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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

Virovskij Skorospelij (red) and Katja (pink)

I used to be unsecure if there were any other difference than color between the tomato varieties Virovskij Skorospelij and Katja. The are quite similar, just as early and vital. Katja jump started at sprouting, then they followed each other closely, until Virovskij Skorospelij flowered almost a week ahead of Katja. Today they ended up ripening on the same day. Virovskij Skorospelij might have slightly smaller tomatoes than Katja, but I´m not sure just from these first two tomatoes.
By the way, they are both russian heirlooms. Virovskij Skorospelij means The early from Virovsk, Katja is named after the elderly woman who still grow it in her Datcha on the shore of Lake Bajkal in Sibiria. You can almost catch a glimpse of it from the transsibirian railway.

Tomato ‘Whippersnapper’ Lycopersicon lycopersicum

Whippersnapper is a little sprinter. I keep it in a pot outsiden, and still it ripens before the tomatoes in the greenhouse. It’s a small bushtomato, no trimming of sideshoots, just let it grow, over the edge of the pot, or support it with some twigs. I allways grow 3-9 plants in the same pot, close together, to let them grow as one compact bush. Tomatoes are pinkish red, taste wonderfull in warm weather, rather dull in cold grey weather. It gives a huge harvest over a short period. It’s a great season starter.

Flower of potato-leaved tomato Lycopersicon esculentum “Fleischtomate, kartoffelblättrige, Tiefgefurchte“, a german heirloom

Now my tomatoes are in flower, and I have taken some photos of the flowers. Note the stigma protruding from the anther “barrel”, seriosly increasing the risk of having a cross with another tomato variety. Often it will fertilize itself, by dust dropping from the anthers to the stigma – just remember the risk/chance.

Flower of tomato with normal leaves Lycopersicon esculentum “Svoi“, a russian family heirloom

In the ordinary leaved tomato flower, the stigma is not long enough to reach out of the “barrel” of anthers. Insects rarely interfere with the stigma thus set in its private little “dusting chamber”.

Potato-leaved tomato I

Tiny tomato plants

Tomatoes outgrew the youghurt beakers. Now I’ve pottet the up in plastic pots in an ordinary plantbag mixture. I’ve placed them in a box, to be able to move them in a hurry. As days in the greenhouse gets warmer, they will spend daytime out there. In around 14 days the need repotting again. For that I keep small black polythene bags (dog owners know them). The bags are flexible, allowing the tomatoes to stay together in the box a little longer.

I have already written a bit about my potato-leaved tomato. It still looks like a potato plant, look for yourself. It has a lovely smell of tomato.

Tomatoleaves, ordinary and potato-leaved

Tomato (seedling)Lycopersicon esculentum “Fleischtomate, kartoffelblättrige, Tiefgefurchte” german heirloom

Sometimes a tomato variety is labeled “potato-leaved”. A first it sounds a bit weird, but as soom as you see the leaves you get used to the expression. Tomato and potato are relatives belonging to the nightshades, and share the disease late blight. Keep them well apart in the garden, as the potatoes are likely to infect the tomatoes (as far as I know not the opposite direction).
One might think potato-leaved tomato is a result of genetic engineering, but in fact its a pure tomato of a rather primitive type as seen in the flowers. The stigma protrudes from the anther “barrel”, seriosly increasing the risk of having a cross with another tomato variety. Look out for signs of a cross in new generations. If I find signs of a cross, I look into my seedbox and find seeds two or more generations older. These old seeds are before the cross happened, and this is a reason to keep your old seeds for many years. Tomato seeds are very longlasting in the seedbox. On the other hand, taking seeds from plants showing signs of crossing is a new variety in making.

Seedlings with normal leafs to compare:

Red beef tomato (seedling)Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Virovskij Skorospelij’

Black cherry tomato (seedling)Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Black Cherry’

Shelling the first dry peas

Today I’ve been shelling the first drying peas.
It’s an old variety for heavy clay soils, Lollandske Rosiner. Hundred years ago it was a
staple food for the working class. It is a field pea, to be sown in very early spring.
It is boiled in soups, where it after two hours of boiling look like a raisin, and very nutricious.

I grow it, because it must survive to the day a multimedia gourmet taste it and make it famous around the world. Since it is very early, it’s also nice to eat fresh.
I have a dream of growing it intermingled with oath, as I remember this kind of fields from my childhood.
Because Lollandske Rosiner is so early, it didn’t get affected by the larvae of pea moth.