Breeding Success

By Neil Case

The Bali Times

SANUR, Bali ~ Last week’s article dealt with the task of preparing the garden beds. Now to the business of the actual planting.

Many people in Australia, even if they never grow anything else, will try a few tomatoes. Nothing beats the flavor of a fresh-picked, vine-ripened tomato. Even if your only space is the balcony of a high-rise inner-city apartment, you can grow them in pots. Indeed, special varieties have been bred especially for pot culture.

A word here about the nature of modern seeds. Broadly speaking, there are two major classifications – open pollinated and closed pollinated. Open pollination is as nature intended. There may be the influence of man (e.g., in order to produce a satisfactory yield of vanilla beans, the vanilla orchid must be hand-pollinated – the home gardener often helps the set of pumpkins and melons by placing the male flower inside the female), but more often it is up to the birds, bees and other insect/animal pollinators.

Open pollinated plants are usually more vigorous, much hardier, more disease-resistant and always come true to seed.

Closed pollination is practiced by seed hybridists. If the hybrid results from crossing two open-pollinated cultivars (the botanists name for varieties), the result will also exhibit the same characteristics of the parents, regardless of whether natural pollinators were excluded or not.

This progeny can be treated in exactly the same fashion as open-pollinated cultivars, though if the breeder has a particular aim in mind (increased flower size, for example), there may be a reduction in other qualities, such as disease resistance. Nature, of course, has always been the supreme hybridist – to wit, the astonishing diversity of the plant kingdom.

A more complicated method of closed pollination is to develop two distinct breeding lines by crossing hybrids with hybrids, then bringing the two lines together. These breeding programs are often closely guarded secrets, and new seed must be purchased for each successive crop.

Unless the hybridist is also the grower of the seed (usually only if they are big multinationals), a royalty is payable to the breeder and such seeds are significantly more expensive. They are known as F1 hybrids. Seeds are often nonexistent, infertile or where fertile do not come true to type.

In the flower world, the aims of the breeder are to produce more flowers; larger flowers; more compact or larger plants; new colors, etc. Modern petunias are good example. In the edible world, here we possibly eat seedless watermelon daily.

It’s best to plant seeds which are known to grow successfully in the tropics. Let’s start with tomatoes: when next you buy them, choose ones that are overripe and well on the way to being rotten. When you get them home, put them on a dish on your windowsill and allow them to rot completely. Scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon, leaving any flesh still attached to the seeds. Don’t wash the seeds.

Line a small plate with tissue or paper toweling, and spread the seeds over the paper with the back of the spoon. Leave in an airy, shaded, dry place for two weeks, until the seeds have completely dried out. They have now matured and are ready for planting.

The same may be done with the local cucumber, although it may be harder to find a fully mature fruit. These may be identified by their much larger size, and a distinct yellowing of the whitish underlay to their speckled/striped green skin. The same seed preparation method described above also applies.

The long, dark-green burpless cucumber (known locally as ketimun jepun) is also grown here, but along with strawberries and grapes may not flourish in the warmer lowlands. Both cucumbers need to be trellised in order to maintain fruit quality.

You can reliably try any of the packeted seeds of the various Chinese Mustard Greens; Wong Bok (Chinese Cabbage – Sawi Putih); Choy Sum (Caisim); Buk Choy (white and greened stemmed varieties). The white cabbage moth is prevalent here and crops must be protected. An acceptable organic insecticide is derris dust (powdered tuba root), a beneficent natural fungus which, when ingested by the caterpillar, grows inside the gut, incapacitating and eventually killing it.

Asian celery seed (Seladri) is also available. Be prepared! Even here this seed is slow to germinate, but once established grows very quickly. Generally, though, seeds are quick to germinate, and grow and mature rapidly in the tropics. (Cucumbers take 4-5 weeks from planting to harvest.) The lifespan is considerably shorter, so to maintain regular supply, successive plantings (every 3-4 weeks) are necessary.

The next and final article in this series deals with raising seedlings, transplanting and care of crops.

Filed under: The Island

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