A quick aside:
My posting habits have, so far, been rather higgledy-piggledy: One minute I'm crawling around in the dirt hunting for mutants and rogues; the next, I'm cheerfully shoving food at you for Harvest Monday.
Figuring out how to bring this blog up to speed on everything that's happened, happening, or soon to happen in my veg-hack lab (without boring myself to death by simply transcribing hours of things I've already written in my growing notebook) has been the true challenge.
And I have to keep reminding myself that this isn't a scientific journal, nor is it my chicken scratch growing notebook -- it's my blog. Which means I need to give myself permission to record things out of order, skip the boring stuff, and disregard anything I don't personally feel like writing about.
In this vein, if there's an experiment/project I mentioned previously that I never returned to, don't hesitate to fling a question mark at me. I think addressing the projects people are most interested in is a much more efficient use of time then pouring out every detail of every experiment I run. Regardless, I hope you find something here that inspires you, entertains you, or enlightens you in some way. Questions are always welcome, comments are appreciated, but you should never feel obligated to post either. Feel free to just kick back, grab a coffee, and meander through the pages and pics of my wonky veg life.
There, now I feel better.
So FULL SPEED AHEAD! Everything is an experiment in my garden, so it's about time I update you on some of the projects I've got going. Two of them you've never heard of, and one you may have: Congo Watermelon, Cucumber Crosses, and the infamous Purple Peacock Pole Bean.
Here's the fast forward version. I grew two types of watermelon this season: Sugar Baby Bush and Congo. Or, I should say, I tried to grow. The plan was to cross them. Because when in doubt, that's always my plan. Long story short, all the watermelon plants were like, nah bra, and died before any fruits reached maturity. They were planted in different places, different times, and not a single one of them had a happy life. I have never had such abject and utter failure of a single crop in my entire gardening life. Very humbling. The causes of death were multiple, varying, but mostly spider mites, a strange brown crisping of the leaves (as of yet unidentified) and abrupt and inexplicable shriveling of the vines, despite much molly coddling and special watering.
The strongest, biggest Congo plant got closest -- and gave me this itty bitty guy:
|blossom end rot, to boot|
-- he was not even close to ripe. Boo. And of course I'd promised to give a friend a watermelon this season, the only crop promise I made. Naturally.
But everything is an experiment, so I scooped out the seeds of the not-mature melon and fermented them for five or so days in an old pickle jar.
|Bread and Butter all the way #FightMeDillLovers|
|Pickle jar lid, ftw.|
So the experiment is: How early can we harvest a watermelon and still get viable seed? (Important note: the mature seeds of Congo watermelon are white, not black or red.) Riveting experiment, I know. But waste not want not.
So after a week of drying, today I'm wrapping ten seeds in a wet paper towel and sealing them in a plastic bag. This may be too early, but that's an experiment in of itself: I've found that same-season germination is an art, not a science. It seems seeds need a certain amount of 'drying down' before they're willing to re-hydrate and sprout. Beans planted when the seeds were still green spent several weeks in the dirt before sprouting; melon seeds put in a bag with a wet papertowel germinated 0-20% after one week of drying, while those who had an additional week of drying had germination rates in the 60-100% range. Similar effect with early harvested corn and squash seeds.
Since I didn't know I'd be doing with experiment when I planted the congo, I didn't record the day the plant set this specific melon (as it wasn't one of the ones I hand pollinated). However the seed for the plant was pre-germinated on a wet paper towel May 1st, and transplanted into the garden a few days later. The first male flower appeared on June 27th, and the fruit was harvested on August 4th. Which means, given bare minimums of a week later for first female flower and immediate first blossom fruit set, this melon was at most one month old. More likely, it was only two or three weeks along.
Do I expect viable seeds? Not really. But I've been surprised before, mostly with corn and direct seeding still green beans. So now, it's the 'hurry up and wait' game to find out.
|If you can guess why she's named Olsen, you get full 80's points.|
|A few weeks later and a week before I harvested her for seed.|
Olsen is a fluke twin cucumber from a selfed Minute White pickling cucumber. That plant (called Mother White) was the only one to survive the heat we had back in June, and was also very productive considering it's less than ideal living conditions. Olsen is her last fruit, before she finally gave up and the vines died.
But there's more to this story -- I also harvested Mother White's first fruit. And actually... we should probably talk about him first.
I was about to say "Meet Dwight" but after twenty minutes of rummaging around in my photos, it seems like I never actually took a picture of him... bad Day.
Anyway, Dwight was an F1 Miniature White x Dar cucumber cross, the first fruit to set out of the trial planting of 3 Dar and 3 Miniature White seeds. Dwight was harvested about five weeks after setting. His seeds were wet processed, left to dry for a week or so, then 5 of those seeds direct sown on July 2nd.
All Dwight seeds were strong sprouts, but two of the five were particularly vigorous, shooting off at warp speed. Then aphids attacked, in numbers I haven't seen in ages. All plants were stopped in their tracks, completely infested. Despite the infestation, one of the two vigorous plants gave the aphids the finger and produced a fruit regardless of their sugary vampirism. That fruit set on August 14th.
The time from Dwight sowing to first set fruit was 6 weeks, 1 day. In contrast, the time from sowing Mother White (Dwight's mom) to first fruit set (Dwight) was a little over two months.
So here's Dwight's baby,
Since nicknames help me keep track of breeding projects and their progeny, Dwight's baby has been named Divine, since, while technically bush, her mother was the most vigorous and vinelike of the siblings.
|Divine: a few days old.|
Miniature white pickling cucumber is a white fruited cucumber with black spines. Dar is a green skinned, star-burst butt cucumber with white spines. Green skin color is dominant to white skin color, and black spines are dominant to white spines. I'm still working on learning all the curcurbit genes, but the above holds true in most cases.
