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joseph May 25, 2015 04:23 PM

Joseph's Tomato Experiments
Frequently I want to post a photo of something that is happening with my tomatoes, but it doesn't fit in with any of the ongoing threads, so I've been skipping the post. I'm starting this thread as a handy place to keep a journal of what's going on with the tomatoes in my garden.

Over the past few years I have been working on a few tomato breeding/selection projects.

I started out in 2009 and 2010 by trialling hundreds of varieties of heirloom and modern hybrid tomatoes: Looking for anything at all that would produce fruit in my garden before frost. Most of them were spectacular failures! Brandywines and beefsteaks self-eliminated very quickly. I don't like providing the labor to pick cherry tomatoes, so they were mostly culled except for yellow pear and Sungold. I was mostly saving seed as bulk lots. Any variety that produced well got dumped into a common fermentation, and mixed with everything else. I did a little bit of selection for frost/cold, because about 10% to 50% of my plants get killed by frost every year, so the most susceptible got eliminated.

In the 2013 growing season I did a frost/cold tolerant trial in collaboration with FusionPower. He provided seeds from varieties that are known for cold or frost tolerance. I found one variety Jagodka, which is quite susceptible to frost, but it grows robustly and fruits quickly in spite of the cool nights. It ripens every fruit in spite of the short season. [Google: "Cold tolerant tomatoes, right down Joseph's alley."]

One thing that we learned from the trial, is that I should be focusing on determinate tomatoes because they are more productive earlier in the season. I suppose that my plants had already shown me that, because my bulk seed had ended up being mostly determinate varieties. In the bulk seed collection this fall, I'm intending to do careful screening to only select for determinate plants.

I do a little bit of frost tolerance testing each year. One of these years after I get some of the other breeding projects further along, I'm intending to make some crosses to screen for better frost resistance. I grew a flat of tomatoes this year that survived a two day long snowstorm without visible damage. Many plants had already been culled from the flat due to previous radiant freeze damage.

Another thing that I noticed during the frost/cold tolerance trial, is that the two varieties that were the most productive were also highly attractive to bumblebees. I'm speculating that they set fruit earlier and more reliably because they were being better pollinated. The flowers shed a dust cloud of pollen when jostled. So that triggered the idea for the breeding project I expect to work on for the next few years: Developing a landrace of tomatoes that are promiscuously pollinating. I'm hoping that will allow me to spin the genetic roulette wheel more frequently in my garden, and lead to quicker development of tomato varieties that really thrive in this area. It will also lead to my garden being full of hybrid vigor. I won't have to suffer through the inbreeding depression that seems so commonplace among the heirlooms that I have grown.

Part of my motivation for pursuing promiscuously pollinating tomatoes is that I think they will do a better job of acclimating to late blight. Rather than throwing one highly inbred variety at the problem, I intend to throw a field of tomatoes at the problem, with each plant being genetically unique and diverse. Then those plants that are most tolerant can share genes readily with each other. It might be many different traits working together that provides the best tolerance. And not just a single tolerance gene. To further this project, I am collecting wild tomato genes, and crosses with wild tomatoes. This year I'm mostly expecting to grow seed, so that I can have gobs to sacrifice to testing.

Last summer I made a few hybrid crosses between Jagodka and varieties with open flower structures. I grew out the seed over the winter and collected F2 seed this spring. The final variety to produce seed is ripening now in plenty of time to grow it out this year. The other two crosses already have F2 plants growing. Some of the crosses were with determinate mates. Some were indeterminate. This summer I intend to screen for determinant plants with open flower structures.

Last fall at the farmer's market, a lady asked me about the taste of my tomatoes. I finally had to confess: My tomatoes taste horrid. I decided after tasting lots of gaggy tomatoes that I like yellow and orange tomatoes better than red tomatoes. Therefore this spring I started another breeding project to develop tomatoes that are pleasing to my taste buds. I expect that they will end up being orange or yellow. I'm expecting that I will mostly use the orange/yellow tomatoes that I planted this spring as pollen donors to some of the F2 plants -- with determinate growth and loose/open flowers -- from the promiscuous pollination project.

