I’ve been hard at work on my painted-warp presentation for ANWG. I have over 60 samples, and am still weaving more. I’m now in that entirely predictable stage of existential despair (familiar to anyone who has ever written a book, taught a class, or done any other sort of presentation) wherein you realize that:
- there is far more to the subject that you ever realized
- you’re not going to know everything perfectly before you have to go teach it
- even in your ignorance, there’s no way you can fit even 1/100 of the absolutely vital things you know about the subject into a 2-hour lecture.
Elizabeth Gilbert, in her marvelous TED talk about the creative process, references “that point when you’re writing a book when you’re convinced that it’s going to be the worst book ever – not just bad, but The. Worst. Book. Ever.” That’s about where I am right now with this presentation. I’m well aware that it’s a phase, I’ve been through it before with just about everything I’ve ever written/presented/taught, and everything has always turned out just fine – but it’s frustrating nonetheless.
So what do the tough do to relax when the going gets tough?
Well, duh – take over the world, of course!
The adorable little tomato plants are now blooming and preparing to take over the world. Which means it’s time to get going on my nefarious tomato breeding plans.
My plans with Fruity Mix are fairly modest. It got cross-bred with something, so for the next several years, I’m just growing out 30-40 plants per year and selecting from the offspring until the flavor breeds true in all the offspring. That will take 6-7 years, following which I will start breeding it to other things.
Fuzzy Mix, on the other hand, is small, fuzzy, extremely productive, and also very drought-resistant, because of its thick, leathery leaves. It has nondescript red oval fruit, and the flavor could best be described as “dilute battery acid,” so it definitely needs some breeding work. Here’s what a mature Fuzzy Mix plant looks like:
Since I don’t have a whole lot of space, and I have to work with container plants anyway since my soil has a tomato-killing fungus in it (verticillium wilt), I’ve decided to breed smaller tomato plants rather than full-size tomato plants. In particular, I think it would be interesting to breed tomato plants that would work for the patio gardener – moderately sized, attractive tomato plants that bear tons of tasty tomatoes and can survive neglect. Fuzzy Mix, as a small, fuzzy-leafed, drought-resistant tomato, brings a lot of good genes to the table, and if I can cross-breed it with a tomato with good flavor and attractive fruit, I might get some really cool results.
So I’ve planted a whole bunch of interesting tomato varieties and am doing an abundant assortment of crosses. Probably the most interesting set are crosses with some microdwarf varieties from tomato breeder Dan Follett. His microdwarfs will mostly top out at 11″ and under, though a few are a bit taller. Because the varieties he’s sent are mostly experimental (i.e. not stable yet), I’m not sure what the fruits are going to look or taste like. So I’m doing speculative crosses – cross-pollinate first and decide whether to save seeds later, after the fruits have matured and I’ve had a chance to taste them.
Since I know you’re just dying to know how one cross-pollinates tomatoes (I mean, doesn’t everyone want to know how to take over the world??), I thought I’d share some photos of the process.
First step: steal the electric toothbrush from the bathroom. If your spouse objects, explain that you are engaged in secret activities that will eventually result in total world domination. If your spouse makes unhappy noises about not wanting teeth stained with tomato-plant juice (spouses can be extraordinarily short-sighted!), temporarily placate spouse by promising to use a different toothbrush head.
Next step: collect pollen by using the tomato-pollination toothbrush head to vibrate a mature flower from the male parent, causing it to shoot a small burst of pollen onto a piece of black plastic. (The label on the plastic lid is the plant number of the plant providing the pollen, for recordkeeping purposes.)
This particular plant is one of Dan Follett’s crosses, and goes by the sexy name of 70X F4 R/Y. Here’s a pic of the label, which contains the description I got from Dan:
Translating this into English: this is a fourth generation selection of a cross between Red Robin, Rose Quartz, and Girl Girl’s Weird Thing (I’ll spare you the exact details of the cross-breeding). The previous generation was 9″ tall, had the multiflora gene – multiflora means a ridiculous number of fruit on a single fruiting branch, with red fruit/yellow stripes, nipples on the end of the fruit, and extra good flavor. I’m not 100% sure but I think the RL (nearly PL) refers to “regular leaf, nearly potato leaf”. I keep meaning to ask Dan, but keep forgetting.
I want to breed this one to Fuzzy Mix for a few reasons. First, I like the idea of a ridiculously large number of red and yellow striped fruit in a cluster; it sounds like it would make for a very pretty plant. Looking at this particular plant, it looks like the fruit come in an umbrella of fruit rather than long strings (like Sweet 100 or Sweet Million):
Second, it has a very attractive, upright, open growth habit. You might have noticed that Fuzzy Mix is a very dense bush – so dense, in fact, that it’s impossible for air to get into the center. Not very attractive and might promote disease. This tomato has a nicer shape than Fuzzy Mix. So if I can get the pretty fruit, the clusters of fruit, and the growth habit of this tomato type, and the fuzziness and drought resistance of Fuzzy Mix, I’ll have a pretty nice container tomato variety.
Okay, so what’s the next step?
Step two is every feminist’s dream (well, according to some folks, anyway): emasculation.
Tomatoes are self-pollinating, and in most cases have self-pollinated before the flower even opens. So to cross-pollinate a tomato, you have to catch a tomato flower before the pollen is released, cut off the male parts (okay, guys, you can uncross your legs now 🙂 ), and then pollinate the female parts with the pollen you collected earlier.
So here goes.
First, you find a tomato blossom of the right maturity. Too small and the stigma (the female part) will be too immature to accept the pollen. Too big and the anthers (male bits) will have matured and released their pollen, pollinating the stigma. So you want a tomato blossom that is almost but not quite mature. Full grown but not quite opening yet, and definitely not bright yellow. This one looks about right:
Next, you take a pointy but not razor sharp object and open up the flower. I used the tips of my embroidery scissors, as you can see. (Yeah, those are the good sewing scissors…shhh, don’t tell anyone 😉 )
Now that the flower’s been opened up, you can see the stigma – it’s the little greenish yellow thing sticking out in the center of the flower. You keep that, and cut away everything else. Congratulations! You are now a card-carrying, tomato-castrating feminist – you have just emasculated your first tomato flower:
The next step is to pollinate the emasculated flower using the pollen you collected earlier. Drag the stigma through the puddle of pollen. Use multiple pollen-puddles if you want to be sure:
Congratulations! You have cross-pollinated your first tomato flower, and taken your first step towards breeding your very own killer mutant ninja tomato variety. You’ve joined the ranks of Evil Tomato Breeders for Total World Domination (or at least a Tastier Tomorrow)!
There’s just one step left, which is of course to label your new cross for record-keeping purposes, so you know which of the adorable little tomato fruits will be the one to bring down world governments and launch the world into chaos. I use a little bit of leftover weaving yarn and some indestructible Avery GHS Ultra Duty Chemical Labels left over from my yarn sample dyeing to label each cross-pollinated blossom with the numbers of the male and female parents:
It’s important to sterilize your equipment between plants, of course. You wouldn’t want pollen cross-contamination, so I found a small container perfect for sterilizing scissors. Honk if you’re ancient enough to recognize what it is.
And where have the cats been? Alas, they have been feeling rather left out of all this world conquest, since they’re not allowed out of the house. Tigress, however, has not been idle. If she can’t get into the garden to hunt lizards and mice, she’ll hunt other things. Or so I am (oh-so-innocently) told.
It’s a darn good thing she’s also the most adorable cat ever!