Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Tomato - "Angora 82"

I have been looking for angora leaf tomato seeds for sale in Australia.  Some very knowledgeable people tell me there are no angora leaf tomatoes in Australia.  That seems odd to me, as there used to be at least one angora tomato in Australia many years ago.  I used to grow it. 

After talking to some tomato breeders and dedicated seed savers it appeared that sadly the angora gene had possibly been lost from Australia.
Angora 82 leaf and fruit
Angora 82
Recently I have been given some very old seeds.  Some were from my old garden and are the left over seeds that I saved (and some that I bred, others that I kept pure) when I was a child.  Others were given to me from a friend whose gardening father recently passed and contained a rather eclectic mix of seeds that he collected from all over the world and grew/preserved over the course of his life.  They are all very old seeds, some germinated, others sadly did not, some are named, others were not, some are named but I can't read the writing.  While rummaging through these seeds I happened across some tomato seeds labelled "Angora 82".
Angora 82 leaves
Excitedly I planted almost all of the seeds in the hope that this would be a tomato with the the fabled lost angora leaf gene.  If it was, I not only planned to bring this variety back, I also wanted to use it in breeding new angora leaf tomato varieties.

Angora tomato leaves are covered in hairs.  Sometimes they have more and denser hairs than normal, sometimes they have longer hairs, sometimes the individual hairs are branched.  The exact angora phenotype depends on which gene is responsible.

Angora 82, in the right light it shines
Genes responsible for Angora tomatoes
There are four different genes that could cause angora leaf in tomatoes.Two are homozygous lethal, meaning that if a seed carries two copies of the angora gene it will die.  Planting seeds of these will always result in a percentage of plants without angora leaf.  The non-angora leaf plants do not carry the angora gene.

The other two genes are both homozygous viable, meaning that if a seed carries two copies of the angora gene then it does not die.  It also means that it is difficult to know if the tomato only carries one copy of the angora gene.
Angora 82 flower truss - pretty productive
Angora 82 tomato
I have no idea which gene is responsible in this case.  I have only grown a small number of seeds, but all of them have exhibited angora foliage, so I am assuming it is one of the homozygous viable genes.  This is good and bad.  It is good because it means that if seeds are saved they will not always have a percentage of non-angora leaf.  It is bad as it means breeding this trait into a new variety is a bit slower.

I don't know why this is called 'angora 82'.  Is this the same variety as "angora super sweet" and/or "velvet red"?  My guess is probably not, but it might be.  It isn't always possible to tell that Angora 82 is angora leaf unless it is in the right light.

Given the right light the leaves shimmer and look a little silver, but most of the time they look similar to any other tomato leaf.  It would be nice if the leaf hairs were longer so it looked a but nicer.  Sometimes I wonder why they called this Angora because the leaf looks so similar to a regular tomato leaf, it certainly isn't anywhere near as fuzzy as the angora leaf tomatoes I used to grow.  When using a hand lense it is simple to see that it has far more leaf hairs than my other tomatoes.

What are the advantages of 'Angora 82' tomatoes
This plant grew rather well through the cooler part of spring while all my other tomatoes just sat there refusing to grow.  It was the first tomato to fruit in my garden, which was rather impressive.  This may be because the leaf experienced less abrupt changes in temperature or humidity due to the density of leaf hairs, or it may have nothing to do with that.

Each truss had around 20 flowers and most of them set fruit.  It was a determinate plants, which I am not overly fond of, but it produced a large yield. due to the large number of flowers per truss and the decent number of trusses per plant.

The tomatoes were small, but had a nice tomato taste, they were also pretty sweet.  Fruit on the same truss on the same plant showed a little diversity in shape, some were round, some were round with a point on the end.

Angora 82 fruit
Where to get seed for Angora 82 tomatoes
I will probably sell seed through my for sale page.  I have bagged the flowers but a small amount of crossing may be possible as we are swamped  by Rutherglen bugs each summer and they are small enough to get into the bags.  Considering how infrequently tomatoes cross this should not be a huge problem.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Hangjiao #5 space chilli Helix Nebula in Australia

There are currently ten varieties of chillies that were developed through Chinese space mutation breeding, this year I was offered seeds of several of them and grew Hangjiao #5 space chilli Helix Nebula.  The history of space vegetable breeding is relatively long, interesting and filled with propaganda and deliberate misinformation.  I certainly don’t know all the details.

