Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Breeding New Micro Tomatoes

A while ago a very generous person gave me some seeds from a miniature dwarf variety of tomato called Micro Tom.  I am very fond of this variety and am slowly building up numbers of seeds and distributing them to other growers.  This variety carries several miniaturising genes which mean that it only grows a tiny plant less than 10cm tall, this tiny plant can produce a small number of cherry tomatoes.  These cherry tomatoes taste ok and I believe the plants are meant to carry some genes for resistance of various diseases.

Breeding vegetables is enjoyable, but too often progress is slow due to only being able to grow one generation per year.  Creating a new variety of tomato often takes 5 to 10 years or more!  Breeding micro tomatoes can be a lot faster.

In any breeding endeavor the lack of space is always an issue.  After selling the property I no longer have the luxury of space which makes the problem worse.  This has started me thinking a lot more seriously about breeding a few new types of micro tomato by using Micro Tom or another micro tomato as one of the parents.  While I am trying to build up numbers of Micro Tom seeds and distribute them I am also using a small number in breeding projects.
Micro Tom tomato

Micro Tom Tomatoes are good, but they could be better
Micro tomatoes have very short life cycles so several generations can be grown per year.  They are often used in studies as a model organism due to their short life cycle.  From planting the seed to harvesting the fruit and planting that seed takes a little over 3 months.  I can potentially grow 3 to 4 generations a year, this means creating a new variety can take as little as 2 years (but probably a bit more than that).

Micro tomatoes take up a small fraction of the space of a regular tomato which allows for more plants to be grown in a small space.  Growing more plants means faster progress.  Space is always limiting when breeding new vegetables, even if I had acres of greenhouse space I could always use more to create more varieties a lot faster.

People overseas are breeding many new types of micro tomatoes, unfortunately we have no access to them in Australia as importing tomato seed legally is expensive and difficult.  To that end, if we are to have better micro tomatoes then someone in Australia will need to breed them.
Micro Tomatoes

Someone should breed better micro tomatoes
Micro tom, while cute as a button, is not the tastiest tomato in the world.  It is not bad, but it is not great either.  Someone should breed a tastier micro tomato in Australia.

Micro tom, while reasonably productive, could be a lot more productive.  Even though it takes up such little space it would be nice if it were more productive.  Even though it grows and crops well in a small cup of soil I still think the more productive the better.  Someone should breed more productive micro tomatoes in Australia.

Micro Tom grows cute red round tomatoes.  While this is lovely it would be nice to have more variety, apparently there is a small range of various colours and shapes of micro tomato fruit overseas.  Someone should breed several shapes/colours of micro tomatoes in Australia.

Micro Tom can and will grow at any time of year if protected from frost and many people overseas grow them indoors over winter.  Unfortunately if the temperature is too low it can not pollinate properly and can not produce fruit.  While this is only an issue in a small number of places that get cold enough for this to happen it is still an issue.  Someone in Australia should breed micro tomatoes that are more productive in colder temperatures.
One truss with lots of flowers, this would be a good cross for Micro Tom

Some micro tomato breeding ideas
Here are some of my micro tomato breeding ideas.  I have started some of these projects and am several generations through them with plans of releasing some of them soon, others I do not even have the other parent to make the first cross.

Different shaped micro tomato, everyone seems to love roma shaped tomatoes for some reason, so I have started to make a micro roma tomato.  It looks good and tasted great, it is not as productive as it should be but that can be fixed.  When it is more stable and perhaps a bit more productive I may try to sell the seeds through my for sale page.
Micro Roma tomato - the best tasting micro tomato so far
Multiflora tomatoes produce hundreds of flowers per truss, it would be great to have a multiflora micro tomato.  This will increase the productivity vastly making micro tomatoes more than an edible novelty and convince more people to grow them.  This is proving more difficult as the low percentage of leaf area of the micro tomatoes makes creating a tasty multiflora micro tomato a bit of a challenge.  I don't just want a productive micro tomato, I want it to taste good too.  It will happen, it will just take a little longer.
Finding the balance between lots of fruit and tiny plant, this micro tomato is under 9cm tall
Different coloured micro tomatoes are fun and pretty.  While getting the colours in is easy, getting a better tasting coloured micro tomato is the tricky part.  There is little point having an amazing looking micro tomato that does not taste great.  Green when ripe tomatoes tend to taste the best but people tend to shy away from them so I may concentrate on other colours to begin with.  Yellow, tangerine or stripey are always favourites, black (muddy brown) and high anthoycyanin lines are also options.  I dare say I will produce a few different things over the next few years.

Having tomatoes in the midst of winter is great.  Cold weather can prevent pollination in tomatoes.  I would love to one day grow a parthenocarpic micro tomato that can set fruit in cooler weather if protected from frost.  The genes here are a little tricky to work with and I don't have any parthenocarpic tomato varieties to use as parent stock so I have not yet started this project.

Breeding tastier micro tomatoes is interesting as growing conditions play a part in taste.  Different people have different ideas of good tasting tomatoes.  Taste is always going to be one of the traits I want in micro tomatoes.

Breeding new micro tomatoes would be simple and fast if we had access to many types of micro tomatoes with a wide array of genes, but in Australia we don't have access to many at all.  Things go a lot faster if the other parent is a dwarf tomato, but there are so few dwarf tomatoes in Australia that sometimes a regular tomato has to be used.  Luckily it is pretty obvious early on as to which seedlings are micro tomatoes and which are not so culls can be made while the plants are tiny seedlings.


Where to get micro tomatoes
When I have stabilised a few good lines I plan to name them and sell their seeds.  I will most likely list them on my for sale page when they are ready.  This probably won't be for a while yet as I do not have a garden or yard at the moment so progress is slow as everything is growing in pots and most of my seeds are stored away for the moment.

Micro Tomato Seedlings and regular tomato seedlings, it is simple enough to tell which are which

4 comments:

  1. Good luck with your breeding projects, you've some interesting ideas for lines of micros. It's great to find another fan of mini tomatoes, I've a few different micro varieties in progress too!

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  2. Hi Jay,

    My breeding projects have stalled for now as I am in the process of moving. I should be ready for spring though. Where are you located? If you are in Australia I may be able to send you some seeds.

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  3. For a few reasons I didn't have much of a growing season last year with the mini toms, but looking forward to seeing the growouts this year. So I hope the move goes well and you get back to tomato growing real soon. Thanks for your kind offer but I'm in the UK. If you're interested while you are in growing limbo, I've got some of the mini varieties I'm working on in my tomato blog or you might be interested in some of them in the posts with micro type tomatoes here https://www.growingfoodsavingseeds.co.uk/.

    Cheers Damo

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  4. I had a look at your blogs - Wow. Your micro blue tomato plant is one of the prettiest tomato plants I have seen. Did you breed that one? https://mostlytomatomania.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/micro-blue.html

    Feel free to click on the 'contact form' on the right hand side of the page, it will send me an email.

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