One of the F2 Hybrid tomatoes is a cross: [a yellow/red indeterminate beefsteak with open flowers X a determinate pollen donor]. Perhaps I'll be able to find what I'm looking for in one of the offspring: yellow/orange fruit, open flowers, determinate plants.

If I'm interpreting what I'm seeing properly, it looks like:

Yellow fruit is ____
Open flowers is recessive.
Determinate vines is recessive.

I love working with recessive genes, because once I isolate a phenotype, then it is fixed until the plant cross pollinates with something that doesn't carry the recessive gene.

nathan125 May 25, 2015 08:58 PM

Joesph I always enjoy reading your posts.
Your common sense approach to producing a crop is great.
sometimes I think people in my area are too hung up on trivial folklore behind their tomatoes.

jmsieglaff May 25, 2015 09:35 PM

I'll definitely be following around. I enjoy breeding project and crossing posts best of all here. Post early and often!

MrBig46 May 26, 2015 12:55 AM

A really interesting project. I wish you a lots of fun and I look forward to updating.

greenthumbomaha May 26, 2015 01:32 AM

Joseph, very inspiring! People often choose tomatoes by their cute name, even though they've never tasted them. Who cares!

Just one note on the color though. Orange tomatoes are a favorite of myself and my partner, but for sauce it tastes less flavorful on its own. The oranges need to be mixed with at least half red to taste Italian enough for me to eat with pasta. I've eaten my fair share of all orange sauce last season but lesson learned going forward. Love it fresh though.

- Lisa

clkeiper May 26, 2015 07:07 AM

I prefer an orange tomato before a red red too. If I was doing this I would be breeding what tasted good to me too. Good on you Joseph. I wish you the best of outcomes for your project.

AlittleSalt May 26, 2015 02:14 PM

Makes sense to me Joseph. We are learning what grows well here and what doesn't. The other day, I pulled out a Japanese Black Trifile plant that was growing right in the middle of our garden. All the other plants look really healthy, but not the JBT. I'll try it again next spring because of all the rain and overcast skies might be what did it in.

I like your ideas Joseph.

bower May 26, 2015 08:09 PM

Best of luck with all aspects of your projects, Joseph! :yes:

FYI Yellow fruit is recessive to red.
Orange fruit genes are not alleles of yellow/red, there are 4 different genes that produce orange fruit, at least 3 seem to be fairly common.
tangerine is recessive, but tt supercedes red. prolycopene instead of lycopene. Other alleles of the tangerine locus are not known afaik.
Beta is dominant, and will show up visibly even as Bb - orange-red. beta carotene instead of lycopene. Crimson and og are alleles of the same locus.
Other 'orange' genes include delta and apricot... Delta at least does occur in some OP's. Apricot may be a little harder to track down.

joseph May 26, 2015 11:39 PM

Thanks all.

I suppose that I should make a disclaimer that I am not a geneticist. So when I say yellow or orange, I probably mean "not red". I suspect that I'll only concern myself with phenotypes, which I can observe with my eyes, and not with alleles which I cannot see.

I think that I was being premature in judging the color of a hybrid fruit. This morning it looked like it was going to ripen to yellow (like it's mother). This evening, it looks more like the fruit is going to be red (like the pollen donor). Edited previous post... Guess we'll know in a couple days.

Mother Hillbilly or Virginia Sweets (a bicolor, more yellow than red, indeterminate, with open beefsteak type flowers and fruit).
Father Jagodka (a red saladette, determinate, with industrialized flowers).
F1: hybrid (indeterminate with industrialized flowers, saladette sized, looking like red fruit)

crmauch May 27, 2015 01:19 AM


There's different genes for orange. Most of the orange tomatoes are lower in lycopene. I believe when crossed with red tomatoes the red is dominant.

A few of the orange tomatoes have a different gene that makes the tomato high in beta carotene (actually there is at least one more pathway to orange, but I don't believe that genome is available commercially). It is sort of 'co-dominant' with red so crosses between this type of orange and red give you an orange-red fruit color in the first generation.

