Friday 26 March 2010

No I haven't given up

OSU Blue Fruit tomato
OSU Blue Fruit tomato. Verily 'tis a black fruit, but red in the middle.

Last year I had to leave most of my garden fallow and take a year off. It was really a case of too many things happening at once - mostly good things, but nevertheless I got left behind with my workload until it was no longer possible to catch up. So I just focused on getting the pea trials done and a couple of the more important breeding projects, and the rest of my gardening year got shelved. There was no time to write up stuff for the blog - I only just managed to keep on top of the data collection for the trials and experiments. All the non-essential gardening went on hold, and most of the garden was left unplanted, seeds left unsown. Because I was finding it so difficult to do any gardening of my own, I dropped out of the online community … because I found it a bit depressing to see all the goodness I was missing out on. So I apologise if you have been used to seeing my comments on your blogs and have not heard from me for a while.

So what have I been doing instead? Well the main thing I was doing was recording and releasing my second album, Seven Star Green. Which has just had a spectacularly glowing review in the prestigious fROOTS magazine. I should explain that we release our music on our own label, which means we have to do all the promotional work ourselves - which is a grim, tedious, time-consuming and often demoralising slog! It's really because of this that I didn't find the time to commit to the garden in 2009. Daniel and I also launched an additional music project, Alchymical Muse, which is slightly more arty and uses our voices in combination - not just in English but in Gaelic, Occitan, Langue d'Oïl (medieval French) and even our own made up languages. (We just enjoy making things difficult for ourselves.) We're working towards a debut album release for that but it's a little way off yet.

Among the things I was able to grow were four or five varieties of tomatoes, including the amazing coal-black variety OSU Blue Fruit, shown above, which is still under development at Oregon State University in the US. I also conducted a trial planting of around 30 varieties of pea, which involved a lot of note-taking and photographing. The Luna Trick pea project was a huge success - in fact I got twice as much out of it as I'd hoped for - and will be the subject of its own post in the near future. Less easy was the red-podded pea project. A growout of the seed from the original plant yielded some wonderful beauty of colour but alas, none with edible pods. Which leads me to conclude that it doesn't have the necessary genes, and if I'm going to make any progress with it I will have to try a different tack. That will have to include crossing it with something else to introduce the two recessive genes needed for edible pods, and going back to the previous F2 generation to see if there are any other red phenotypes with a more promising genepool. Another setback was an invasion of seed-eating mice who depleted my available seedstock quite drastically. Again, I will write up more about this project when I have time. But here's a piccy from the 2009 crop.

Red-podded pea F3
Red-podded peas: F3 plant in flower. It has the most beautiful buds of any pea I've seen.

I've not been able to take part in seed swaps this year, for two reasons. Firstly my seed stocks are very depleted, and much of what I have got is older seed, which will have to be germination-tested before I can send it to anybody. Secondly, I already have a backlog of seeds which people have sent to me in previous years, and I've already got more than I can realistically hope to grow with the time and space I have available. Every year my breeding projects take up more and more space, as well as the increasing number of growouts I need to do with varieties I've already collected in order to maintain them. So the traditional seed swap model is not practical for me any more - it's not that I don't want the seeds people have to offer me, I simply have nowhere left to grow them! I guess the solution is to set up a system where people who want seeds from me can just pay for the postage rather than sending seeds in return. I can probably do that with a PayPal button but I haven't had time to do it yet.

You may notice that the blog has a new design. Well, 'design' may be too strong a word because Blogger has a pretty rubbish range of templates to choose from compared to the likes of Wordpress. My main site was designed from scratch in Dreamweaver, which gave me a lot more control but it's also a lot more work to do updates, so sticking with one of the Blogger templates is the only viable option for the blog. The main thing that bothered me about the previous design was the black background and the white text. I originally chose that layout to showcase my photographs, because there's no doubt in my mind that most photographs look their best against a black background. But the opposite is true of text - it can be quite wearing on the eyes to read white text on a black background. And much as I like to show off my photography, the legibility of the text is more important. I'd been thinking about changing it for a long time, but it didn't look too bad on my computer so I didn't worry too much about it. But then just before Christmas my trusty old G5 finally popped its chips and I had to replace it. Now equipped with a shiny new iMac (whooo) I went to have a look at my blog and uuuurrrrgh! Websites always look different on different screens and with different browsers, but I was astonished how drastically different the blog looked on the iMac compared with my old computer. The font was much heavier and it made the column width appear narrower - just cramped and hard to read. So, now we have a white background for better legibility, and a flexible column width which I hope will enable it to adapt to different screen sizes without going weird. The removal of the column width restriction also enables me to post slightly larger pictures, and hopefully that'll make up for the loss of the black background.

Nigro Umbilicatum
One of the thirty or so rare peas I trialled in 2009

I'm experimenting with hosting my images on Flickr instead of uploading them direct to Blogger. I like Flickr, it has a much better interface than the cackhanded Blogger uploader and it displays images better. Maybe only a nerd like me would notice the difference, but still. I have a whole load of other stuff on there too, from 18th century gravestones to pavement furniture (yeah I do have some weird hobbies) so there's plenty to look at.

I must also take this opportunity to pay tribute to Val McMurray, a very wonderful lady devoted to the cause of promoting endangered vegetable varieties, who sadly had to relinquish her battle against cancer earlier this week. Founder of a seedbank in Canada with her husband Dan, the energy with which Val collected, trialled, preserved and distributed seeds - especially tomatoes - was absolutely remarkable, not to mention her kindness and generosity in supporting other gardeners with advice and encouragement. She was a ray of light and an inspiration, and will be deeply missed, although her spirit thrives in gardens all over the world - in 24 countries - where she sent her seeds.


