... growing and hybridizing all kinds of plants in zone 6b Maryland since the 1980's.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Viola arvensis hybrids

More pictures from 2004... unfortunately I think I may have let these go to long between plantings. The last time I tried planting seeds from my arvensis hybrid lines, nothing came up. Viola arvensis is a pansy type violet. It grows as a weed of agricultural field here in Maryland. I used the tiny (not much bigger than a pencil eraser) Viola arvensis flowers as seed parent and pollinated with various humungous-flowered pansies. Here's a picture of Viola arvensis:

Below is one of my favorite lines I'd developed from Viola arvenis X a huge orange pansy. All of the F1 from the cross were bright yellow. I found only two orange revertants among a population of probably more than 50 seedlings. They were the foundation for the apricot-tinted seedlings pictured below - which I think were probably F4.

I had a lot of fun with these crosses - I'll have to start some up again if the old seeds won't sprout. And once I do get them going again, I'll just encourage them to naturalize so I don't have to worry about seeds getting old again!

Viola X cooperrideri

Another history post from 2004... I still have two of the three nearly identical F1 hybrids I raised from the cross of Viola striata X Viola walteri. The third didn't die, but got left behind in a move. My original intention was to try to get the beautiful foliage of Viola walteri (which I'd purchased from Woodlander's nursery) combined with the vigor and cold-hardiness of the local Viola striata. I didn't get as much of the foliage color as I'd hoped but they're still really nice landscape plants. Each plant forms a big round mat of healthy foliage each season that dies back to the crown each winter. In the Spring as they're getting started they're also covered with chunky pale-purple violets. They also have a few scattered blooms right before they die for the winter. They're nearly sterile, so don't make a nuisance of themselves by aggressively self-seeding (like some other violets are known to do). I found out after I did the cross that similar hybrids have been found where the two parental species occur together, and that they'd been called Viola X cooperrideri.
I do find ccassional self-sown F2 seedlings that are rather variable and I hope to eventually select some forms for better foliage color.

Here's the not-so-cold-hardy but beautiful Viola walteri. The foliage reminds me of hardy cyclamens. Note also the tiny light purple flower.

Here's a picture of the seed parent - Viola striata. It's more upright growing, vigorous and has loads of (a little bit bigger) cream-colored flowers.
Below's an old picture of the F1, when it was only a year I think. The color of the flowers is washed out and should look a little more purple than it does. And also a foliage detail shot that shows undersides (top row) and upper leave surfaces (bottom row) for the two parents and the F1. Viola walteri is on the left, Viola striata on the right, with the F1 between them (eatly intermediate in appearance). The last picture (sorry it's so blurry) shows striata blooms (top row) compared to the F1 hybrid's blooms (bottom row). I never could keep walteri happy enough (or even alive) to have blooms of it to do a comparison picture.

2004 - glossy kale beginnings

Here's the first of the "history" posts - where some of the current projects began. These are pictures from 2004. These were the original crosses that started my glossy kale lines. Since then I've been intercrossing and selecting for glossy, for more purple expression, and for cold hardiness (by default).

The first picture shows the 'Blue Scotch' kale (on the left) that had overwintered twice and a single offspring of it from pollen of an ornamental dark purple "flowering cabbage". The hybrid was really vigorous but didn't express much purple. Luckily it was carrying all of the necessary genes and has passed them on to its descendents.
The second picture shows three seedlings of 'Green Glaze' collard greens. This old obscure variety was the source of the glossy trait in my current lines. The seedling on the left was from a cross with pollen of 'Blue Scotch' kale. The center seedling appears to be a selfing. The one on the right is from pollen of that same ornamental dark purple "flowering cabbage".

I'm still working on breeding out the non-glossy (normal) gene, and I still see lots of seedlings that show the loss of chlorophyll in new leaves when the weather gets cold (a trait that came along from the ornamental cabbage). But they've come a long way.

