Saturday, 1 October 2016

First Tomato variety

When I was a child I started to grow vegetables and save their seeds.  I had no one to teach me, or at least everything I was told back then was wrong, I had no resource books, and as far as I knew the internet did not exist.  Saving seeds was far cheaper than buying seedlings which is why I started to do it.  Saving seed is also very simple, if a child with no help can work out how to save seeds it can't be that tricky.

Many vegetables that I had access to were not suited to my climate.  Some such as the 'Apollo' tomato were utter garbage and I am yet to grow a worse tomato.  For some reason back then apollo was one of the very few tomato seedlings that was available to buy.  I don't believe that anywhere sells it anymore, they now have 'apollo improved' which I have no intention of ever growing.

I always applied selective pressure on any seeds I saved, when I was about 10 or 11 I began to dabble in vegetable breeding as I needed shorter season, higher yielding plants.  I could not afford to buy plants and have them killed by frost before providing a good crop.  Let's face it, I could not do any worse than apollo.

I only had a rudimentary grasp on genetics and I did not know of anyone who had ever done such a thing as breed vegetables.  Even though I had limited access to a very small and largely unknown gene pool I found it all very interesting. 

As I had never heard of anyone breeding new varieties of vegetables I assumed that I had either invented the entire concept or it was something the ancestors did but the knowledge of such was long since gone.  This was my gift to the world.  You may thank me for it.  

I took notes in a small note book which I kept for a few years, as I thought that this was cutting edge stuff I tried to keep good records but being a child and not knowing a great deal about genetics they were most likely garbage. That book also had notes I took on grafting various plants as well as different types of cuttings I was taking from carnivorous plants.  I was self taught and wanted notes to be able to share this knowledge with others.  Due to rats or water damage or whatever that book is long gone, it is no great loss.

In those early years I made an F1 tomato cross (from parent plants that I don't remember and may or may not have been un-named) that resulted in a reasonably small productive plant.  I can't remember if it was a dwarf or full sized plant but I do remember it being comparatively compact.  The plant gave an amazingly high yield of small sized tomatoes.  The plant cropped like crazy and I distinctly remember that I picked its last fruit the afternoon before our first frost.  The timing was a coincidence, but I thought the plant had timed this deliberately, and I was very grateful.  I had an extremely short season back then and this was the first to fruit and it fruited all season.  I saved its seeds as a way to thank that plant for feeding us so well. 

The next year I planted out the F2 seeds and some were great and others less so.  I didn't understand back then that the genes were segregating but it made sense that they were different from each other.  Back then, aged 11 or so, I did not know much about genetics but had the common sense to only save seed from the best plant.  I only saved seed from one plant to thank it for feeding us.  From memory it was the first to fruit and was much like the parent tomato plant, but I may be thinking of a later year in this little breeding project. 

For a few years, I can't remember how many, I saved seed from the best tomato plant to thank it for feeding us.  In doing so I developed and stabilised my very first tomato variety. 

As the summer was so short I was focused on early crops.  I started several different lines, I can't remember if they were originally from different crosses or not as it has been too long.  I don't think many kids back then would have created their own variety of anything by themselves. 

As the years went on I sometimes watched a tv show called Gardening Australia and the old bloke on the show explained about fermenting tomato seeds.  He seemed to know his stuff, and it was the closest thing I had to advice, so that is what I started to do with my tomato seeds from then on.

When I was finishing my year 12 exams I remember saving seeds from the tomatoes that I had created for the very last time.  I fermented the seeds, as I had learned to do from watching Gardening Australia, and when they were dry I carefully wrapped them in a small plastic sandwich/freezer bag and placed them in a jar with the rest of my seeds.  I then went to University and left all the seeds behind.

Recently I wanted to experiment with germinating old seeds so asked my mother if she still had any old seeds.  She posted me what remained of my little seed collection plus a few other old packets of seed.  There are seeds in there aged from about 20 to 35 years old which is perfect for the experiments I want to do.  When I opened the package and looked through the old and super-old seeds I was happy to see that there are quite a lot of seeds for me to experiment with.  Most of which are from reasonably common varieties which means I can experiment and not worry too much if any method is not successful. Some were incredibly rare but I have managed to germinate them and hope to grow them out and save their seeds.

As I rummaged through the seeds I found little plastic sandwich/freezer bags with some tomato seeds.  They each had a little note that Past Damo wrote.  They are the seeds of the first ever tomato varieties that I bred.  I thought that they were gone forever.

The seeds are 20 or so years old now and have been stored in less than ideal conditions, many seeds would be dead, but some are amazingly still alive.  I have planted some of the seeds and a few of them have germinated! Some are weak and die early but some are strong enough to be growing their first true leaves.

I find it very exciting.  I also find it nerve wracking as I don't want to kill them.  Perhaps these old varieties will be garbage, perhaps they will be great, regardless it will be fun to grow them at least one more time.  If any of them are any good I plan to name them after my children and save their seeds. If I do this I may sell them on my for sale page.

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