Katxena said...

Your red-podded peas are amazing. I found your blog last year, just before you went on hiatus, and I'm so glad you are back. I find your pea breeding work utterly fascinating.

Sarah said...

Glad you're back. I am looking forward to more pea breeding stories.

Jude said...

Yay, you're back!

BilboWaggins said...

New layout is fantastic, don't sweat about the loss of black background. Welcome back.

Matron said...

And I came to your blog yesterday in the hope that yu had updated it. Great to have you back. Amazing tomato picture!

Computer Blog 2023 said...

Good that your back to blogging, if you search for free blogger templates there is loads and Blogger are changing templates soon in that you will have more control.
Also, Blogger is linked in with Picassa which has loads of extra's and IMO is better than flickr. But best of all is if you set your Google Profile it will show up in Buzz and Greader when you update.

Lesley said...

Hello. :) I discovered your blog, too, just before you had to take a break. I'm delighted to see that you're back.

The flowers on that red-podded pea are so beautiful!

I've had a look at some of your photographs on Flickr and looking forward to viewing the rest at leisure.... I like gravestones too. :O) Chianna in the garden is gorgeous. :)

Kath said...

Welcome back! I like a white background. In your absence I had to give in to old age and get reading glasses so the black text on white really helps!
Look forward to the pea posts.

Harmony said...

Ooh, you're into conlang? That's so neat! And I'm very glad you're back. I loved reading about your breeding projects.

Robert Brenchley said...

Glad to see you're back! I'd gathered you were snowed under, and I know the feeling. I'm trying 30-40 pea varieties myself this year, depending on how many I can squeeze in, and I'll be reporting on my own blog.

Robert Brenchley said...

Come to think of it, the seeds of the old mangetouts I have (Goldensweet, Bijou, Carouby de Mausanne) all show 'primitive' charactersitics - speckles, dimples - and I've been thinking that they're probably and independent group which wasn't crossed with 'normal' peas till later. If edible pods are recessive - which is what you might suspect if it's a damaged gene which can't provide a template for the hard inner layer - then in the days before Mendelian genetics they wouldn't have understood why crosses failed, and might well have given up on any such idea and left them to develop separately.

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Thank you everyone for the lovely welcome, it's very much appreciated.

Robert - that's a very astute comment and I think you're absolutely right. I suspect that modern commercial peas have a very narrow genepool and these older dimpled and speckled types have been cast aside in the last century or two and not used in breeding work. I think one of the reasons for this is a change in gardeners' tastes. These days we like a bit of colour in our gardens so we seek out the ones with purple two-tone flowers and speckly seeds. To the Victorian gardener however, the two-tone flowers and speckles would be associated with field peas, which are tough and starchy and would have seemed old-fashioned and uninteresting to them. They were probably more attracted to the pure snowy white flowers and bright green peas (both recessive traits) of the marrowfat peas which also tasted sweeter. As I discovered, crossing a modern commercial pea with Golden Sweet produced spectacular diversity with lots of traits not seen in either parent - so I think they must have been very different lines and enjoyed a good shake-up.

You're also right about edible pods being recessive, and caused by a defective gene which fails to give the pod its protective fibre layer. In fact there are two unrelated recessive genes which control pod edibility, and they probably arose from completely separate mutations as they are slightly different in the part of the fibre layer they 'fail' to produce. To get a truly fibreless pod you need both of them. If you have one and not the other, you get a partially edible pod (the fibre is reduced but not eradicated - I think Golden Sweet falls into this category).

Anonymous said...

Wonderful reading a post of yours again :-)
Just made you a contact on Flickr

Jeremy said...

Yay! Great to see you back. And the new design is much easier on the eye.

Greenmantle said...

Great to see you back Rebsie! I'm taking a sabbatical myself, so can't complain about yours!

Just bought your albums by the way. (via Paypal to you, with a Northampton address).. Put your squiggle on them for me will you :)


Patrick said...

Hi Rebsie!

It's great to see you back, and yes the new design looks good. I'm looking forward to reading more.

Soilman said...

You're back!! Welcome!!

Zazen999 said...

YAY - you're back.

Lovely red pea pods there; has brightened my day.

Rhizowen said...

Good looking website and great research.

Black on white beats
white on black every time.

I've been growing Alan Kapuler's peas for a couple of years - definite differences in flavour, as well as other characteristics. Your efforts are totally complementary and thoroughly worthwhile.

Hearing you sing and play has made me consider dusting off my 12 string, which I haven't touched in over 10 years. I'll let the world judge whether that's a good or a bad thing.

Megan said...

I am so happy you are back!!! I love this blog.

Jeremy said...

@Rhizowen: having heard you, I can vouch it would be A Good Thing.

Rhizowen said...

@Jeremy - Aw,shucks.

Wait a minute, if Rebsie swaps her guitar for a fretless banjo, that might make an excellent title for her next downhome paean to Pisum.

Need sugar, failing fast..........

The Allotment Blogger said...

Welcome back!

Those black tomatoes are really impressive - I could definitely invest in some seed for a tomato that stunning, if it also tastes good.

Interesting about the red pod peas; purple-podded peas have a different genetic make-up, presumably?

VP said...

Great to see you back, Rebsie :)

Shame that your red pea programme has hit a snag, but I'm sure your fastidiousness will see it through in the end.

I wonder, did you stand in your garden and shout B*ll*cks anyway before deciding to be all sensible and work with the other options left open to you?

plot said...

YEAY! You're back! Oh this is excellent. I was afraid you were gone forever -- since you took that year off, I've started my own blog and am took tips from you -- your post about the blog counter has been inspirational. Thank you for starting back up again, and now I have hours of good pondering material!