I'll be interested in seeing what your results are.

wormgirl May 27, 2015 04:41 AM

Joseph, thanks for starting this thread. I was curious about what you were doing so I will follow with interest. Do update us soon on the progress of that gorgeous tomato!

loulac May 27, 2015 12:03 PM

If I am not mistaken Joseph must meet a fair load of challenges. He lives far from his farm, so has to work quickly and efficiently whenever he is in the field. As a professional he needs a good production yet keeps an adventurous spirit and doesn’t stick to the most common varieties. I would suggest exploring Russian-Siberian tomatoes. Every year I plant Northern Lights, It starts giving fruit early and only stops when it starts freezing. See a description in Tatiana’s catalog. I’m sure there are plenty of others.

wormgirl May 27, 2015 01:06 PM

loulac, thank you for the review of Northern Lights. Some say it is the earliest bicolor, or perhaps it is just more cool tolerant. I look forward to growing it next year.

Also, I think your assessment of Joseph's situation is astute. It is clear he has an adventurous spirit!

joseph May 29, 2015 03:05 AM

I thought the hybrid fruit was ripe enough today, so I harvested it... I also harvested a fruit from the pollen donor line.

It is a hybrid that was grown in the basement overwinter then planted into the greenhouse. The mother was Hillbilly or Virginia Sweets, which are bicolored (yellow/red) indeterminate beefsteak tomatoes. Very large fruits by my standards.

The hybrid plants grew extremely slow for me in the basement, in front of an east facing window, under grow lights. This photo compares the growth of the hybrids to the growth of the pollen donor. The hybrids grew very slowly and flowered much later. If they had been a member of the general population, I would have culled them a long time ago.

Today, the plants are growing strongly, and they are indeterminate, so they just keep getting bigger and bigger. Jagodka is pumping out lots of ripe fruits. The hybrid might get around to producing more some day.

Here's what the hybrid fruit looked like, compared to the pollen donor line.

The fruit is the same size as Jagodka. The fruit color was red, which shows that the cross was successful. Taste between them was so close that I couldn't tell a difference. In other words bleck! The yellow color was indeed recessive to red. I'm currently fermenting the seeds. It produced a lot of them! It's about 5 weeks after I like to plant my tomato seeds, but some of them should do fine in spite of the short season.

pauldavid May 29, 2015 04:12 AM

Nice pics Joseph! Good luck with your experiments.

joseph May 30, 2015 04:01 AM

Today I planted two patches of tomatoes. The first was a production patch so it contained plants that I'm intending as food for my family, the food pantry, and the farmer's market. It contained my saladette landrace, my slicer/canner landrace, some romas, some yellow slicing tomatoes, some dehybridized Sungolds, and DX52-12 as a standard reference plant.

The second patch was a breeding and selection patch. It contained things that I may use as pollen donors or mother plants for making hybrids this summer. It contained all of the varieties that are new to my garden this year. It contains 3 species of tomatoes. One of them isn't directly cross-compatible with domestic tomato so I hope to try a cross, but don't have much expectation of success. The other is current tomato. Fully compatible with domestic tomato, but it is also self-compatible, so I may not use is in any crosses. This planting included "Pollen Donor Group" which are seeds I collected last fall from plants that were super-late-season. I collected them due to having open flowers or loose anther cones. I'm also curious if mere selection can shorten the days to maturity of this population.

Idahowoman May 30, 2015 02:02 PM

I am about to plant my tomato plants next week. We have received approximately 3 inches of rain from the 13 of May until the 28th.
I am glad you are on the quest for a good earlier tomato for our valley.
I can grow the heirloom ones with longer DTM in the hoophouse but it would be nice for myself and my neighbors
to be able to grow tomatoes that produce well in our short season.
I will be following your progress with interest.

joseph May 30, 2015 10:13 PM

Susan: I grew a thousand or so tomato plants for the farmer's market this spring. I've been sharing the heck out of them... I expect to take them 2 to 3 more weeks.

