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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Monday, January 28, 2008

Tomato Trials and Breeding in 2007

Written and Researched by: Alan Reed Bishop of Hip-Gnosis Seed Development and Bishop's Homegrown

This year marked a huge growout of Tomatoes here at Bishop's Homegrown. We planted a huge number of cultivars to evaluate in our organic culture systems in order to fill the niches of our seed banks and the gaps between genetic types.

Basically were looking for disease tolerance, pest tolerance, drought tolerance, production, taste, nutrition and novely in different types of tomatoes such as slicing types, paste types, cherry types and so on. It would be nice to have a range of colors for customers to pick and choose from at our market stands in all the different types of tomatoes while also being able to provide best use recipies, heirloom/OP histories and the histories of crosses and segragates from F1 commercial lines so that, as we usually do, we are able to strike up a friendship and conversation with our customers and friends at market or while giving farm tours and speaking engagements. It's always nice to be able to relay a story that people can relate to and it is exspecially nice when we have a local or regionalized Open Pollinated type from our area who's name itself reminds us of it's story, much like the names of old country roads like "Lick Skillet" or "Honey Run" which remind us of the unique culture of or locality and region.

Some of the standouts this year were of local origin such as "Goat Tit", a nice, elongated and tipped paste tomato, similar to Roma but with a much nicer taste and texture. Very productive and disease tolerant and barely even noticed this years record drought. A tomato that I believe will find a place in our fields for decades to come and which will be of great merit to market farmers looking to sell a "niche" crop paste tomato. The paste is superb and matches that of any of the best varieties of paste tomatoes on the market today and in my opinion excedes it! I look forward to increasing the seadstock of this variety so that I can share it with others, the only problem is it appears that a number of cultivars may be known by the same name as is also the case with another of our standouts, "Bull Sack" which is a heart shaped tomato which although wasn't very productive, stood up to the drought and disease and pests very well. Definetly a variety of merit. Both of these varietys will merit from some selection pressure in coming years for improvement purposes.

Bishop's Big Pink, a large 10-16 ounce tomato that has been grown in my family for years was also a standout, though the past few years I have been doing selection for larger fruit with less cracking. My family always saved seed from only one or two tomatoes which led to a bit of a genetic bottleneck, a problem which I am currently trying to improve upon with larger sized, crack resistant fruit. The fruit is Potato leaved like brandywine and may in fact be a selection of Brandywine. The Bishops Big pink tomato has been grown by my family since a great uncle purchased the then "unnamed" seed from a hardware store in the 1950's, nary a year has gone by (minus a couple in the first years of the new century) where this tomato has not graced the soil of our small farm. After some selection I plan on releasing this variety as one of my two alternatives to Brandywine.

I was also gifted some seeds early in 2007 from a great aunt on my mothers side of a tomato which in description sounded like a large yellow bi-color tomato, but I got conflicting reports from other family seed sources who said that the tomato was actually a mix of the original tomato and a few "sport" tomatoes and had been saved without selection in this mix for years by the Hoskins-Barger family. Upon growing out the seed I got all manner of traits, Pink potato leaf, pink regular leaf, yellow regular leaf, bi-color regular leaf, and a couple of other combos. The one with the most merit seemed to be the pink potato leaf. The coloration is somewhat more of a "pastel" pink that tomatoes like brandywine and production is way up there, according to customers taste was good, and disease and drought tolerance were impressive. I released a little bit of seed to folks over on the message board for further development and due to the unstable condition of the seed, I imagine all number of recombinations may lead to some new open pollinated cultivars, which is exactly what I was hoping for.

Once again Rutgeurs and Jubilee toped the list as far as productive, open pollinated tomatoes which still can't be surpased here on our farm and will no doubt always find a place in our soils.

We also grew out a number of our crosses from the previous years, of particular note were Mere De Nomes, La Mer (noir), and La Soliel which represent our work towards sustainable and open pollinated saladette type tomatoes of 2-3 ounces or so. Mere De Nomes and La Mer (noir) have both been released through the Hip-Gnosis seed development project on our message board.

Mere De Nomes is an indeterminate, red fruited, saladette tomato at about 2-3 ounces. Very prolific and still shows a bit of genetic diversity. It was hardly bothered or slowed down at all by our record setting drought this year and was a big winner with our farm stand customers who we littlerally heard storries of fighting over the last few in their baskets, always a compliment in my opinion. I think that this one could be a big market hit in time and would be a great canadate for poly culture early tomatoes in the spring.