There are many reports of all seeds that are sent to space returning to grow huge plants with unimaginable yields that are incredibly nutrient dense.  There are even some photo shopped images of vegetable plants that are absolutely covered in massive fruits.  Unfortunately this is largely propaganda designed to be enticing and build excitement over this field of research, but the reality of space mutation breeding is slightly different.

The reality is that the Chinese government has been doing space breeding since the late 1980’s and they love it.  In Northwest China's Gansu province, "space peppers" account for more than half of the local capsicum market.  Chinese fields are planted with 405,000 hectares of rice fields with space seeds and 8,100 hectares of space vegetables.  So the Chinese have a reasonably long history with space breeding and have dedicated a large amount of land and resources to it.  More recently America and a few other countries have started to dabble in space breeding.  They have dedicated huge amounts of money to space mutation breeding, various NASA press releases and web pages make rather impressive claims, but their results have been less than impressive to date and I am not aware of any space vegetables that anyone other than the Chinese Government have bred and released that is in any way noteworthy.

The Chinese government have been working at space breeding for so long, and they have sent hundreds of kilograms of seeds into space (consisting of many millions of individual seeds), and around 12% of seeds sent to space in satellites manifest mutations of some kind, and in China there appears to be no consumer reluctance to space vegetables, and even though China has sent seeds of more than 400 plant species (and countless varieties) to space, only around 66 varieties of space vegetables (10 of which are chilli) or space rice or space flowers have ever been stabilised and kept. 
My Hangjiao #5 Helix Nebula Space Chillies

Space Chillies
Ten varieties of space chillies exist at the moment.  All of the other countless millions of mutated plants were not desirable and the lines were grown out, assessed, and subsequently disposed of.  They were not named and sold to gardeners as space curiosities, they were disposed of because they were simply not worth keeping.

This indicates that each of the 10 varieties of space chilli are rather exceptional in some way or another.  There are reports that space breeding produces chillies that are far more nutrient dense than other varieties of chillies, unfortunately I have not been able to confirm or refute this claim as I do not have access to any reputable studies that have been conducted in this area.  The Hangjiao #5 space chillies I grew were very productive and do grow reasonably large fruit.
Hangjiao #5 - not my photo

Growing Space Chillies
I found that germinating Hangjiao #5 space chilli Helix Nebula seeds was relatively simple, the young seedlings grew easily, but the heat of summer killed them and I had to replant my seeds.  This past summer was odd and many of my vegetable plants suffered in different ways, but the space chillies needed extra help to get through the heat when they were small.  I gave them a bit of shade, and a little more water than my other chilli varieties while they were tiny, and after that they grew well and really didn’t look back.

The plants reached 1 to 2 feet tall and flowered profusely.  While many of my other varieties of chillies aborted flowers for weeks on end due to the hot weather the space chillies flowers generally all set easily.  This fruit grew far too slowly for my liking, which may have been due to the weather or the sheer amount of fruit that each plant carried.  I bagged a few flowers to isolate and produce pure seed, this bagging and exclusion of pollinators did not seem to effect fruit set.  It also means I now have a small amount of pure seed saved.

Once the space chilli plant was covered in unripe fruit it did not seem to slow down production as I would have expected, it just kept producing more.  The weather started to cool so nothing was ripening fast, I ran out of patience so I ate one of the green pods.  It was alright, not hot, it was juicy and crunchy, nothing overly spectacular, but not bad in any way.  My kids really liked it, but that may have simply because of the novelty of eating a space chilli.  I would not grow them again for the green space chillies as I didn’t find them great other than impressive yield produced on a small sized plant.
Once the space chillies started to ripen red I ate another one.  This was much nicer than the green one and after eating them ripe I plan to grow them again this year and will consider getting a few more space chilli varieties.

The ripe space chillies were sweeter and hotter than the green ones.  The pods were each roughly 20 cm long, some curly and others straight, and evenly red when ripe.  They are crunchy and juicy, they have heat but are not overly hot at all which is surprisingly nice, and they do not smell very strong or fruity.  I am bad at describing taste but have heard them described as tasting like a capsicum, or having an apple sweetness, or tasting similar to a crunchy pea pod, which all are reasonable descriptions.