My three favorite varieties are:

Ot'Jagodka, a super early red saladette tomato, with 2-3 ounce fruits. I even had ripe fruit from this to take to market today -- so I could show off what the fruits look like.

Joseph's Earliest Landrace, red saladette tomatoes.

Joseph's Slicing Landrace, which are about 8-10 ounce red fruits.

I've also been taking 6-packs which are a mix of the above plus a yellow slicing tomato. Those have been very popular.

I really like having just a few varieties that really thrive here... I'm not very happy at all the Brandywines and Beefsteaks I see the nurseries offering around here.

All are determinate. They ripen most or all of their fruit before the fall frosts. I trialed hundreds of varieties and dehybridized dozens to arrive at these populations. I'm getting much more clever about selecting for traits that thrive in the valley.

Alas, people ask what they taste like: I have to say like any other (gaggy) tomato.

NarnianGarden May 31, 2015 01:04 PM

*waves back at Joseph & his folks*
Looks good at the table! Hope that none of your seedlings produce what you describe as 'gaggy'.

Your philosophy is interesting and no doubt works for your needs, but I would be bored to have the same every year - trialing different heirlooms and some hybrids is what motivates me every summer.

joseph June 11, 2015 09:00 PM


Originally Posted by joseph (Post 476467)
Here's what the hybrid fruit looked like, compared to the pollen donor line.

The seeds from the tomato on the right were fermented for a couple of days and then planted. They germinated today.

jmsieglaff June 11, 2015 09:13 PM

Joseph when your tomatoes are all growing and intermixing their genetics should you notice something that stands out as useful in a particular plant will you self it and try to stabilize or just let everything continue to go as it may? Seems like the randomness could produce something useful to you and the only way to maintain that random combination of genes is to isolate it and stabilize it.

joseph June 11, 2015 10:13 PM

Promiscuous pollination is among the most important goals in my garden. Therefore, I don't do stabilization by inbreeding generation after generation until I get a highly inbred line in which almost every allele is homozygous.

But I often stabilize traits that are important to me by planting more plants that have the desired trait, and fewer plants that have traits that I don't like. If the desired trait is recessive, such as orange fleshed tomatoes, then once I select for that trait it will continue in all of the offspring unless cross-pollination occurs. If I was selecting for a dominant trait such as red-fleshed fruit, and there were other colors hidden within the genetics, then there might always be some chance of an orange/yellow tomato showing up.

I tend to select for whole suites of genes that end up being mostly stable... For example, all of my landrace tomatoes mature in the available growing season. Super long maturity plants don't just appear in my garden. Beefsteak types don't appear. Cherry tomatoes don't arise spontaneously. None of my tomatoes get blossom end rot when grown in my garden. None of my tomatoes are preyed on by Colorado Potato Beetles. They survive the early spring flea beetle predation. Offspring tend to resemble their parents and their grandparents, so the tomatoes in my garden are pretty similar from year to year.

I'm mixing things up a bit more these days by moving towards orange/yellow tomatoes, and by messing with the flower structures, but I expect some things will stay about the same, such as targeting highly determinate, precocious plants that bear about 3 to 10 ounce fruits. I will never tolerate blossom end rot regardless of whatever other great traits a tomato might have. I can't grow anything that requires a long frost free season. The ability to grow fast in cold/frosty weather will continue to be a very valuable trait in my garden.

joseph June 14, 2015 07:40 PM

Looking good. About 84 days till expected fall frosts, so that's cutting it close... But no guts, no glory.

joseph June 20, 2015 02:53 AM

Today, my mother ate the first tomato that ripened in the open field.

I picked these from the greenhouse to take to market.

Today I planted the F2:[DX52-12 X Ot'Jagodka] plants into the field. It's getting too hot to keep anything in pots these days. Can't keep enough water on them. I sorted them before planting into a lot that has flower buds, and a lot that don't yet. It was half and half. Then I planted the almost flowering plants together.

