Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Thanks, Universe

Or, more correctly, "Thanks, Bryan".

Arrayed before you are some seeds of hopniss (Apios americana) gathered from the area around High Point, New Jersey. Their arrival was certainly the high point of my day.

They were collected by Bryan Connolly, a seed saver, plant breeder and chicken farmer from Connecticut. Bryan also happens to be the Massachusetts State Botanist and is a scientist with a long standing interest in Apios americana. That's what I call multi-tasking.

High Point is, surprise, surprise, the highest point in Noo Joisy, "The Garden State" and has the coolest climate in the vicinity, lying close to the border with New York State. That ought to increase the odds of some better adapted plants for the UK compared to those from further south. Could this be the start of a northern adapted hopniss breeding programme? Time will tell. In any case it will be fun growing them and comparing them to my other accessions.

I am now presenting the Universe with a further challenge: deliver to me seeds from Apios plants growing even further north than New Jersey. These are to arrive on my desk by Thanksgiving, or failing that, Christmas: decorate my desk with hopniss, tra-la-la-la-la-la -la- la-la.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Blooming Beautiful Babes

Of the plant kind, that is.

I've just noticed that a couple of my oca seedlings are starting to flower. I'll have to get up close and personal to see how they're hanging with regards to stigmas and stamens. This would at least allow a slightly more systematic approach to breeding new varieties, although the serendipitous production of seeds and the subsequent rearing of the seedlings has been entertaining and educational in itself. What's really important is a reliable way to get lots of different varieties to flower simultaneously so we can maximize the potential for fortuitous genetic recombination. When I say "we", I mean you too.

I have tried stem girdling as a way of stimulating flowering in the past - all that happened was I got a lot of extra cuttings - the first bit of windy weather snapped the brittle stems. I have seen references to pruning being used to encourage flowering, but that seems to consist of little more than lopping the top off the main stem to encourage side shoots. My plants have plenty of those already.

Another possibility would be artificially shortening day length - a bucket over an individual plant would probably suffice, but I've never yet managed to do this systematically enough to produce good results. Even if it didn't stimulate flowering, it might well encourage tuber development a bit earlier than usual. A more sophisticated approach would be to use gibberellin, but getting the dose right could be tricky.

Anyway, back to my seedlings. There are distinct differences in vigour, leaf hairiness, anthocyanin on the petiole and probably a whole host of other characteristics I'm not aware of. The simple, yet strangely tedious truth is that I really ought to do some proper characterisation of them. I should power up the Radix oca database and record in exhaustive detail the general appearance, flower morph, tuber size and colour, yield, taste and disease resistance of each variety in my possession. Somewhere, buried in a cardboard box, is a list of oca descriptors from CIP which I could use to assist me in this work. Maybe if I make a public declaration of intent on this blog, I will be shamed into action. So I'd better not then.

Post Script: a few days of wet and windy weather (summer!) have washed away the first flowers, but I notice more buds lurking in the leaf axils. I shall keep an eye out for the next batch and take some pictures in the glorious summer sunshine that will soon, Insha'Allah, illuminate the land once more.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Go Ahead, Make My Day

As my birthday approaches, it seems like a good time to send out my root crop wish list, just in case a potential benefactor or patron would care to make me very happy. I'll limit myself to a few simple things, hoping that the Cosmic Ordering Service is immune to my scepticism and will deliver, or failing that, perhaps you, kind reader, will be able to assist.

OK Universe, this is what I would like for my birthday this year:
  • High altitude sweet potatoes from Papua New Guinea - seeds from varieties found at the edge of cultivation at around 2300-2700 metres above sea level. Let's start with Lian Morea, WHCK 005, PRAP 219, PRAP 469, WBS 010 Munibmam, SSYK 019,Lipulipu, PRAP 546 and WHCK 007.   I've got  a lot more interested in sweet potatoes since I discovered that they are able to fix nitrogen and  I've just made a delicious soup containing sweet potatoes and can't get them out of my mind. 
  • Ipomoea minuta aka "culina", a high altitude Andean sweet potato relative said to be sweet and tasty and hardier than I. batatas.  
  • Ipomoea pandurata - the North American bigroot morning glory or mecha-meck. Winter hardy, big root, should grow here, might be useful for breeding or selection, although excavating a torso-proportioned root out of the ground with a crowbar might be a bit too heroic, especially seeing as, like me, it is often bitter and twisted.
  • Apios fortunei - the Asian version of hopniss
  • Seeds from the most northerly growing diploid Apios americana; Amphicarpaea bracteata from Canada - how about  Prince Edward Island provenance seeds for starters.
  • Day neutral ocas and ullucos, or at least ones from the southernmost part of their ranges; a bagful of oca and ulluco seeds from which to select new varieties more suited to the lazy, hazy, crazy days of our summers (or do I mean misty, moist and miserable?).
  • A purple fleshed yacon; black ocas and mashuas. That's probably enough germplasm for now, unless you can provide: ten acres; a few polytunnels; an independent income;a laminar flow cabinet; undying devotion..........
So go ahead, Universe, make my day, you know you want to.

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