I counted the number of chillies that grew on one plant.  Over the season 53 large red chillies ripened and a lot of other unripe green ones were on the plant but the frost hit them.  Had I started the seeds earlier, or had I over wintered plants, I would have gotten a whole lot more chillies.  Even so, 53 large chillies from one plant is certainly not bad.

I have also been told that they are mostly grown for use in stir fry.  Given their high productivity, sweetness, relatively large size, crunchiness, and reasonably low heat I think they would go well in a stir fry.

My kids also tried some ripe red space chilli and much preferred them to the unripe green ones.  Being low in heat means the kids had no trouble eating them, and as these chillies ‘came from space’ the kids are very eager to eat them and happily eat as many as I let them eat. 
Hangjiao #5 Space Chillies starting to ripen

Space Chillies are great for kids
I think space chillies are a great vegetable for kids to grow, they are low maintenance, high yielding, tastes good, very healthy (high in Vitamin C etc) and, being ‘from space’ means they are fun and likely to be eaten by children.

Space chillies can also be used as a starting point for discussions over genetics, mutations, plant breeding, space and so forth so can be used as a sneaky educational tool.

Where to get space chilli seeds in Australia
There are a few places that sell space chilli seeds in Australia.  I have considered tracking down all ten varieties of space chilli and growing them, but I probably won't because I just don't know what I would do with the bags and bags of chillies that they would produce.

Chillies cross pollinate readily with other varieties of chilli and capsicum so only buy seeds from people who isolate flowers to save pure seed.

I bagged some flowers and saved pure seeds from them this year.  If I have any extra seeds they will be listed on my for sale page with all of the organically grown perennial vegetables and vegetable seeds that I have for sale.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Days to maturity Tomatoes 2016 - 2017

I wrote this post a while ago and wanted to wait until after I got pictures off the camera onto the computer before publishing it.  It is getting late and I am about to plant seeds for next summer, so I am going to add pictures later. For a list of vegetable days to maturity please click here.

In 2016 I planted most tomato seeds on a heat mat, I have written the planting date for all of the varieties as well as the date they flowered and when the fruit first ripened.  They all germinated well, but they did not grow past cotyledon stage for an exceptionally long time.

My garden was over run with Rutherglen bugs for quite a lot of spring, they swarmed over the growing tips of all my plants causing a lot of bud drop and other issues.  Once the Rutherglen bugs started to disappear the green vegetable bugs picked up in number.

All of this means that my tomato season is very late this year.  I planted out tiny seedlings at their second leaf stage at 05/11/2016.

Angora 82, variation in fruit shape on the same plant
Angora 82 seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 30/08/2016, flowered 15/12/2016, first fruit ripe 25/12/2016  Reasonably small plant which may or may not be dwarf, very productive with about 20 flowers per truss.  Small, red, round tomatoes which taste really nice.  This plant gave a large yield very early, has regular leaf and appeared to be determinate but kept putting out occasional new branches with flowers until the frosts.

Micro Tom
Micro Tom

Micro Tom seeds planted 02/10/2016, germinated 11/10/2016, flowered 22/11/2016, first fruit ripe 07/01/2017.  Micro Tom is the smallest variety of tomato ever bred and I have never had one over 10cm tall.  This plant yields about 10 tomatoes per plant.  The taste is far from amazing, but I have eaten many varieties that were worse.  Micro Tom has regular leaf, is a micro dwarf, and is determinate.

St Pierre was given to me by my neighbour and was already flowering.  It was transplanted into the vegetable garden as a large flowering plant 29/10/2016 and the first fruit was ripe 08/01/2016.  It grew reasonable sized, red round tomatoes that had a great tomato taste.  The fruit takes a long time to ripen which I am not overly happy with, but the rich tomato taste and high yield makes up for this.  It had a lot of blossom end rot this year and the leaves drooped on hot days.  St Pierre tomato gave a very large yield over a long season, it is regular leaf and indeterminate.

Little Oak Like seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 31/08/2016, flowered 20/12/2016, first ripe fruit 17/01/2017.  I have no idea why this is called 'Little Oak Like'.  Sturdy little plants that grow about 1 foot tall.  Being an old Russian heirloom it is hardy and absolutely delicious.  This has a deep rich, old fashioned tomato taste, one of my favourite tasting red tomatoes.  This plant has a very large yield over a reasonably long season for a determinate tomato.  It had a lot of blossom end rot early this year.  Little oak like tomato has regular leaf and is semi-determinate or determinate.

