Tuesday, October 19

Hybridization: simply put.

When putting the garden away from the plethora of harvesting during summer, pay attention to the fallen tomatoes.  In spring, those fallen beauties create volunteer plants by the hundreds and frankly, its heartbreaking to rip them out.

Those volunteers cant be trusted especially if you have grown hybrids in your soil.  Hybrids volunteers will grow the following season and every gardener should know that hybrids are a little tricky the second year.  Hybrids are a combination of two parent plants pollinated with each other to create the baby fruit.  The seeds from that baby tomato are the source of plants for the greenery in the greenhouses all winter and into spring when you purchase them and bring them home for your garden.  Once grown however, the seeds from that hybridized tomato will create seeds that are not as reliable for the second generation.

Hybrids are created and designed by the perrson who wants to get a better tomato or better resistance to bugs in a tomato plant or both for one generation only. The parents (first generation, FG) determine the results and the seeds of the baby (second generation, SG)will develop a grandbaby-plant (third generation, TG) that includes many characteristics of the parents and not all of those characteristics are good.

When growing hybrid plants, the seeds from the grandchild-tomato (third gen.) might and usually does have the grandparent-tomato's (first gen.) dominant characteristics. Those dominant characteristics may or may not provide you with a terrific tomato or a terrific plant.
For example, tomato A and tomato B (first gen.) are pollinated together to create tomatoes on each plant.  When the seeds of both are tested by growing them, the hybridizer finds that tomato A produced better tasting tomatoes that are also semi-resistant to blight while tomato B had tomatoes with little taste and a strong resistance to blight. With taste in mind the hybridizer sells tomato A's seeds as a great tasting tomato with a little resitance to blight. This hybridizer also takes tomato B's seeds (second-gen. labeled B2), grows them into plants and interpollinates the plants(A+B2 and B2 +A) again.  The resulting tomato A and seeds (also second-gen. +B2) on tomato A the second time is a significant resistance to blight and a fairly good tasting tomatoes.  The resulting tomato on B2 is a fabulous sweet tasting tomato with moderate resistance to blight. He (the hybridizer) sells seeds from tomato A but this time it is with the advertisement of a terrific resistance to blight as well as good flavor. He also sells the resulting seeds from B2 as a fabulously sweet tomato with good resistance to blight.
We grow those tomatoes at home and the resulting harvest is substantial and wonderful in taste.  Our thoughts are to grow another (third) generation of the same and we save the seeds.  The following year, we plant the saved seeds on the window sill inside, we nurture, water, fertilize and carefully transplant to the garden and nurture, water, and fertilize even more. When it is time to harvest the first tomato, the taste of the tomato is horrible (similar to tomato B's taste) and we have no idea why.
The reason? The dominant gene for taste in tomato B is still in the DNA of the third generation tomato seed (B2) and being the dominant DNA, the taste is what comes though into the third generation of seeds.
Why did it do that?  Tomato A was missing during pollination.  Without tomato A's pollen, the dominant DNA for taste was missing and the strongest gene for taste came from the original grandparent tomato B.
This is why so many gardeners are returning to heirloom tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes naturally have terrific taste, and resistance to blight.  Heirlooms also are open polinated meaning that any tomato plant can pollinate them during their offspring cycle. The resulting seed is hybridized but it is a hybridization of two open pollinatted plants and many of those plants have terrific characterisitics.  There is one problem though.  When you harvest from an open pollinated tomato plant, the resulting seed next spring may not produce the same characteristics as the parents.  This is due to natures open pollination system and you will have a hybridized plant.
Avoid this is by planting the different tomato species 200 feet apart and not down wind from each other.  You could also plant them on either end of the house.  This will stop the bees (and other pollinators) from visiting plants consecutively and pollinating all the open pollinated plants at the same time. Of course you could also go to extremes and plant them in a closed environment to make sure that the tomatoes are not hybridized with and to each other.
Disadvantages for the home gardener:
This is one of the factors that gardeners face when exchanging seeds online.  many garden websites have exchange groups that exchange not only plants but seeds as well.  Those seeds, if they are heirloom, may not be true to form and they might produce non-true tomatoes (or whatever else you are trading) the following year. If you exchange seeds or plants, be watchful of this problem and don't exchange what you have unless you know it is true to form.
Advantages for the home gardener:
If you are into hybridization yourself or would simply like to try it for the first time. Plant two different species of heirloom tomatoes on one side of your home. Choose a wall that is out of the wind and is exposed to at least twelve hours of light per day mid-summer. When summer comes the wind changes a bit here in the valley, so be sure your tomatos are not being pressed against the wall by the wind.  This will also ensure that the wind is coming from the opposite direction so the tomatoes are protected from the wind.  You are not protecting the tomatoes from the wind, but from the pollen carried on the wind.  If you want to hybridize tomatoes, this is very important. You do not want any other pollen to have the chance of reaching the blossoms of your tomatoes.
Waiting a year to see what your results are is the hard part but you may find that you are truely good at this hybridization "thing" and want to do it again.  Enjoy!!!!