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High Mowing Organic Seeds
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A Season’s Conclusions from Our Breeding Program - Jodi Lew-Smith, Director of Research & Development  

The highlights of this season in the breeding plot were easily the sweet corn test cross hybrids, the bi-color butternuts, and then, a big surprise, a particular red cherry line for which every single plant was so incredibly delicious that we decided to harvest the seed and release it as “Bing Cherry.” We think we just got lucky on this one, as flavor genes typically segregate in unpredictable ways. In this case, though, with every single plant out of fifty having remarkably sweet flavor, we were pretty certain we’d hit on a winning combination. It cracks a little more than I’d like, but if you harvest it thoroughly before a big rain it does fine. And when you taste it compared to every other red cherry on the market, I think you’ll agree that it’s much sweeter.

We had a very nice season for evaluating powdery mildew tolerance on our breeding lines. When I say a “nice season” I mean that it was dry enough that not every single plant got wiped out by powdery at the same time, but that the disease came in well enough that you could distinguish who was more or less resistant to it.  I ended up very pleased with the selections for homozygous (two copies of the resistance genes) powdery resistance in pumpkins, zucchini, and also yellow summer squash. I did a little bit of selection for powdery tolerance in butternuts as well. However butternuts get so much less powdery mildew than the other squashes that it’s not only harder to make the selections, but it seems hardly worthwhile. We’ll see. Overall I had only one butternut line that I was particularly pleased with for shape, size, and early maturity, so I’m hopeful that those selections will test well for brix and dry matter.

Greenhouse Tomato inspectionEarlier in the season I wasn’t very happy with the breeding lines for the greenhouse tomatoes. They were on an edge of the plot that got early blight really early, so they looked really terrible. I made some selections but I wasn’t too pleased with them. Some plants of the same lines had been put in the trials greenhouse, though, for comparison with market hybrids, and when the trials crew did taste tests on them I was pleasantly surprised that one of the lines scored in the top two (in a field of 15 or more varieties) for flavor and texture. This was the motivation I needed to taste all the fruit on this year’s lines in the field. The flavor trait is segregating heavily in these lines, so you really have to taste them carefully to pick out the sweet ones. I did so and was fortunate enough to find a few standouts among the several hundred plants. I combined the flavor selections with the selections for earliness, lack of cracking, and yield to come up with just a couple overall standouts that we’ll grow out again next year. Stay posted.

The last achievement of the season was a good year of building our pool of cucurbit “foundation seed” in the breeding plot. “Foundation seed” is the hand-pollinated, carefully-selected seed that forms the core of our production cycle. Foundation seed is what gets planted – usually in a pollination cage - to do an increase into “stock seed,” which then gets planted to do a full seed production for seed to sell. The work we do on the foundation seed is critical to maintaining the quality of the seed we sell, so we devote a lot of labor to hand-pollinating many plants every year, so we can make the selections that we harvest into just a small amount of top-quality foundation seed. So if you like our strain of a particular squash or pumpkin, this is usually the reason!

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