Igloo seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 27/08/2016, flowered 09/12/2016, first ripe fruit 18/01/2017.  These are sturdy stocky short plants that are the most productive determinate tomato I have ever grown!  This was the first tomato that I ever bred and I am rather fond of it and glad to have it back again.  This looks a lot like 'Little Oak Like' but if far far more productive and not quite as tasty.  Extremely large yields of round red tomatoes over a surprisingly long season for a determinate plant.  It had a lot of blossom end rot early this year which disappeared later in the season.  Update - if the fruit is left to almost over ripen it tastes just as good as Little Oak Like.  Igloo tomato has regular leaf and is semi-determinate or determinate.

Tommy Toe seeds planted 24/09/2016, germinated 09/10/2016, first ripe fruit 20/01/2017.  These are tall plants with many flowers and small red round fruit.  These taste pretty good, not anywhere near as good as Little Oak Like, but still very nice.  They produce rather tall and rampant plants which produced very large yields over a long season.  Tommy Toe tomato has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

Nanuq seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 26/08/2016, flowered 06/12/2016, first ripe fruit 21/02/2017. This was another very short plant.  I bred this variety when I was at high school and it is actually pretty good.  Very tasty and sweet tomatoes, perhaps not the most productive but not too bad for a plant of this size.  Whispy foliage, rather weak looking plants provided a small to medium yield over an extremely short season which is common for determinate plants.  Nanuq tomato has regular leaf and is very determinate.

Yellow Pear
Yellow Pear seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 03/09/2016, flowered 10/01/20, first ripe fruit 23/01/2017.  I have saved seeds from this one since my first son was born.  It is a large rampant plant that after years of deliberate selection now holds up to extreme conditions and always returns a massive yield over a long season.  It takes several heavy frosts to kill this one.  It grows pretty, pear shaped, yellow cherry tomatoes that kids simply adore.  Yellow Pear tomato has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

Paprika Shaped tomato
Paprika Shaped seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 28/08/2016, flowered 20/12/2016, first ripe fruit 26/01/2017.   This is a small, dwarf, yet highly productive tomato plant.  The tomatoes look like little red capsicums and are hollow.  Some fruit grew no seeds at all.  The plants were pretty productive over a relatively short time.  The taste was not amazing raw, but they are intended to hollow out and cook.  Paprika Shaped tomato has regular leaf and is semi determinate.

Verde Claro
Verde Claro
Verde Claro seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 26/08/2016, flowered 11/12/2016, first ripe fruit 27/01/2017.  This is a nice looking, clear epidermis, green when ripe cherry tomato.  It grows into a reasonable sized plant that has large yields over a long season.  This is one of the best tasting tomato varieties I have ever eaten.  Green when ripe tomatoes generally taste pretty great, but this is far superior to anything I have eaten before.  They are amazing, utterly amazing.  Like no other tomato I have ever tasted.  Verde Claro tomato has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

Unripe - Helsing Junction Blues
Helsing Junction Blue
Helsing Junction Blue
Helsing Junction Blues seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 28/08/2016, flowered 20/12/2016, first fruit ripe 03/02/2017.  These taste ok, the unripe fruit looks amazing with its high anthocyanin purple. As the fruit ripens it is not as dark as 'OSU Blue' which was one of the varieties used to create it.  It tastes ok when it is not quite ripe and far better when it is perfectly ripe.  It had a medium yield over a long season.  Helsing Junction Blue tomato has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

Dwarf Multiflora
Unnamed Dwarf Multiflora seeds planted 20/08/2016, planted 01/10/2016, germinated 08/10/2016, flowered 11/12/2016, first fruit ripe 03/02/2017.  I wasn't going to grow these this year, but made space so included them in my growing list.  I counted 124 flowers on one single truss and 148 flowers on another truss, some trusses appeared to have even more flowers.  Not all of the flowers set, I am trying to work out how to increase the number of fruit set as far too many drop for my liking.  It had a medium to large yield over the season.  Dwarf Multiflora tomato has regular leaf, carries the multiflora gene, is dwarf, and is indeterminate.

Julia Child
Julia Child seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 30/08/2016, flowered 20/12/2016, first fruit ripe 03/02/2017.  These are lovely tasting, large pink tomatoes which are very soft.  This is a great tasting tomato.  This year they had a lot of blossom end rot, I have never seen that in this variety before.  They are pink/red and are generally pretty large fruit.  Julia Child tomato has potato leaf and is indeterminate.

