Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener: How to Create Unique Vegetables and Flowers

Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener: How to Create Unique Vegetables and Flowers

by Joseph Tychonievich




Brighter zinnias, fragrant carnations, snappier green beans

Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener makes it easier than ever to breed and grow your own varieties of vegetables and flowers. This comprehensive and accessible guide explains how to decide what to breed, provides simple explanations on how to cross plants, and features a basic primer on genetics and advanced techniques. Case studies provide breeding examples for favorite plants like daffodils, hollyhocks, roses, sweet corn, and tomatoes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604693645
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 03/05/2013
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Joseph Tychonievich studied horticulture, plant breeding, and genetics at the Ohio State University and was the nursery manager at Arrowhead Alpines, a premier rock garden nursery in Fowlerville, Michigan. He is also the editor of Rock Garden Quarterly. Organic Gardening Magazine called him one of “six young horticulturalists who are helping to shape how America gardens.”

Read an Excerpt

As a teenager I planted in my very first garden, among other things, a few violas. Little miniature vigorous versions of pansies, which I absolutely adore. I put in a few different varieties—black, purple and yellow, and pale yellow. They flowered heavily for me in the spring, slowed down and almost (but not quite) died in the heat of summer, then picked up again in the fall. I liked them, and I wanted to grow them again, but the next year I forgot to start the seeds. Come spring, I was kicking myself, saying I had to remember for the following year, when I went out to the garden to find it was covered with tiny viola seedlings. I had discovered the joys of self-sowing annuals. More flowers, for no work at all!
When those seedlings started flowering, I was even more delighted. In addition to the colors I’d planted the year before, I had all sorts of new ones—dark purple with a yellow heart, yellow with just a splash of lavender. Violas are notoriously promiscuous, and with the help of bees, the different varieties had been getting busy, filling my garden with their incredibly beautiful love children. Once many of them were flowering, I spent some very, very happy hours carefully examining them all, picking my very favorite colors and combinations of colors to keep, and weeding out the others. The next year they returned, in still more colors and forms, and again I gleefully looked them over, comparing this against that, deciding which ones I loved best. Every year, they came back, and I liked them better, as the types I didn’t prefer got removed, and the ones that were pretty to my eye carried on. Not only were they more beautiful each year, I noticed that each summer they seemed to get a little better at surviving and flowering through the heat. They still preferred the cool of spring and fall, but without me doing anything at all, they were adapting to my particular climate, soil, and garden. One spring, while I was happily looking over the latest crop, the most beautiful, vigorous, and diverse yet, I suddenly realized something. These plants no longer looked or performed anything like those I had started with. They were, in fact, something new and unique, adapted to my tastes and my garden. My own personal strain of violas! How cool! Whatever should I name them?
I never did settle on a name (or if I did, I’ve forgotten it), and in the constant flux that was college, living in apartments and borrowing space to garden where I could, I lost the strain. But the lesson they taught me has stuck. Plant breeding is easy. Under the right conditions, in fact, you can hardly help but breed new varieties. Just nature and a little careful weeding will all but do it for you. The other thing I learned is that breeding your own plants is not just incredibly fun and satisfying, it is also practical. Not only was my strain beautiful, it grew better for me in my conditions than the commercial varieties I had started with.
I like to call varieties like that strain of violas “new heirlooms.” Heirloom varieties are typically defined simply by their age, but I don’t like that definition. It isn’t the fact that they are old that makes heirloom tomatoes so delicious and heirloom dianthus so fragrant; rather, it is because most of these heirlooms came into being the same way my strain of violas did, from regular gardeners picking out what they liked best. While modern commercial varieties are bred with a least-common-denominator mentality, focusing on what will ship to and sell well at big box stores across the country, home gardeners focus on what they really love and get to partner with nature to create truly beautiful works of plant art.
As I became more seriously involved in gardening, many of the books I read dismissed creating new varieties as too complex to be attempted by anyone other than professionals. I knew this couldn’t be true. My violas had proved that to me. More than a decade after those life-changing violas, I’ve bred dozens of different genera and studied plant breeding and genetics at two universities, and I’m still as convinced as ever by the lesson those little flowers taught me. Yes, it takes companies with teams of highly trained plant breeders years to create and market a new variety, but that is because the horticulture industry is complex, not because breeding is. Breeding at home is simple, easy, and effective.
Not to mention fun. Very fun. So welcome to my world. The world where every spring, I’m eagerly awaiting the first opening of a flower that no one has ever seen before, where I spend summer evenings with a friend and a pile of wonderful new tomatoes, trying each one, laughing over the odd-tasting misses and cheering for the ones that move me one step closer to that dreamed-of perfect tomato in my mind. It is the same process that brought us great tomatoes like the sublime ‘Brandywine,’ an ancient art form that is long overdue for a revival. If you garden, you can breed plants. In this book, I’ll tell you how.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgement 8

Introduction 9

1 From Teosinte to sh2: A Brief History of Plant Breeding 12

2 The Blank Canvas: Making Breeding Goals 32

3 The Birds, the Bees and the Tweezers: How to Make a Cross 48

4 Genetics Made Easy: And Why It Matters 72

5 Narrowing the Field: Evaluating and Selecting Your Favorites 96

6 Beyond the Backyard: Advanced Techniques 120

7 For Example: How to Breed Select Flowers & Vegetables 132

Recommended Reading 206

Useful Websites 207

Plant Sources 208

Index 210

Customer Reviews