The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Hacking hybrids

Dr. Art TreseWhile Mary Nally's talk was a wake-up call about what the law tells us we can and can't do regarding seeds, Ohio University professor Art Trese's contribution to last weekend's workshop involved what he calls "hacking hybrids" --- tweaking store-bought seeds to create even better varieties for your own personal use or even to sell.

Having fallen in love with a few hybrid varieties that stopped being available over the years, I can definitely see the appeal of hacking those hybrids. But before you get too excited, here are some hybrids you shouldn't bother trying to hack: onions, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, and in some cases broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.

Why steer cleer of those vegetables? Hybrids of the species listed above are created by choosing mother plants that are naturally unable to create viable pollen, and that trait is passed down through the mother's line mitochondrially. In case you slept through biology class, the upshot is --- for the types of vegetables listed in the previous paragraph, even raising plants all the way to maturity won't result in any seeds.

Hybridizing tomatoes

You're likely to have better luck with your hybrid-hacking efforts  if you stick to tomatoes, peppers, and cucurbits, though, since hybrids of these species are still made in the old-fashioned way (shown above). Of course, the offspring of a hybrid will be a mish-mash of variability. But you can breed together the plants with traits you like the most and keep doing that for seven generations. At that point, you've generally come up with an open-pollinated variety that will breed true from those saved seeds.

And can you sell that new variety on the open market? You sure can! While it's not kosher to sell a hybrid's offspring, after the second generation you officially have something new and legally salable. So feel free to de-hybridize lunchbox peppers and put their seven-times-great-grandchildren on the open market. I know I'd buy a set!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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It looks like the guy in the picture is holding a garlic that an example of one that would work, or one that wouldn't?
Comment by Jake Thu Jan 25 11:42:26 2018
Jake --- Good eyes! That is indeed a garlic plant and they're on the "don't bother" list too. Basically, anything with lots of small flowers is nearly impossible to hybridize by physically removing stamens from the mother plants. So the mitochondrial method is used and seeds won't set no matter how green your thumb is.
Comment by anna Thu Jan 25 12:48:59 2018

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