The world of vegetable breeding is as much a world of art as a world of science where the biggest successes come from sheer luck combined with a healthy dose of close scientific observation. What sets our own breeding program apart is that we work exclusively under organic management, so any selections made in our program are pre-adapted to organic growing conditions.
The High Mowing Organic Seeds breeding program began in 2004. That year we focused on potential material for developing new zucchini and summer squash varieties. Over the next two years we added winter squash, pumpkins, and peppers to the program. The process of breeding starts with crossing two “parent” lines. This cross wreaks havoc by combining the traits we want together, as well as those that we don’t necessarily want. The real work comes over the following years as we evaluate the fallout – i.e. the range of traits (or in genetic terms, “segregation”). If our luck holds, over years of intense selection we can select the plants that have the traits we want and eliminate many of the traits that we don’t want. But sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes the genetic “drag” – traits we don’t want – cannot seem to be selected away, and at some point we must cut our losses and try another track. Luckily this only happens once in a while.
Our first release, in 2009, was King Crimson sweet pepper. In 2005 we began evaluating some pepper breeding lines from Cornell University that derived from crosses between super early-producing peppers with lines that had resistance to Cucumber Mosaic Virus (CMV). Out of these lines, we happened upon a spectacular plant: every fruit was a beautiful blocky four-lobed shape, and fruits ripened very early. We harvested the seed from this plant and began growing it out the next year. At first we were disheartened for there were as many off-types as there were the beautiful blocky fruits we wanted. However, over the next three years of selecting the few best plants, we were able to “true up” the line to become our first release: King Crimson sweet pepper. King Crimson is reliably early, high-yielding, and blocky with intermediate resistance to CMV.
Introducing Our New Releases for 2013
Some of our projects are collaborations with other breeders, and this is best evidenced by our sweet corn releases of My Fair Lady F1 (bi-color) and Bling F1 (all yellow). For this project, we started with inbred lines developed by Dr. Bill Tracy of the University of Wisconsin and test-crossed them to see how well the various lines would combine with one another. From this pool, we selected the two that we released this year, together with a few others that are still in the pipeline. These sweet corns are extremely high quality, with excellent tenderness and sugars, and we hope you will like them as much as we do!
- Bling F1 Corn - forms slender, golden yellow ears with wonderful corn flavor and excellent sweetness. Single-stalk, well-rooted plants with few tillers.
- My Fair Lady F1 Corn – is a slender bi-color with superb tenderness, sugars, and flavor, and also has the single, well-rooted stalk with few tillers.
These varieties are particularly exciting because, to our knowledge, this is the first sweet corn breeding done under organic conditions! We are really looking forward to expanding on this trend to bring you more and more organically-selected sweet corn varieties.
In addition to our sweet corn, we are excited to debut our new hybrid zucchini this year:
- Cha-Ching F1 Zucchini – is a medium-green hybrid zucchini with glossy skin speckled with light green and a slight taper at the blossom end. Cha-Ching has the single-stem, open-air trait that makes it easy to harvest and less prone to disease, and tolerant to powdery mildew, specifically. It also offers the heavy yields more characteristic of hybrids.
Highlights of our Breeding Programs: Past and Future
Among our successes here at High Mowing are some of the other varieties we’ve released in recent years, with others on the way:
- Midnight Lightening Zucchini was released a few years ago. It is an open-pollinated (OP) dark green zucchini that has the single-stem trait that makes zucchini easy to harvest. The fruit has a slim, elegant fruit shape.
- Jack Straw Pumpkin was released in 2010. Jack Straw is a medium sized (15-25 lb) ribbed jack o’lantern with tolerance to powdery mildew and good strong handles. Soon to follow will be a larger-fruited, semi-bush variety with even stronger resistance to powdery mildew.
- Nutterbutter Butternut Squash, our popular open-pollinated butternut, was released in 2011. Nutterbutter combines the traits of earliness with very high-quality sweet flesh, and offers a smaller, more manageable fruit size than Waltham butternut or most of commercial butternut hybrids.
- Bing Cherry Tomato was also released in 2011. This open-pollinated red cherry tomato knocks your socks off with its flavor because it’s nearly as sweet as a true tree-grown cherry. Bing Cherry does well both in the field and in a greenhouse, though when grown outside it’s as prone to cracking as other super-sweet cherry tomatoes. Keep your eyes out for an orange cherry to follow, and hopefully a field slicer soon thereafter.
We hope that you’ll enjoy trying our new releases as much as we enjoyed growing them out—and taste testing them—this past summer!