Summertime Gold seeds planted 11/09/2016, germinated 25/09/2016, flowered 16/12/2016, first ripe fruit 10/02/2017.  This one was bred by the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project but was strangely tall for a dwarf.  It has some of the largest potato leaves that I have seen and is a stunningly ornamental plant.  A lot of flowers aborted for some reason which is why the time from flowering to ripe fruit is so long.  The yellow tomatoes taste pretty good, much nicer than I was expecting.  Unfortunately it was dreadfully unproductive and besotted with every pest in the area, I may grow it next year to see if it was just a bad year.  Summertime Gold tomato has potato leaf, is dwarf and is indeterminate.

Dwarf Jade Beauty
Dwarf Jade Beauty seeds planted 11/09/2016, germinated 25/09/2016, flowered 16/12/2016, first ripe fruit 12/02/2017.  This is another one from the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project.  This dropped fewer flowers than Summertime Gold so was far more productive for me this year.  It was also a lot shorter plant than Summertime Gold but did eventually get reasonably tall for a dwarf.  Green when ripe tomatoes are generally pretty tasty and this is no exception.  It produced very sweet green when ripe fruits.  Dwarf Jade Beauty tomato has large potato leaf, is dwarf and is indeterminate.

Sarah's Galapagos seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 29/08/2016, flowered 07/01/2017, first ripe fruit 14/02/2017.  Originally found growing wild on one of the the Galapagos Islands and the fruit is eaten by the tortoises there.  This is likely a stable natural hybrid of several wild tomato species.  This grew delicious and tiny cherry tomatoes.  The yield was late but once it started it produced masses of tiny fruits.  Sarah's Galapagos tomato has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

Malakhitovaya Shkaltulka
Malakhitovaya Shkatulka seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 31/08/2016, flowered 20/12/2016, first ripe fruit 15/02/2017.  This is an amazing tasting green when ripe tomato.  This is a great tomato, nice size, amazing taste, I just wish it was more productive.  Malakhitovaya Shkatulka tomato has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

Japanese Black Trifele
Japanese Black Trifele (spelled various ways), originally called "Yaponskiy Trufel Chernyi" or in Russian "Японский трюфель черный" seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 29/08/2016, flowered 11/12/2016, first ripe fruit 21/02/2017.  This old heirloom Russian tomato is meant to be one of the best tasting tomato varieties.  It is not even close to the horribly bland things you can buy from the markets.  Deep, rich, sweet, tomato taste that is difficult to describe but easy to remember.  It produced late this year but was absolutely covered in dark ripening  pear shaped fruits that continued until frosts.  Japanese Black Trifele tomato has potato leaf and is indeterminate.

Snow White seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 01/09/2016, flowered 10/01/2017, first ripe fruit 21/02/2017.  Normally this is my first tomato to ripen, something is amiss this year!  These are delicious and fruity tasting cherry tomatoes that my children adore.  Usually it is incredibly productive, this year not so much as it didn't have long before the frosts came.  Snow White tomato has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

Totem seeds planted 10/09/2016, germinated 25/09/2016, flowered 11/12/2016, first ripe fruit 22/02/2017.  Why did I even grow this, Yuck, what a dreadful tomato.  It took a long time to ripen, it had a very low yield, and it tasted dreadful.  The only nice feature is that the plants only got to about 1 foot tall, but so did several others that tasted far better and gave much larger crops.  I haven't saved seeds as I do not intend to ever grow it again.  It possibly even tastes worse and has a lower yield than Black Russian, and that tomato is horrible.  Totem tomato has regular leaf and is determinate.

Unnamed Yellow seeds planted 20/08/2016, germinated 28/08/2016, first ripe fruit 04/03/2017.  This is a great tomato, very pretty, nice size, great taste.  Normally they are a lot faster to ripen, this plant was absolutely covered in ripening fruit when the frosts came.  Unnamed yellow has regular leaf and is indeterminate.

I grew a few other tomatoes this year too, but have decided not to include them in the list as many are not overly stable varieties yet.

Heirloom tomato seed for sale
I sell seed of some of these varieties of tomatoes, along with other rare organic heirloom vegetable seeds, gourmet herbs and perennial vegetables on my for sale page.