It's been quite some time since I blogged about the Dwarf Tomato Project, but I've decided this is a good time for an update. In this most challenging of growing seasons, some of the dwarf works-in-progress are doing quite well - in fact, better than many of my typically reliable indeterminate varieties. Plus, Tomatopalooza 8 is tomorrow, and I will have a fairly good selection of the tomatoes from the project for people to taste and comment upon.
Let's follow the "lineage" of one of the more promising varieties, one that I selected for an named for my wife - "Dwarf Sweet Sue". So back in 2006, my friend Patrina, in Australia, decided to cross a relatively new, delicious heirloom type - Green Giant - with a historic dwarf variety, Golden Dwarf Champion. The cross took, creating a hybrid that Patrina named Sneezy. She sent seeds of Sneezy to me in early 2006, allowing me to grow it out that summer.
Sneezy was a nice hybrid - very vigorous, regular leaf indeterminate (as expected), producing medium sized, round bright yellow fruit with a delicious flavor. As expected, the hybrid showed the various dominant traits that should show up in a hybrid - regular leaf foliage (Green Giant is potato leaf), indeterminate growth, and yellow fruit midway in size between the two parents. I saved plenty of seed (considered the F2 generation) and sent them back to Patrina so she could distribute them and grow them out.
David Lockwood, one of Patrina's Dwarf Project volunteers, grew out a number of plants from the Sneezy F2 generation seed I sent during their summer of 2006/2007, and one of them he named Summertime Gold 3. His description was a dwarf growing, potato leaf plant producing "large pale yellow oblate fruit with a pink blush and good flavor". Patrina gathered seeds, now F3 generation, from all of her volunteers and sent them to me.
In the summer of 2007, I grew out many different Sneezy offspring from both Patrina and David - and one of them, from David's Summertime Gold 3 seed, was a winner. The fruit from the particular potato leaf dwarf plant was slightly variable in shape, from round to oblate, pale yellow with a pink blush on the bottom, in the 8 ounce range, with an outstanding sweet but complex flavor. I christened it Dwarf Sweet Sue (named after my wife - who, though not dwarf in stature, is very sweet!), saved seeds, now at the F4 generation, and sent them off to Patrina for further testing -I also sent it to a Tomatoville friend, Michael, in Texas, whose growing season essentially echoes the timing of the Australian grow outs.
David and Michael both had good luck with Dwarf Sweet Sue, liked it very much and had results consistent with my selection criteria in 2007. Seed was returned to me, but I now had two different seed lots to choose from and test out, to check how consistent the newly emerging variety was becoming.
In the summer of 2008, I grew two plants of each - from David's saved seed, and Michael's saved seed. I was now growing out the F5 generation, meaning that there should be more consistency, less variation, as stability of this new variety was approaching. I was delighted to find that all four plants yielded very similar results - all potato leaf dwarfs, all producing slightly variably shaped bright yellow fruits with the pink blush, all in the 6-10 ounce range, with exceptional flavor.
So seeds (now F6 generation) were saved and sent back to Patrina, who got them back to David. He grew them out, they met the description criteria we set for Dwarf Sweet Sue, and they were returned to me as F7 generation seeds. Last summer, 2009, I grew them out and found them to grow as I hoped, and my saved seed from those fruit were now at the F8 generation. At this point, Dwarf Sweet Sue can be considered as a new variety.
So, this is a good little "case history" of how we are developing new varieties in the Dwarf Project. This is one of the varieties we hope to have in seed catalogs soon!
A few pictures of Dwarf Sweet Sue
Since the summer of 2006, I've been immersed in one of the most enjoyable and interesting garden "projects" of my entire gardening experience. That was the year that an Australian friend, Patrina Nuske-Small, sent me seeds of some crosses she made based on a few conversations we had over the Garden Web site. When Patrina made the crosses, the International Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project was born (and little did we know how "big" it would get!).
But that's getting ahead of things. The "seed" of the project started when two of my ideas came together and then were shared with Patrina, who turned out to be really good at crossing tomatoes. Idea #1 - repeating the type of work that the Isbell seed company carried out in 1915 when they created a new variety called New Big Dwarf. Idea #2 - developing new, interesting tomatoes for people who were space challenged to grow - essentially bringing the variety of heirlooms to easier to grow, shorter, more compact plants.
First, a little background is needed. Most heirloom varieties with superb flavor and interesting colors are what are called indeterminate varieties - the vines grow until killed by disease or frost, which makes for monsters of plants. I've grown indeterminate tomatoes that exceed 15-20 feet tall. Sure, they are wonderful, but if someone wants to grow them on a deck or patio or driveway, dealing with the long vines are a real challenge.
A very few varieties came to prominence in the late 1800s that are very different - the so-called "dwarf" tomato varieties. They are clearly different looking from the very start, being much more compact and having dark green, crinkly (so called "rugose") foliage. The central stem is very stout and thick. The plants tend to top out at 3-4 feet tall, yet grow and bear fruit until frost, so only need a short stake or cage for control. But, unfortunately, the fruit size tends to be small, though the flavor is quite good. There were three varieties in existence back then - Golden Dwarf Champion (2-4 ounce yellow fruit), Dwarf Stone (4-8 ounce red fruit), and Dwarf Champion (2-4 ounce pink fruit), which had limited popularity due to the small fruit size.
Then, in 1915, Isbell did some work to get a better sized dwarf. They crossed Dwarf Champion with the largest indeterminate tomato known at the time, Ponderosa. Subsequent growing out of the cross, then selecting to get a stable non-hybrid variety led to New Big Dwarf - which I found located in the USDA seed collection. I requested a seed sample, grew it out, and was delighted to find that the fruit size approached 12 ounces, and the pink fruits were quite delicious.
So - what if we repeated that sort of project using some of the other large fruited indeterminates of various colors - thus hopefully finding a way to produce (eventually!) new varieties of good size and interesting colors and great flavor on nice, tidy short dwarf plants. This, then, was our goal - short plants that bear all season yet can be easily grown in medium sized containers with short stakes or cages, on patios or driveways or decks - in a variety of colors, sizes and shapes - but with great flavor an essential trait.
That's the back story of the project. In Part 2, I will tell you about the first set of crosses - how Patrina named them, what I found when I grew them out, and how we managed to involve so many people in the effort.