Alfred Reed Bishop and Doris William Butler

The picture above is the very tap root of Bishop's Homegrown/Face Of The Earth Seed. My grandparents shortly after moving to Pekin Indiana from Greensburg KY in 1947 where they purchased the farm that is now Bishop's Homegrown. This picture was taken in Pekin in front of the old co-op next to the old railroad depot, neither of which exist today.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Astronomy Domine - A public domain breeding project.

To the left you can see a picture of the seed ready to plant in '08.

I really enjoy "playing" with the genetics of different plants and attempting my own breeding projects. I've got so many things on my mentally imagined "docket" that I would like to attempt to cross or breed, mostly looking for taste, tolerance to environmental or insect pressures, nutrition, and novelty, that sometimes I'm not sure I could get them all done in a lifetime. A lot of open pollinated seed enthusiast would probably frown upon my ideas and implementation of breeding different heirlooms and Open Pollinated cultivars into new hybrids in mass crosses but I figure as long as the cultivars are being grown out by a good number of individuals and are still available to the gardening public and I keep a small sample pure for future use, well then, why not shake and bake and see what happens.
The Astronomy Domine sweet corn breeding project is on of those such mass crosses. You see, I had about 20 different open pollinated sweet corns in my collection, some where pretty rare and a few were very precious local and regional family heirlooms (I do still keep pure strains of those) and some were more commonly available results of the hard work of seed savers and independent plant breeders the world over. A good percentage of these cultivars were beautiful rainbow type colors such as Rainbow Inca, Triple play, Black Mexican, Festival mix, Double Red, Millersburg red, Hopi Pink sweet, Painted Hills and so forth and I was becoming more and more interested in the work of brave plant breeders like Alan Kapuler and Ken Ettlinger, so I decided that it was time for me to make a donation to the public domain sweet corn breeding sector.

What I decided to go after was the most genetically diverse sweet corn ever bred which would have good cool soil germination, drought tolerance and ear cover (to prevent insect damage) while at the same time providing added nutrition in the form of anti-oxidants like Anthocyanin. So drawing upon the work of Dave Christensen and his Painted Mountain Indian corn which he has crossed numerous times (I believe I read 50 plus somewhere) I set out to do that last year, taking some small samples of multiplied seeds of 20 plus different cultivars as well as Burpee's recent introduction Ruby Queen sweet corn and planted a small plot to do some mass crossing, of course I planted way to early and germination wasn't the best, but that actually turned out in my favor since I was planting at different times and some of these corns had drastically different maturity dates, this also gave me a bit of an automatic head start on selecting for cool soil emergence. When it came harvest time (the shucks had turned brown and started to dry) I was astonished at the beauty of some of the ears of this corn, not only did I end up with colors and shades I expected, but I also got a ton of stuff that I didn't expect. We ended up with solid colors, faded colors, pastel colors, near transparent kernels, striped patterns, some polka dotting and some cobs just had a terrific mixture of everything you could ever imagine.
I saved about 5 or 6 lbs of seed from about 200 cobs and mixed it up well and offered it up for free or for trade as breeding material over at hoping some others would be interested in getting in on some first generation breeding experiments so we could diversify the original stock into multiple lines adapted to different areas around the country (and now indeed the world) and do some comparing and contrasting back and forth over the next few years. I also made it known that folks should feel free to alter this by adding in new cultivars and seed stocks as they so choose and people have really been receptive to it.

My current seed stock that will go into the ground in spring '08 has already had a number of new cultivars (well, new to me) added into the initial stock already and I am now close to having 30 different cultivars of sweet corn going into next years second mass cross, I really don't know what to expect out of all of it, and at some point I would like to stop crossing it and try to get a nice open pollinated version that would serve a triple purpose in the future, that of a sweet corn in milk stage and a flour and decorative corn when dry (or worm food in my case). I am planning on having multiple plots laid out for this particular experiment, one that will be nothing but seed/breeding stock and home use and another 2 where I will cross it to a large eared, sugar enhanced and detassled White Variety to take to market and offer to the CSA, I will probably save seed of both lines and then make a decision later of which to keep and which to shelf (if I shelf either of them).

I would ultimately like to get this project up to about fifty different diverse sweet corns bred into it and I am always on the lookout for colourful sweet types to add into the mix, so if you know of any let me know. I plan on joining the Seed Savers Exchange next year and I am sure I will find and order all kinds of goodies to add in before planting season starts, so the number of cultivars involved in the crop might even jump up to 40 before planting starts!

As are all of my breeding projects, this too is a public domain project of my Hip-Gnosis seed development project, and once developed I hope to offer it to a wide number of gardeners throughout the world without ever seeing the letters PVP (plant variety protected) next to it or a big seed company hyping it as the next big thing. This corn is just as much yours as it is mine. I didn't create anything, all I did is use what I have and let those things cross through the course of nature and natural selection, the only thing that is different in this corn and it's parents are in it's segregation of genes and re-combination there-in. Sort of like if I wrote a song, I didn't really do anything other than put a puzzle together, all the pieces already existed, I'm just the first one to put them together in that order.

I will keep you updated on this project probably quite often throughout the '08 growing season and I hope one day all of you have the chance to grow this particular corn (named after a Pink Floyd song) in your home gardens or receive it in your CSA boxes or at market.

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