One small piece of one project among many in this year's garden

Many of you know about, or at least have heard about, the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project. I've been dabbling in it (well, co-conceiving and co-leading it, as well as deeply participating in it myself) since 2005. We've achieved much, but there is (and always will be) more places to take it. I will write more about it in a future blog, but want to keep this one focused (if not particularly short and sweet...)

One of the more interesting subplots in this year's, garden - is the Steamy story. Last year I started to do some crosses to provide starting points to fill in a few of the current gaps in our Dwarf releases - paste and cherry tomatoes. It all starts with a cross; I choose an indeterminate for pollen, and a dwarf to receive the pollen. 

It is no secret that Sun Gold hybrid is one of my favorite tomatoes. I've been curious about the ability to work Sun Gold's unique flavor into dwarf varieties. By applying Sun Gold pollen to a partially opened blossom on Dwarf Pink Passion from which the anthers were removed, I succeeded in creating a new hybrid which named Steamy. (Why Steamy?  Heart shaped, passion, sounds pretty steamy to me!).

The result of a cross - an F1 hybrid, which is what you get when the seeds from the tomato resulting from a cross are planted - is the expression of the dominant traits. Sun Gold is indeterminate (dominant), regular leaf (dominant), yellow skinned (dominant) and orange fleshed (recessive). Dwarf Pink Passion is dwarf (recessive), regular leaf (dominant), clear skinned (recessive), and red fleshed (dominant). By this reasoning, Steamy hybrid would produce a tomato intermediate in size between Sun Gold and Dwarf Pink Passion, with yellow skin and red flesh, on an indeterminate regular leaf plant.

Above, you will see the two parents - Dwarf Pink Passion - astride the resulting Steamy hybrid, as grown and photographed by a garden friend, Linda Black, in California. (Thanks to one of our favorite seed vendors (and one of the major companies to list our new dwarf tomatoes, Tatiana's TOMATObase,) for the great pic of Dwarf Pink Passion, and my Californian dwarf project friend for the pic of Steamy hybrid).

The story of Steamy is actually even more interesting - and challenging. The single fruit that resulted from my cross wasn't large and had few seeds, and suffered from blossom end rot. I saved what I could, and managed to get a seed - one single seed - to germinate last summer. The seedling was weak, and I knew it wouldn't ripen fruit before frost - so I dug it up and mailed it Linda. She grew it over the winter and it produced the fruit you see in the center, above - and as predicted, it is a medium small red tomato - and another thing learned - a cherry X a heart provided an oval. Tomato genetics is endlessly fascinating.

Because that is the only Steamy F1 plant anywhere (unless I repeat the cross this year), I asked Linda to take a cutting and send it to me - and so Steamy F1, descended from the single seed I got to germinate, is growing in my driveway, ready to provide me with fruit and lots of seed.... go dwarf hunting with. The next step in this is to save as much seed as possible from the newly created hybrid. It really doesn't matter what the hybrid tastes like; flavor is complex with tomatoes and inheritance, and the flavor of a new hybrid doesn't necessarily correlate to the offspring.

Linda sent me some saved seed from those red tomatoes in the picture above, which I planted this spring. When the saved seed from an indeterminate X dwarf hybrid is planted, you will get 75% indeterminate plants (which are typically tossed - we are breeding dwarf tomatoes, meaning, unfortunately, some great indeterminate leads are being thrown aside) and 25% dwarf plants. The dwarfs are quite evident early on, being half of the height as the indeterminate seedlings, and with visibly thicker stems and foliage. After doing this for 10 years, I've gotten pretty good at spotting the dwarfs among the indeterminate seedlings, and all of those who participate in this project can say the same. 

I was delighted to find some dwarfs among the seedlings, and I went ahead and planted all four in straw bales in my driveway. The plants are healthy, stocky, and already setting fruit. I've photographed the small green tomatoes on each of the plants, seen below, and there are some surprises showing up already. Shown below is one of the Steamy F2 plants, and then the fruit on all four.

I crossed a heart with a cherry, and you will see a variety of shapes - from nearly round, to egg shaped, to a long paste shape. This is a story that can only be partially told - a few weeks remain before we know the final size, shape, color - and best of all - flavor - of these four varieties. If one or more of them seems well worth pursuing, seed is saved, then sent to volunteers next year to try to replicate what I found this year. If they are really promising, I will give one or more names. It is always best to grow as many as possible from this point on, as color, size, flavor, and shape continues to vary greatly.

Eventually - and hopefully - when we are at the 5th, or 6th generation, things will begin to settle down and we can start to work toward finishing any of the promising new varieties. By the 8th, or sometimes even 10th, generation, we can call it a stable new variety. If people are sharing and growing and enjoying it 50 or 75 or 100 years from now, it will be considered an heirloom!

I hope that the story of Steamy brings a bit more clarity for you with respect to our utterly addictive, fun project. Who may decide that you are ready to jump in and join the fun. All you need to do is ask.


Here is a bit of a PS....

Thanks to all who purchased either of my books, Epic Tomatoes and Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales. It's hard to believe that it's been only 1 1/2 years since the tomato book was released - it seems like I've had a decade of wonderful experiences over that time.

I've learned something over that time - there is great value to authors when our books reviewed - it helps to make the books more visible (which leads to more sales, and more speaking opportunities) - and even more important, feedback is very helpful for me continually improving what I write.

So if you find the time and haven't done so, whether it is at Amazon, Good Reads, Barnes and Noble - honest reviews of my books are always highly valued and deeply appreciated.