A few experiments and discoveries

Another mixed bag of curiosities this week. Firstly, a few frustrations. My Doux des Landes sweet peppers are taking forever to ripen. There are plenty of fruits, but they have remained stubbornly green for weeks and I would just prefer to eat them when they are red and sweet. So rather than continually stare at them frustrated, every few days, I have taken on a new strategy. I know that bananas give off ethene, a gas that accelerates fruit ripening, so I have placed some skins at the base of the pots. I will let you know the results!

My experiment with saving seed from F1 hybrid Sungold seeds from tomatoes has revealed interesting results. Just a reminder, an F1 hybrid is produced by crossing two different parents, so the resulting offspring have many desirable characteristics from both parents, as well as being very uniform. However, if you save seeds from an F1 hybrid, the offspring will be a complete ragbag of characteristics from each parent. Now I prefer to grow open pollinated tomatoes so that I can save the seeds: many of the traditional varieties such as Gardeners Delight falls into this category. However, I do think F1 Sungold has hit on a winning combination of productivity, early ripening in a UK climate, and intensively sweet flavour. So, I was curious to see what the progeny would turn out like from saving seeds. I grew 3 plants, and each one produced distinctly different looking tomatoes. One producing early ripening medium cherry-sized tomatoes which to me, looked and tasted pretty similar to the Sungold parent. The next plant produced red, medium cherry-sized tomatoes. And the third plant produced a mass of very small yellow fruit which weren’t ripe yet. I found this mixture of characteristics obtained from the parents quite fascinating.

The disappointing news is that my karella (bitter gourd) plant is not behaving like the Shanghai white variety I had hoped for. When I had grown this variety before, it was covered in decent sized karella by early August – the only variety I have managed to get any decent crop from in the UK. However, this one only has a few very puny sized fruits, and the skins do not look the same as Shanghai White. So I suspect, that it crossed with one of the other less successful varieties grown in the tunnel when we saved the seed a few years ago. As the seed saving was an afterthought, we had not taken steps to isolate any flowers. That is a lesson learned: cucurbits are very promiscuous so if you want to keep varieties pure, you must get the female flowers to wear a chastity belt (aka an elastic band) to keep the bees out and hand pollinate them. If you want further details, have a look at the Heritage Seed Library Seed Saving guide. I now need to explain my mistake to a couple of families in the neighbourhood that I have given plants to, who had been assured that the plant would bring them huge yields of karella. Unfortunately, they now know where I live...

More about Anton...
Anton is a Knowledge Officer at Garden Organic, where he has worked for 16 years. He is looking forward to writing a series of blogs on how to garden using little resources.

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Posted: 
Monday, 10 August 2020