Chromosome doubling

This subject of chromosome doubling came up at the Rose Hybridizers Forum, so I had to go digging through CDs to find some old pictures. Still haven't found all of the ones I wanted, but found this one and a bunch of other old images that were "a walk down memory lane". So, since there isn't a whole lot going on outside right now, I'll probably recycle those old images in the next couple of weeks or so - January might just end up being "MAPRC history month" LOL
Now back to chromosome doubling... this image shows the old sterile rose hybrid, Rosa X paulii, that had been treated with trifluralin in an attempt to induce chromosome doubling (and hopefully restore fertility as an amphidiploid). The branch on the left grew from one of the surviving leaf axil buds of a treated shoot tip. It was showing great potential with relatively stable changed morphology (hallmarks of polyploidy) - rounder leaflet shape, rumpled leaf surface texture, and more coarsely toothed edges compared to the normal untreated branch on the right. All other buds that regrew from treated shoot tips would at best show some transient effects from the trifluralin that disappeared gradually as the new shoots grew out.

Sadly, I lost this one, so we'll never be able to check it microscopically or know how it might have behaved as a parent.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Volunteer Mystery Lettuce

I'm not sure where this self-sown lettuce came from, but I'm hoping it'll overwinter here. When the original plant started getting big last Spring/Summer I thought it was from some seeds that had been shared with me. But when that plant went to seed, I saw that it had black rather than white seeds and that the seeds weren't retained within the seedheads but dehisced (were released like a dandelion or wild lettuce does). So, it's not what I thought it was. I'm guessing it's got to be from one of the countless packets of lettuce seeds I've bought over the years and blended to plant for "baby lettuce" use. Some of these would occassionally regrow and set seeds. Whatever the case, I hope it overwinters. I've always wanted to have a lettuce that would do that here. I even used to play around with 'Paris Island Romaine' X prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) crosses in an attempt to get an edible lettuce with the winter-hardiness of the wild stuff. I got the hardiness, but never got around to getting the prickles and bitterness bred back out. Maybe this volunteer will get me to that cold-hardy lettuce without having to use the wild stuff. We'll see.
If not, a few months back, I also dumped all of my old bought packets of lettuce seeds together and planted the mix out in the garden. Some of what came up is still alive but really small. Maybe some of these will overwinter.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Here's how the winter small grains are looking right now. I drew some lines and labels so you can see what's what.

December Iris

This picture is from last week (the 9th I think). I'd posted it too the Iris-Photos forum but figured I'd put it here too. This last bloom only had two standards and two falls but was still much appreciated at this time of the year.

Dwarf Heavenly Bamboo and Blue Fescue

Two plants looking especially pretty in this cold December weather: Nandina domestica 'Fire Power' and Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'. I don't currently have them planted next to each other but might have to change that. I think I'll like red and blue together all winter and during the warmer seasons the lime green color of the Nandina should be nice beside the blue too! 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Deer and Kales

Here are five of the roughly two dozen reasons why it's hard to grow some things around here. Like... just about anything edible or having a trunk. LOL See the red arrow in the foreground pointing to last year's glossy kales. The kales mark the front of the regular garden. The deer are along the back edge of that garden. And the sea of foxtails behind the deer on the right is the "pumpkin patch" where we try to grow vine crops and corn. Lately we've been seeing them nearly everyday, but sometimes of the year they're less "present". Even so, if it weren't for regular "egg-sprays"* some of my smaller trees would never get a chance to get bigger.

* Egg-spray is just an egg shook up in a gallon of water and strained into a pump-sprayer. Deer are supposed to find the scent disgusting. So far so good. You just need to reapply after you get a few good rains, which can be a pain in a really rainy season. We haven't had one of those in a while! LOL
Disclaimer - As with anything, I'm not advocating you use it. So don't try to hold me liable for anything. Do your own research before you try anything at home. For instance, I don't spray the things that we'll be eating raw, when it gets close to eating time, because of the potential issues with bad things in raw eggs (like Salmonella). But I feel free to spray away on things that'll get a good cooking before they're eaten, and on inedibles.
Sometimes I add a couple of tablespoons of fish emulsion to the spray to do a foliar feeding while I'm at it. Might as well "kill two birds with one stone." And I figure that could only make the scent even more disgusting - raw eggs AND rotted fish, yummm!!! But in general I don't do a whole lot of fertilizing anyway.

