With the encouragement of Magic Cochin I thought I'd write a bit about vegetable breeding. If you want to see what I've been up to in greater detail, the additional pages on my blog - www.vegheaven.blogspot.com will give you more.
I won't try and say it all - you'd nod off! This time I'll do tomatoes. I didn't find it terribly easy when I did my first tomato cross 2 years ago. Since then I've been prescribed reading glasses! You start with an unopened bud where the colour of the flower is just showing, and peel back the sepals and petals. You need to remove the cone of anthers in the centre of the flower, which you can do (carefully!) with a scalpel or with sharp, pointed tweezers. This is called emasculating and doesn't hurt, though it makes your eyes water a bit! Then you take a flower from the tomato you've chosen to be pollen donor and open the cone of this one to get at the pollen. As this flower is more mature, the pollen will have shed and you can pick it up with a paintbrush or scrape it off with your scalpel and wipe it on the central part of the original bud - the little sticking out thread.
I ruined several flowers before I got one to take and some just did nothing, never grew or swelled. You only need one success though, for a supply of seeds. I used Sungold and gave it pollen from Tiger Tom, a heritage variety. Last year when I grew the seeds, I knew I had a cross because the resulting fruits were neither orange like Sungold nor striped like Tiger Tom. I had red cherry tomatoes, a bit bgger than Sungold.
This year I grew them on again and have 2 which I want to persist with. One I have called Caitlin (after Grand-daughter Number One) and one I called Fire and Ice because the fruits are initially very pale, almost white, but they ripen up to a bright red. Both have great flavour to my mind, which I would expect with the parentage. I'll continue to grow them for a few years saving seeds from the best each time. I have no training - I never studied biology (it clashed with maths at my school) so I feel that if I can, anyone can do it. I recommend the book by Carol Deppe called Breed your Own Vegetable Varieties which is an inspiration, though it's far more technical that I could pretend to be.
The first picture is Caitlin, the second Fire and Ice.
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