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My plant breeding work

I experiment with crossing heritage vegetables, creating new varieties from an ancient and diverse genepool. It helps to bring a bit of genetic diversity (not to mention colour and interest) to the homogenised vegetable world. All my work is in the public domain. I try to develop cultivars which amaze and delight gardeners with their looks and flavour and which will grow well under organic conditions - qualities which have been neglected by commercial breeding. I'm also interested in breeding for the red-blue pigment anthocyanin, as there are nutritional benefits in coloured vegetables, and they look beautiful.

My primary focus is on peas (click for a full list of breeding lines I'm working with) but I have a lot of sideline interests.

All my breeding work and trials have been done in my suburban garden. It's small scale, but that's OK because it's for the benefit of others who do stuff on a small scale.

Red-podded pea project

This amazing colour evolved spontaneously from a cross between Golden Sweet and Carruthers' Purple Podded. The cross segregated into many colour combinations, including just one plant with deep blood-red pods. There were also some with peachy blushes and fiery red edges. It was quite an exciting development - not only has it never been done before, nobody even knew it was possible.

The beautiful colour is created from a simple combination of four genes and is stabilising well in the F3 generation. The next step is to breed an edible-podded version. Fully edible pods in peas require two recessive genes and I'm trying various approaches in the hope of making this into something really special.

Yellow sugarsnap pea project

I crossed the vintage Golden Sweet with a modern sugarsnap cultivar, Sugar Ann. The idea is to create a new sugarsnap variety with golden yellow pods, but numerous other interesting phenotypes have segregated out, including pink-and-white flowers, purple seeds and supersweet yellow mangetouts. Lots of F3 lines to follow up through the 2009 season!

For those interested in the nitty gritty of a project like this, you can view my data table (qualitative descriptors for each plant) from the F2 crop of 2008.

Purple mangetout pea project

Purple mangetout

There are lots of purple podded pea cultivars around, but very few have edible pods. A purple mangetout (or snow pea) would be a great thing to have because of the health-giving anthocyanin pigment in the pods. Ben at the Real Seed Catalogue asked me to breed one for him. The mother variety we're using is the magnificent yellow-podded mangetout Golden Sweet and crosses have been made with two purple varieties, Desiree and Carruthers' Purple Podded. In the segregating F2 plants there were a few promising purple mangetouts, like the one shown above (you can recognise a mangetout by its knobbly pods) so the next couple of years will focus on stabilising these lines.

Purple Alderman experiment

Rebsie's purple pea

This one is a bit of a random project in that there's no firm goal and I'm just experimenting to see what happens. I really love Alderman, a tall pea introduced in 1891 and still commercially available. The peas are enomous and taste sublime even at full size. But I also like colourful pods and flowers and wondered if it was possble to breed something purple-podded with the stature and taste of Alderman. So I crossed it with an heirloom purple from the Heritage Seed Library, Mr Bethell's Purple Podded. The results, when the F2 generation segregated out, was a range of purple and green and bi-coloured pods on big beefy plants with large peas. Most of the bi-colours have the purple and green in stark bold flashes which look amazing when the sun shines through them. These will be shelly type peas as there are no mangetout genes here, but they are segregating for flavour and there's some very tasty ones among them. The purple flashes blur and soften as the pod grows and end up looking like watercolour paint.

You can find more information on the blog about my various plant breeding projects.
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