Glossy Kale Central Rosettes

Here are close-ups of the central rosettes of three of the glossy kales overwintered from last year's planting [planted Spring 2010] and the last two close-ups are of two seedlings from Spring 2011 planting.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kale and potatoes for dinner

One of the fringe benefits of vegetable breeding, sometimes you just HAVE to eat the ones that aren't going to be saved for seed. So, for dinner tonight, we ate some non-glossy seedlings that came up in the glossy kale patch. It's actually one of my favorite combinations mashed potatoes with a pat of butter and cooked kale. I love mashed potatoes in general, and they're even better with some kale mixed into each forkful for extra flavor and texture.
To prepare the kale, I strip the central vein of each leaf out and discard it. Then the rest gets snipped into strips with scissors. If I had a lot, I'd get out the cutting board and use a knife, but the scissors work fine for small harvests. The texture of the cooked kale is really substantial without being stringy or slimy at all - it's firm and meaty. It's really good in soup too. Can you tell that kale is my favorite cooked green!  The only other green that's been close was boiled nettle tips - they had a similar texture - delicate and firm at the same time.

Here's the prepped kale before boiling. And what was left on my plate when I finally remembered that I wanted to get a picture. Oops!
I think I could eat this combo everyday. Note to self: PLANT MORE KALE!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pumpkin Cake

Yeah, this IS a plant research blog but hey it's my blog and I like to cook and eat those plants too so... here's a recipe that I use all the time (as in probably at least several dozen times a year). I had been looking for ways to use pumpkins and found a pretty good pumpkin cake recipe. Of course I had to play around with it and make it my own way... substituting whole wheat flour, bumping up the spice, and adding blackstrap molasses for an extra boost of minerals (and flavor). This is what I've settled into although I also throw in a sprinkle or two of ground cloves lately because I like lots of spiciness. It's pretty wholesome as far as cakes go, so I don't feel too guilty about eating it on a regular basis. I hope the recipe prints out OK, it's a photo of what I'd put on paper for a coworker who wanted to make it. And yes, the sugar is really supposed to be included as a "wet" ingredient.

In case you're not the most adventurous in the kitchen, this really isn't too difficult. You just throw all of the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Then combine all of the wet ingredients in another - I often use the pot that I've used to thaw some frozen pumpkin puree. Blend those wet ingredients. Add and blend in the dry ingredients. Pour into  greased baking dish and bake. Done!

I usually make a double batch (all amounts doubled) and make three 9X13 glass dishes (just a little thinner that way) at one time - then there's plenty to take around for sharing.

You can just use a can of storebought pumpkin puree which is usually around 2 cups worth but we've been finding winter squash and pumpkins ridiculously cheap, and putting a pile in our living room fireplace for decoration. Then we "butcher" them one by one all winter. To do that, we cut one in half and scrape out the seeds and "guts". Then put the cleaned halves cut side up on a heavy baking sheet and cover the cut edges with foil so they don't get burnt. I've been leaving a big hole in the center so that the heat can get to that part better. I've been baking at 350 degrees for about 2 hours for the bigger sized squashes. Then you can just easily scoop out the softened flesh with a big spoon and throw out the skins. A food processor will then turn all that good stuff into smooth puree. I've used a blender in a pinch but then you might have to add some water to get it to work. The food processor really works best. The squash I used for the pictures was a sort of red, bumpy, round, hubbard type and was probably around 8 or 9 pounds, if I had to guess. I forgot to take its picture before it went under the knife. I didn't even scoop it real close to the skin and even so it still made a double batch (which used 4 cups of puree) and there was still enough for 4 sandwich bags (2 cups each) to go into the freezer for the next batches of cakes. And there was even still more puree that I put in the fridge for some experimental cooking (mwah hah hah) over the next couple of days.

Here's the pumpkin cake recipe followed by a bunch of pictures of the process that will hopefully encourage any apprehensive folks:

The recipe:

So first grease a baking dish (I smear it with butter):

Open a can of pumpkin or wizz up some baked flesh in the food processor:

Here are some extra bags of puree going into the freezer [aren't they pretty]:

The dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon):

The dry ingredients stirred:

The blended wet ingredients (pumpkin, sugar, molasses, oil and eggs):

The blended wet and dry ingredients:

Poured into the baking dish:




Planted a few Fall radishes. These were ones supposed to be good for storage - that reportedly don't do as well when Spring planted. I'm going to test out their storage capabilities and if any are still viable come Spring I'll plant them for seed production. I planted four different kinds but some of them were from really old seed so I just got (from left to right): a single root of 'Rose Heart', a bunch of 'Long Black Spanish' and some 'Watermelon'. I like the idea of color in the interior, so I hope these ones especially will overwinter in the fridge. The second picture shows some slices from one of the 'Watermelon' radishes that had split (so I ate it). Whew! It was hot!