Landrace Gardening: Foreign Imports

| 10/23/2013 1:24:00 PM

I am constantly working on projects to incorporate beauty, resilience, and higher nutrition into my landrace crops. I do this by paying attention to what is going on in my garden, and by importing seeds from other gardens. This week’s blog documents some of this year’s selection projects and explains why I am working on them.

Seminole SquashSome years ago when I started my landrace moschata squash project, I included seeds from Seminole Pumpkin because they are a wild squash. They may be closely related to the ancestral squash from which butternuts were derived. It is likely that there are many useful genes in these squash that were lost during domestication. Alas, the Seminole Pumpkin is a native of Florida, so when I planted it in my garden it had not even started flowering when it was killed by frost. I can’t do survival of the fittest selection among the offspring of a plant that fails to produce seeds or pollen in my garden, so my moschata squash landrace went forward without the Seminole Pumpkin. I have been sad about that for years.

I grow an abundance of seed, and share it widely. One of the collaborators with which I shared landrace moschata seed lives in a similar climate which has a longer frost-free growing season. He crossed my landrace squash with Seminole Pumpkins and returned the seed to me. I grew that seed this summer. Many of the resulting plants were still too long season for my garden and didn’t mature fruit, but a few did. I am elated. Due to the generosity of a collaborator whom I have never met, I will be able to work with the genes from Seminole Pumpkins. I’m expecting to find some clever traits among the offspring.

I imported some South American corn composites into my garden. A composite is new mixed population containing many different varieties. Composites are similar to landraces, in being genetically diverse, but they have not yet been adapted to any particular garden. I grew the South American corn composites in a patch by themselves. The seed that I collected this year is a composite of composites: I call it a hybrid swarm because of the huge diversity that exists in this population. I am attempting to combine the South American and Caribbean corns into a population that is suitable for growing in my garden. A lot of the plants in the patch were not suited to my garden and didn’t produce offspring, or had a very long season so they are only marginally useful to me. Overall they produced a lot of offspring which will be useful to me and contain traits which are not available in the North American corns that I have previously grown. It is my intention in a coming growing season to hybridize the South American population with my sweet corn, and with my popcorn. This should significantly increase the resilience and bio-diversity of my current crops.

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