obstacle based observations
Any tips or tricks, that I might have developed, generally have to do with overcoming obstacles and I'm happy to share some with you:
1. Space - Though somewhat dependent on what you are selecting for, you are more likely to see the weirdos (like cool colours, resistance and so forth) if you grow larger numbers out. I don't have all the space in the world, so if I can select for a trait at the smallest possible size then that's what I do. Right from seed (more uniform germination, wrinkled seed coat) to baby leaves (colouration, size) to seedling (all sorts possible here). This means I can sow 1000s in a relatively small space and cull down to a more workable number. Some traits, however, I can only select when big old space hogging plants are in the ground in their expected growing conditions.
2. Time - This goes hand and hand with the above but if you have a clear goal in mind then you may want to start with optimal material. If you are looking for cold hardiness, get seeds from more northern grown plants, for example. Plants that attract a large number of hobbyists, often have heredity charts that you can look up to focus your efforts such as tomato colour. Doing some winter growing may not only help save some time but may make it easier to jump start things with a tidy controlled cross in an environment without pollinators. I've been forced to this with cabbage accidentally once. Don't get me started about biennials...
3. Diversity - This hasn't been too much of an obstacle for me but getting ahold of a wide range of material can be very helpful especially if you are looking to create a diverse crop such as a modern landrace.
4. Expertise - We are always learning and must remain open to that. Thankfully there is a very large community of lay breeders just bursting to talk to you about what they've learned. Search blogs and other forums. If you are feeling up to it, find yourself some scientific papers. There are some excellent books on the subject too such as Carol Deppe's Breed your own vegetable varieties. I came to plant breeding to fill a need in edible landscaping. I just couldn't find the plants that I was looking for ... partly because they didn't exist, or at least not in my part of the world. There was never a shortage of other enthusiasts to support me. And likewise, as I learned, for me to support. Since that first need, my interests have branched out.
5. Data - Getting into the habit of collecting good and meaningful data is a skill that takes time to learn. It is also something that busy growers don't always do a lot of. Over time, based on your goals, you'll get a feel for how much information you need to record but keep in mind that sometimes data that you didn't think would be that important will end up being valuable to you or to someone else working on something related.
6. Time, space, expertise, diversity, data take II - This translates into working with others. Most of us work together informally but when it comes to scaling up projects, you may find yourself trying to recruit farmers, students, gardeners and so forth. In my experience, this can be challenging. Essentially it's a relationship issue. Informal collaboration often works because you are usually working with friends and expectations are limited. In a more formal situation, I've heard that a clear contract can help, ie. good communication. Ultimately you'll get more follow through if you cultivate a good relationship. This means contact, clarity and appreciation.
Remember that projects can change. You may discover something that forces you to abandon a project or for it to change direction or split off in more than one direction. You may lose material. Just like life itself, it is always dynamic.
* Lastly, compared to many of the people who have been kind enough to share their expertise, encouragement, observations or plant material with me, I'm a relative novice. In the future, I hope to write another post with what I've learned since this post. In the meantime, please offer your own thoughtful advice below.
All about growing, selecting and using edible plants in the Ottawa valley.