La Mer Noir resembles Mer De Nomes in almost all ways but grows a bit larger in size. It's the result of a cross between Mere De Nomes and a french variety sent to me labled simply as "Black". This one is another favorite of our customers though we didn't have many to offer this year due to a snafu in the greenhouse in the spring.

La Soliel is yet another sister line to Mere De Nomes and La Mer Noir. It represents our attempts at breeding an orange fleshed version of the line, we made great strides in selection this year going through three Filial generations, an early one in the greenhouse, a second in the summer plot, and a third in the winter greenhouse. Next year we should be close to having an Open Pollinated Derivitave. Size is about 4-5 ounces or so.

We also did some further selections with our Jack White tomato, a highly productive and according to our farmstand customers, "delicious" alternative to other white tomatoes. Jack White is a selection from a cross of great white and white beauty, there is still some genetic variation but it appears to be far less than previous growouts. Another breeding project was our Green when ripe Absynth which was derrived from a cross of the french tomato "emeraude" (which may or may not be a selection of emerald evergreen) and Aunt Ruby's German green. We were after productivity and less cracking and I feel we have made great strides in that area.

Working towards becoming more self sustainable we have also been doing some segregation work to some of our favorite commercial hybrids, most notably Lemon Boy and Brandy Boy. Commercial hybrids make great foundation plants for the development of new varieties. When you hear someone say not to save seed from a hybrid, it won't be me, sometimes the best new varieties originate within the genes in a commercial packet of seeds and with a little work you can isolate out some truly terrific varieties.

Lemon Boy is a highly productive and popular, globe shaped, truly yellow tomato with great disease tolerance. I've heard it's fairly easy to segregate but would prefer to experiment with it myself so I have obtained seed from both my F1 and F2 growout as well as seed saved from others growouts all the way up to the F4. My goal is to "get out" an open pollinated derivitave that matches the productivity, taste, and color of the original while maintaining as much of the disease tolerance as I can.

Brandy Boy was one of Burpee seed companies new introductions for 2004 I believe. There was some speculation early on that Brandy Boy may have just been a renamed open pollinated tomato since there was evidence of Burpee using this marketing scheme in the past with Bucks County. Brandy boy is a large 12-16 ounce pink potato leaf tomato much like brandywine, but with the productivity of better boy or big boy and less spliting. In all ways in my opinion it beats out its' ansector brandywine and our customers like it as an alternative since it has a longer shelf life which they really appreciate. In 2007 I grew out some saved F2 seed as well as seed that others have saved from F2-F4 lines and saw a bit of variation, though not nearly as much as in some other segrating growouts. However, there was definetly enough variation to definetivly say that this tomato indeed is a hybrid. In time I hope to develop a strain that matches or excedes the taste and texture of brandywine and maintains the potato leaf trait while maintaining the original traits of the hybrids disease tolerance and productivity in an Open Pollinated derrivitive. In time this tomato could replace brandywine as a main crop tomato and I see great things in it's future, particularly for market farmers who want the taste, texture, look, and legacy of brandywine with higher productivity and disease tolerance. Another interesting trait that I noticed was that this tomato set fruit far better than brandywine in harsh heat and humidity levels. Unfortunately it also retains the exerted stigma of Brandywine which makes it prone to crossing. All future growouts will be done in isolation of other tomatoes and other segregates so as to prevent contamination. Maybe in a year or two Hip-Gnosis seed development will have something to release to the local farming community. This fall we will provide mixed seed of our growouts through our message board for those interested in making their own selections.

I also grew out some Sungold and Sunsugar cherry tomatoes for some future breeding work within other cherry, grape, pear, currant, and L. Cheesmani lines in 2008 for a series of cherry tomato mixes I'm tentitively calling "Have you Got it yet". It will be nice to have the genetics of the high sugar content (brix) of these tomatoes in our breeding mix. I expect great genetic variability in those lines.

We also grew out and saved seed from Porterhouse tomato, another new Burpee introduction, albeit one that wasn't particularly impressive in the F1 generation, though it will be interesting to see how it segregates out and there are some genes there that I think I can use in the future.

All in all we made some great prgress in developing some new regionally adapted and open pollinated cultivars for use in organic agricultrue and home gardens as well we have been able to distribute some finished varieties and genetically unstable breeding material through out online message board which is always good and gives us some variability in varieties that will be open pollinated in the future.

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