Saturday, October 13, 2012

Plant Parenthood

I've never really cared for tomatoes, which is unfortunate because I end up having to pick them out of the salads Jamie makes (she insists on putting them in). But what if I could find a tomato I actually liked? There are way more varieties out there than what you can buy in stores and they're fairly easy to grow. Possibly there's one I might like?

But maybe the more important question is: why don't I like them? I mean, besides the fact that they're mushy and taste too acidic or bitter or gross or something. Whatever it is, I just don't like them. I never really have. And what about you? Is there some vegetable you don't like, but wish you did? Maybe peas, or green beans, or brussels spouts, or broccoli? Why, and what is it you don't like about it? Maybe you could find a variety you like that you could grow in your own garden.

But if you couldn't, would you think it was fun to try to develop a better tasting (or whatever your criteria is) vegetable on your own? After all, gardeners who came before us didn't wait for seed companies to do it for them - they did it themselves. Why can't we?

That's the idea behind Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving by Carol Deppe. After Janisse Ray's book The Seed Underground fell flat for me, I stumbled across this one. Deppe tells of a teenager in northern Idaho named Glenn Drowns who wanted a watermelon – not a store-bought one – but a home grown watermelon. The problem was that the growing season was too short in Idaho. But when he learned about hybridization in a high school biology class, he got the idea of cross-pollinating plants with the hope of getting a watermelon that would ripen in his shortened season. And in only 4 years of gardening he developed 'Blacktail Mountain,' an early-ripening watermelon. And ordinary gardeners like you and me are doing the same thing with potatoes and peas and other veggies, and it doesn't have to be limited to taste or how early it produces – it's up you you and me.

(Incidentally, did you see the recent study about organic foods? Researchers looked at over 200 studies and found no clear health benefit. Pesticide residues were slightly lower, but they were low either way. The main benefits they found were mostly environmental. See articles on Yahoo and NPR.)

The place to start is with varieties that already do well in your particular area and Deppe not only talks about where to find plant material and how to conduct your own simple trials, she also explains plant genetics in a fairly easy to understand way. Another book that might be useful is Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth. It's a reference book that explains how to pollinate and save seeds from all different kinds of vegetables.

But in all honesty I'm not really interested enough in a better-tasting tomato to breed my own. Right now I only have time for a few plants here and there, and this fall/winter I'm trying parsnips and purple carrots, as well as a few other things like snap peas and lettuce. Still, it sounds interesting and like it could be fun, so when I get a little more time and more familiar with what's already out there – and better at growing those things – maybe I'll think about it again.

No comments:

Post a Comment