As you can see, Dwight expresses the dominant genes from both parents: Green skin and black spines. It has ripened to gold, as Mini White does, but there are seperate genes that govern ripe fruit color that I'm still learning about. So, it can be assumed that this offspring is heterozygous for skin color and spines. So Dwight is the F1 generation, and her fruit Divine is technically the expression of the F1 genes.
Divine's seeds, however, are F2. Much in the way that the baby inside the mother's stomach is a mix of the mother and father's DNA, but the mother's uterus and bulging belly are still entirely her. So planting Divine's seeds is when the real fun comes out. The heterozygous genes will segregate, and the fruits will range from greenskin/blackspines, greenskin/whitespines, whiteskin/blackspines, and whiteskin/whitespines.
Ok, now, back to Olsen:
Olsen, if you'll remember, is Dwight's stepsister(s?). They both have the same mother (Mother White) but while Dwight's father was a Dar cucumber, Olsen's father was also her mother. If that makes no sense to you, no worries. Cucumbers are monoecious, meaning each indivual plant produces some flowers that are males, and some flowers that are females. Bees can transfer pollen from one flower to another on the same plant, resulting in a fruit that technically has the same mother and father. In shorter language, this fruit is considered 'selfed.'
Olsen is selfed, as there was only one cucumber plant flowering (Mother White) at the time. All the rest had died, including Dwight's father. So the pollen could not have come from anywhere else, baring an extremely rare pollination from a neighbor's garden (rare because my closest neighbors are only engaged in growing lawns, weeds, and old car parts, respectively.)
Olsen was the last fruit to set on Mother White, while Dwight was the first. Whether this will ultimately result in 'earlier' or 'later' fruit set in their own offspring is the subject of another ongoing experiment.
Also, Olsen is visibly different: she's a 'twin' of sorts. I'm still researching the genetics behind this. Interestingly, Olsen wasn't the only twin Mother White produced. During her growing season, Olsen and Dwight's mother produced several little twin cucumbers, but none of them matured. Most were buried under the leaves and not visited by bees, and others were aborted as Mother White put her energy into ripening Dwight instead. So Olsen is not only special because she's a funny little twin, but her mother seemed predisposed to producing twins. Does this make her chance of producing twins higher? Another experiment.
The result may be that Olsen produces only twins, some twins, no twins, or doesn't even survive to maturity. Which, ultimately, is the Olsen experiment.
|Olsen cross section - the figure 8 cucumber slices are kinda nifty|
The hardest part of the Olsen harvest was deciding whether or not to save the seeds from each side of the cucumber separately. I chose not to, but I'm sort of regretting that. If Olsen's seeds end up producing any twins, I do intend to do that in the future though. Seeing as they both came from the same flower, they should in theory be identical twins. But with still more research to do on the subject of curcurbit genetics, I cannot yet say that are conclusively. As a rule, I try to err on the side of saving more, as opposed to less. It's easy to throw seeds in the trash, but not at all easy to grow the genetics again.
So, to sum up:
MOTHER WHITE x DAR = DWIGHT (first fruit)
MOTHER WHITE x MOTHER WHITE = OLSEN (twin, last fruit)
DWIGHT x DWIGHT = DIVINE (first fruit, still growing)
OLSEN (just seeded) x ? = tbd
In all honesty, there's more to the project. I'm actually growing another variety, and hoping to do crosses with that as well, to improve heat tolerance and increase fruit size. But we'll save that for another post.
PURPLE PEACOCK POLE BEAN (magpie rogue)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: this project has a special place in my heart. Since I don't like retyping stuff, my first post on this particular rogue is HERE. Clicking it should open in a new window, for those of you (like me) who hate navigating away from the page.
For those too lazy, here's a poor but swift summary: The Purple Peacock Pole bean was supposed to be a Magpie bush bean, but it started growing tendrils and put on purple flowers instead of white. The location where it was planted turned out to be full sun death by June, so I had to erect a strange palm umbrella (that looked like a peacock tail) to shade it from the worst of two, week-long 115° heat waves in June. It somehow managed to survive, put on some beans, and today, finally...
....I gets a dry one :3
yeah yeah yeah, it's one dinky bean. But there are about a dozen bean bulges in a handful of other still drying pods. I couldn't wait for the rest. I had to know, today.
(To see what Magpie beans are supposed to look like, click the link above to my other post.)
So here we have it, the first bean from the Magpie x Unknown F1 rouge, aka, Purple Peacock Pole bean. Please excuse the photo quality, my camera is my phone and it hates close focus.
Shape: Magpie beans are originally long and filet types, but this one definitely is not. It's flattened, not very plump, and the edges are smoothly rounded.
Size: I completely forgot to take a size comparison shot before leaving for work (where I'm typing this, shh) but if I had to give a qualitative size estimate, I'd say imagine a regular store bought kidney bean, then cut it in half. The photos make the bean appear larger than it is. I would say it is bigger than a typical magpie bean, yes, but not as long. It probably weighs slightly more, but not substantially so.
Once I've harvested a few more of the beans, I'll scavenge some garden space to plant the F2. We've currently been hit by another 100+° degree week, and temps haven't dropped below 105° during the day and high seventies at night for the past three days. Not fantastic bean weather. So while I'm dancing to get the F2 in the ground, I'm also keenly aware that I will only have about twelve beans to play with. So I'll probably wait until mid September before getting them in the ground. That should hopefully help avoid the next few weeks of scorcher temps, while still getting the F2 harvested before the temps swing too much the other direction.
That's all I have time for today, but if you've got any ideas on who may have fathered the Peacock bean, let me know! I'd be curious to hear everyone's thoughts. With our bean powers combined, perhaps we can riddle it out.