Landrace Gardening: Promiscuously Pollinated Tomatoes

| 1/22/2014 10:27:00 AM

Tags: landrace gardening, tomatoes, Utah, Joseph Lofthouse,

In previous blogs I have written about landrace development projects that I have been working on for years. Today I am describing a project that is just beginning. I would like to convert my tomato population into a promiscuously pollinated landrace. A freely cross-pollinating population of tomatoes would greatly simplify the process of survival-of-the-fittest selection for families of tomatoes that thrive in my garden.


In their natural non-domesticated state, tomatoes are a promiscuously pollinated crop. During domestication they were converted into a highly inbreeding crop. I believe this is due partially to not taking the tomatoes natural pollinators with the plant when it left its native land, and partly due to the intense focus in the last century on preventing cross-pollination. Naturally cross-pollinated tomatoes are typically considered a liability in modern times both in mega-ag and among home growers so heavy selection pressure has been put on the species to eliminate traits that lead to higher cross-pollination rates. I intend to reverse that trend in my garden and to create a landrace of tomatoes that is promiscuously cross-pollinating.

tomato yield

What Triggered This Project?

During the 2013 growing season I conducted a cold/frost tolerance trial on tomatoes. That got me into the tomato patch regularly to take measurements and photos. While there I noticed that just about every time I was in the tomato patch that there were two plants, out of 50 varieties, which were highly attractive to bumblebees. At least 5 different species of bumblebees visited the plants while I was watching. They spent around 10 seconds per flower. If the bees even visited other tomato plants they stayed for less than a second on any particular flower. Those two plants also happened to be the most productive plants in my garden. The varieties are named Jagodka and Nevskiy Red. I attribute the high productivity in part to the bumblebees doing a highly effective job of pollinating the flowers on those plants. I believe that more flowers got better pollinated leading to higher fruit set and larger tomatoes. That got me to thinking about what I really want out of my tomatoes. Do I want to continue trialing highly inbred varieties from far away that perform marginally? I decided that doesn't work for me any more. I want a locally-adapting population of tomatoes that is constantly generating lots of natural hybrids so that they can get more and more acclimated to growing in my garden with its unique pests, soil, climate, and farmer.

Where Do I Go From Here?Cold Tolerant Tomato Trial

1/23/2014 4:34:10 PM

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