in case of severe frost.

He has also develop a potato I think of as a CO2-reduced potato. It is tasty, yellow fleshed and only take a 5 minute boil before eating. A 75% reduction of CO2 in the boiling process.

For the tiny garden he developed a series of potatoes with huge flamboyant flowers, the photos made me think of Dahlias, with more usefull tubers.

As Tom has no land of his own, he is totally dependent of others cooperating with him. Tom sends out a lot of not yet stabilised hybrids to others, for them to select on according to his guidance for some generations. He find that they usually stabilise in the 5th. or 6th. generation.

One of Toms interesting techniques is the preselection. He has gained the capacity to read the phenotype already at the seedling stage, allowing him to sort out most of the unattractive seedlings before transplant. This saves a lot of space in the gardens. In the shape of the young leaves he read the shape of the tubers to come later, round or elongated. When he wish a potato resistant to late frosts, he look for seedlings that will be first in afternoon to gather their leaves on top of the growing tip, thus protecting it from frost. These techniques show how deep he understand these crops.

At transplant of potato seedlings, it is very important to bury 1 or 2 of the normal leaves in the ground, otherwise you won’t get a proper tuber production.

Tom believe we ordinary people should take responsibility to maintain and improve the heritage form our ancestors. He believe we should do the F1 hybrids bottom up (by ourselves), and share them generously, keeping hybrids fertile in future generations and maintain the inherited gene pool. We can afford the longterm investment, whereas the few remaining multinational seed companies breed for the next ten years only, and for shareholders that’s a very long perspective compared to the normal 5 year perspective.

To ease our work on potatoes, he also breed to improve fruit setting in potatoes. Most modern potatoes set no fruits at all. To grow new and better varieties we need the seeds!

Ps. At Bifurcated Carrots you can read the plan for Tom Wagners tour in Europe

Typical sweet peppers from 12 plants of 2. generation from a cross

This year I have grown 13 plants of my unintended pepper cross. One plant quickly got diseased after transplant, lots of brown spot on the leaves, that soon dropped to the ground. I discarded this plant late, to ensure a heavy disease pressure on the other plants, to reveal any others with the same tendency. No other plants was infected, except for a few minor spots of no importance.

Plant #2 also has problems showing now late in the season. All the small unripe fruits are rotting away. No other plants are affected. I will not continue this breeding line !

I transplanted in a row, according to the development of the plants at transplant. First plant was also first to get ripe red peppers. But for the rest there seems to be no connection between development at transplant and days to harvest. Plants # 5 and 6 didn’t even make a single ripe pepper. Plant # 11 as a contrast have given a rich harvest, and still have a lot of green peppers to harvest before first frost within the next two weeks.

It started as a secret love affair between german ‘Roter Augsburger’ and croatian ‘Zlatni Medal’, who in summer 2007 stood close, rubbing their flowers in the summer wind. Next year it showed up in the row of ‘Roter Augsburg’, where a single plant look in between the parents. It can be seen in a post from last year.

As ‘Roter Augsburger’ and ‘Zlatni Medal’ are very early varieties, suitable for open ground in Denmark, I understood this could become a happy ending love affair, if given some attention in the next years, until one or more varieties has become true breeding.

Several plants with chocolate colored fruits was a surprise, as granny is red and grandpa is orange red (not easily distinguished in my photos). They look like ‘Sweet Chocolate’ in color, I might grow that for comparison.

Eggplant (Solanum melongena) in open ground, ready for seed harvest

Today I noticed, that the first set eggplant in open ground was dry and wrinkled. Half dehydrated, half rotten, and it has happened in a few days. Luckily this means the seeds are mature and ready for harvest. Honestly, the plant is small, as the fruit was also small, but extremely early to be ready for picking for the kitchen.

Same fruit 17 juli

Same fruit 10 juli

This F2 generation has a great variability. I would definitely like to grow larger aubergines in my garden. Fortunately there are many plants with larger fruits, although not as early. Before I have created a stabile variety I must expect selecting for the best over a decade. Many a lousy eggplant can be expected to show up in my garden under those years. But the process is exciting, making it all worthwhile.

This size eggplants is what I dream about. I succeeded with this plant, but can I harvest mature seeds from it? Can I then stabilize the type, harvesting large eggplant from open ground year after year?

Fourth melon in 2008

Today I harvested 4 melons in one day. Two complete ripe, two had slippe from the plant, but still ned a day or two to reach perfect ripeness.