AlittleSalt June 21, 2015 12:27 AM


I have seeds from Valencia Tomato fermenting and soon will have some Golden Jubilee fermenting as well. They are a medium sized tomato. Both look golden/orange to me - like Sungold fully/over-ripe. I will also be fermenting seeds from a cherry tomato called, "Oranje Van Goeijenbier" It is orange with a good "Interesting" taste. I'll ferment some as soon as my wife quits eating them all.

I know our growing times and conditions are very different, but I have little doubt that all three will grow well in your gardens. I'll PM you when the seeds are ready. If you are interested, you'll be the first to get them.

joseph June 21, 2015 01:38 AM

ALittleSalt: Thanks. Can you believe that I'm only about 77 days away from the start of my fall frosts? I am pretty much limited to 60 DTM or less tomatoes even when I start them way early... In my garden 70 day tomatoes take 100 days to mature, and some years my frost free growing season is only around 85 days long.

Today is the anniversary of the last spring frost in the previous two growing seasons. This year is warmer.

joseph June 26, 2015 03:07 AM

I ordered a No-ID packet of S. habrochaites. It arrived safely today.

The package included a free gift labeled "LA1777 X". It didn't specify the name of the mother, but I'm super hyped about the cross.

There was another free gift labeled "LA1777" but I guess you get what you pay for, because it didn't have any seeds in the envelope... :D

LA1777 was collected at an elevation of ~10,000 feet, and is famous for it's cold hardiness. According to UC-Davis, it is self-incompatible (Woo hoo! Mandatory out-crossing -- may be on the way!!!) But the label on the packet said, "Self pollinating". Contradictory statements, but I suppose that it has huge flowers either way. It has shown resistance to some strains of late blight.

It's getting kinda late in the season, but I'll plant a few seeds tomorrow, and plant some Jagodka also so that I'll have my favorite mother at about the same age. Might plant them in pots so that I can bring them into the greenhouse in late fall.

Today I planted into the field the F2:[Hillbilly X Jagodka] plants. They are way smaller than I like. That makes them more susceptible to being eaten, but it's getting late and I figure they grow better in the field than in a pot. I'm intending to select for determinate plants, and yellow or yellow/red fruits. So what do I do with the 94% of the patch that won't measure up to both of those criteria? Cull all the off types? Determinate growth habit is a valuable trait in my garden, so I suppose that I could start by culling all the indeterminates. And keep anything determinate regardless of the color of the fruit? I'm only expecting about 3 plants that have both traits that I am looking for. I already started culling. Some plants were growing so slowly that they got culled instead of planted. I arranged them in the row from most vigorous to least vigorous.

Or do I make public posts describing the traits of some of my favorites? And save the seed for sharing. Perhaps someone else would value indeterminate growth... But I'm also looking for open flowers that drop clouds of pollen for the bees. That was the original reason for making this cross... Now I'm throwing orange fruit and determinate into the selection criteria as well? Sheesh!

Fusion_power June 26, 2015 04:27 AM

Determinate plants make the most sense for your climate. There is no way to get full production from an indeterminate with 100 growing days. A carefully chosen determinate can produce a full crop of harvestable fruit.

You will find that LA1777 and most S. Habrochaites are very long season requiring about 180 days from seed to fruit. The flowers are huge and attractive to bees.

Remind me to send you a few of the seed of the LA0417 crosses. I will soon have some F3 seed carefully selected in the F2 for desirable traits.

joseph June 26, 2015 04:31 AM


Originally Posted by Fusion_power (Post 484131)
You will find that LA1777 and most S. Habrochaites are very long season requiring about 180 days from seed to fruit.

In that case, I'll definitely grow it in pots so that it can be moved inside, and used as a pollen donor sometime during the winter...

joseph June 28, 2015 09:50 PM

I'm posting to make a little brag...

A fellow brought a photo to the farmer's market yesterday. It showed a tomato plant with ripe fruit on it. He said that he got the plant from me. Hee hee hee. It looked like Ot'Jagodka. I took 3 baskets of ripe tomato fruits to the farmer's market yesterday. They were greenhouse tomatoes, but next week I will add to them tomatoes grown in the open field. Woo Hoo!

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