Friday, 15 September 2006

Today in the garden ... tomato weirdness

This is what happens if you plant seeds from F1 hybrids (known as F2 seeds). As the genes start to segregate, every plant ends up with a different fruit shape! Whoopee!

As my three Pink Jester tomato plants ripen I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the original Pink Jester I saved the seeds from was an F1 hybrid. Look at the variability between the ripe fruits of the three plants.

Plant 1 has rounded oval fruits, exactly as Pink Jester should have, but they are more red than pink. Plant 2 has the deep pink colouring exactly right but with an elongated shape more like a San Marzano plum tomato, and slightly on the small side. Plant 3 has wide topped pointy-ended heart-shaped fruits with a lovely deep pink colour, slightly flamed with orangey red, and the fruits are significantly bigger.

But wait a minute ... I've been growing these tomatoes from the same original batch of seed for five years ... how come I never noticed the variability before? Well, I did have one plant with elongated fruits one year, but I didn't think anything of it. I knew a lot less about plant breeding then. And because my growing space is limited I often only grow small amounts of any one variety. Over the course of those five years I've grown two or three Pink Jesters each year, and the total so far is about twelve. Of those twelve plants, three have had elongated fruits. Now that's starting to look like a Mendelian ratio, if the rounded fruit gene is dominant over the elongated fruit gene. Twelve is still a very small sample, so it's hard to draw any conclusions, but it's a start.

I think it does show that it's worth growing seeds from F1 hybrid tomatoes though. I have three very lovely plants here, all different, all lovely in their own right, and each capable of becoming a new and unique variety. All I have to do is save seeds from the one(s) I like best and keep growing those for a few generations, weeding out any that don't match. It's likely that most will come true from seed if I simply save the seeds from these fruits, because tomatoes are self-pollinators and their genes are very stable compared to most plants.

Ripe fruits on Pink Jester 1

There are other differences between the plants too. Plant 3 has large blistered leaves (not very attractive) but the fruits go through particularly beautiful colour changes as they ripen (I showed the peachy colours in a pic in a recent post). Plant 2 has fruits with extra-smooth skins, and slightly shorter trusses. Plant 1 has a determinate growth habit ... it's formed a small bush only one and a half feet high, while the other two plants are sprawling upwards. And it's not just the appearance that's different either. Plant 2's fruits have a significantly better flavour than the others, very rich and mellow, with soft flesh. Plant 3 has the same wonderful flavour in its juicy areas but it has thicker and crunchier flesh, which dilutes the flavour a little. Plant 1 has tasty fruit too, but it's not the same as the others.

I'm actually going to save seed from all three of these plants because they each have qualities that I like. I can decide later which (if any) are worth pursuing long term.

Semi-ripe fruit on Pink Jester 3 going through a lovely orangey phase

Towards the end of the tomato season you often see weird things appearing. As the plants run out of energy and the weather becomes less clement, some of the flowers don't form or pollinate properly, and the result can be some odd aberrations in fruit shape. Here's one example: I've spotted a few double flowers on my Tangella plants in recent weeks, where the flower was wider than normal and had two completely separate pistils (resulting in a double tomato, if both are pollinated). Even more curious was a flower which produced a very wide, flat ribbon shaped pistil. And now that the fruit is swelling it seems that it wasn't a ribbon shaped pistil at all, it was multiple pistils fused together. The result is a series of tomatoes fused together, or one very wide and very pleated tomato, whichever way you look at it. Unfortunately I don't think there's enough left of the growing season for this one to reach maturity, but I'll keep it going as long as I can.

Multiple fused tomatoes on Tangella make a weird puckered beauty

Another oddity (which unfortunately has already fallen off the plant) is this three-horned fruit from Pink Jester 3.

It looks more like a dragon than a tomato.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

Indeed, Pink Jester is not in any of my heirloom seed books or catalogs, I would also suspect it's a commercial hybrid. Many commercial varieties are not properly labelled, and it can be hard to know in advance if it's a hybrid.

The one disadvantage of growing out a commercial hybrid is it is never possible to determine the original varieties that were crossed. You can never learn from experience, try crossing different parents, and improve the result.

I have a friend in Belgium, who recently sent me a F2 he made from crossing Ida Gold and Whippersnapper. After trial and error he has come up with an F2 that has nice cherry tomatoes with colors that are red, yellow or something in between. He would never been able to do this if he started with a commercial hybrid.

Since hybrids have 'hybrid vigor', the results are always strong, productive plants.

Rebsie Fairholm said...

You're probably right about it being a commerical hybrid. Many of the plants I've grown from it have come fairly true to type though, and it's been interesting to see the variations.

There's no doubt though that the most fun comes from creating your own hybrids and F2s ... I shall have a few of those to try next year.