The fourth melon is typical for the larger (still small) outdoor melons, weight 262 gram. Surface nettet, flesh orange, sweet and aromatic. Excellent size for two persons.

Fifth melon in 2008

The fifth melon is suitable for a single person. Weight 130 gram, nettet surface, flesh orange, sweet and aromatic. Most of the seeds have not developed, but there are a few that looks excellent.

I clean the seeds in a glas of water overnight, a tiny pinch of enzyme washing powder added. Next day the good seeds have sunk to the bottom, and the floating bad seeds and debris can be discarded. After a last washing in a strainer, they dry on a little plate.

Melon Cucumis melo Farthest North Melon Mix

Yesterday, when admiring all the developing melons, I noticed the oldest had detached from its stem. I dare say it comes off easy when ripe. It smells wonderfull, but I will not eat it yet. Most important is to ensure good seeds for next year. If I leave it to ripen even further, there’s a chance the seeds will grow stronger and collect energy for the next seasons fight for life.

It is early, a month earlier than first melon last year. Weather has been warm and sunny, contrary to last years rainy cold summer. Black plastic mulch probably helped too.

I’m excited to read Meretes blog (in danish, but lots of great pictures) Vild med have, when she will harvest the first melon – can’t be long, as she’s an experienced gardener. She grow the same melon mix – we intend to stabilise a new hardy early variety for our northern gardens. To do that, it’s imperative to harvest vigorous seeds, even at the expense of enjoying the first and best melon in the process.

Dried pea seeds of Golden Sweet

After five purple pea seeds found in a single pod last year, I only had a single pod full of purple seeds. That pod was attacked by pea moth, I could only rescue a single seed. Plants were very true to type.

Preliminary conclusion is that the purple trait in this color variation in Golden Sweet probably depends on environmental factors.

I probably can’t resist sowing the last purple seeded Golden Sweet next spring, just to see what happens. I don’t expect to find any purple seeds in that future batch, but who can tell without trying it out themselves?

Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ Vicia faba

‘Crimson Flowered’ is a very old heirloom. Red more about it at Daughter of the Soil.

This season I have planted a single seed of the variety ‘Crimson Flowered’ into my breeding project for purple seeded fava. Crimson Flowered has iridiscent green seeds. I want to combine the beautiful red flower with the purple seeds of my breeding project. It’s up to the bumblebees to do the pollination, the are better at it than I.

Next year I expect a few plants with flowers of a muddy color. That will be the plants resulting from crosses between Crimson Flowered and my purple seeded material. I will be exited to see how many (if any) red flowers that will show in two years, and if any of them will have purple seeds?

Melon transplanted

Today I have transplanted the melons. We are past 5. june, past the risk of frosts at night. It is Farthest Norht Melon Mix, same as I tried last year. I transplanted 31 melonplants to get a great variation to intercross freely by insects and recombine in new combinations.
My job will be to take care of their need for water, and certainly to inspect them regularly and note which plants give the first, best, largest melon on healthy plants – am I an optimist? Ohh yeah, and I did get away with it last year.

One of the melon beds

To get room for so many melonplants I have spaced them closely, 20-30cm (less than a foot). They didn’t grow very large last year, so I guess it will be room enough for them. But I still had to prepare an extra bed for some of the melons between the flowers in the front garden.
I have thoughts about using plastic covering, but I believe it’s needed to give the extra warmth that could make a better seed quality for next generation. The plastic looks ugly, but I comfort my self with the thought of the leaves soon covering it.

Roottrainer with dwarf selection of purple seeded fava bean. Each row contains 4 plants from one unique motherplant

This year I decided it was time to separate dwarf plant from tall plants. To have the dwarf plants flower before the tall plants, I decided to start them in a roottrainer. I never tried a roottrainer before, but it is supposedly supporting better root development. I thought that big seeds would favor a special treatment. Ordinary trays probably would retard the root growth. Only one seed out of 28 didn’t sprout.

Dwarf selection of purple seeded fava bean. Each pot/box contains plants from a single motherplant.

Today I have transplanted to pots or boxes. Some plants are taller than others. Maybe the tall plants are tall because they were first to sprout, or maybe they are not dwarf, and thus shall not be allowed to set seeds or pollinate other plants. I will just wait and see how tall they grow. As long as I’m in doubt, I will remove any flowerbuds, and if they grow tall I can remove them completely.


Now I have found pictures from 2006 and added them in the post:

Purple Fava Bean, one of my breeding projects