How to Select the Right Plant to Breed

  I would like to begin with a story about how any one can get caught up and forget what is important... I follow my own advice  about  how to breed the best plants but one thing even I forgot is to prioritize your breeding. This is especially true if you are growing for taste and or flavor. The soil or nutrients you provide your plants are important, but genetics is just as important (maybe more so) and genetics comes from breeding.    My story… I had been breeding a variety of pepper for a few generations. I followed all my own advice, picking and breeding the biggest plants but one day I realized that some peppers had that zip when I ate them, and others did not. Some of my peppers were mediocre! What had happened was that I was picking the best growing plants, not the best tasting peppers. I began to use recurrent selection, choosing only the best tasting peppers as mothers each generation. Sometimes these were not the first to flower or first to mature, but they tasted the best. I had several mother plants each breeding cycle but only kept seeds from a mother plant who I tasted and enjoyed. If you are growing things to be consumed you will have to breed several plants and then only choose from a mother that has the taste / pizzazz that you want.  I was not mindful of why I was breeding, I was just breeding the best looking plants, not the best tasting.

How to select the best plant to breed:  Use your powers of observation to select and REMOVE inferior plants throughout the growing process. Mediocrity is unacceptable. Make notes about each plant as it grows. Which one’s have longer internodes, which one’s branch the most, notice the shape of the leaves, notice the first to germinate or flower etc. You should have a primary goal of what you want, whether it is taste, yield or color, but if you can incorporate overall vigor into you plants all the better. Even if you just want spicy peppers, you should try to pick plants that are spicy AND grow vigorously and have good yield, and mature fast etc. Spicy is great but if you can include other good traits, that is the magic of being a good breeding. Through breeding you can make your plants better on many (all?) levels

How I breed plants: When I breed plants, I pick the first few seed that germinate, and the rest are disposed of. I then label the plants that are the most vigorous growers, the first to flower, the biggest flower, or the best taste etc. I choose only a percentage of plants at different stages of growth to continue in the growing process. Some seedlings don’t get potted up if they are inferior. They are sent to the compost pile. Some plants that grow slow are not allowed to flower. (Also to the compost pile). A term for this is that I am culling (the verb is cull) inferior plants and mediocre plants as they grow. If you have the seeds to grow extra plants it is worth it. I germinate seeds in small containers of coco coir or vermiculite or seedlings trays packed with soil. A tray holds over three dozen seeds. If the seeds are fresh I get 100% germination. Older seeds will have a lower germination percentage. From the 30+ seeds that germinate I pot up 20 seedlings under fluorescent lights knowing that I only have room for 10 of  those plants max. in my flowering area, (one 400 watt HPS).  I start plants under standerd house hold fluorescents and then I place the 20 plants in larger containers under a T5 HO florescent light. As they grow space gets limited, so I pick the weakest plant and I cull it. If you are growing plants with separate male and female plants you can induce flowering so you can cull the sex you don't want. When it is time to flower,  as I said, I only have 10 plants maximum under my 400 HPS . So, as the plants grow  I pick the best growing plants to induce flowering and/or breed but cull the rest. Sometimes I might put the mediocre plants outside (See starting seeds indoors) if I am doing this in spring, but they are never in the breeding population. Whatever you are breeding for, be observant, keep records and you will reap the rewards.

 If you have questions about breeding feel free to E-mail me.

The art of plant breeding comes in knowing your crop, being curious and making observations.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


E-mail - Rockwool and Seedlings

Hello Dr. Myers,

I’m using Rockwool so should I tease the Rockwool so that its covering the top of the seeds and just let the seeds push their way through or should i just leave the seeds uncovered inside of the propagation tray with the dome

I have written about Rockwool in general in a previous post about hydroponic mediums. Rockwool can hold large quantities of water and air which aids root growth and nutrient uptake. So, if it is sitting in water it should be able to keep the seeds wet enough to force germination if the seeds are just on top of the Rockwool. (See warning about seedlings and standing water below) The seeds could be put in the little holes in the cubes and left to come up on their own if they are the size of apple seeds or larger. Smaller seed could just be put on top of the Rockwool. As I have said, Rockwool is used principally in hydroponics.  However, I used to start the seeds in a tray in Rockwool cubes and then put the cubes in soil. The Rockwool like the coir plugs I use today just made it easy and mess free to start seeds. The nice thing about Rockwool is its fibrous nature also provides a good mechanical structure to hold the plant.

Hey Doc,
If I had a seedling in a Rockwool cube that I transplanted into a flood and drain system using hydroton what level should the water come to in relation to the Rockwool? Should the water line come just below the Rockwool?

Perry a manager at HTGSupply.com gave me some info. for this post since I have not used this type of system. With Rockwool, you could either have it flood and drain, or have the cubes constantly touching/sitting in water. If you have small seedlings then you may want to flood and drain because the cubes could be too saturated when sitting in water and cause root rot.
Many seedlings are just are too small to pull air into the Rockwool (it will be very saturated in standing water) but after a couple sets of true leaves most plants will be big enough to pull air into the cubes even if the cubes are sitting in water.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


E-mail - LED and cuttings I

Hello Doc,
  What is the best LED for cuttings?

I have only tested the Tri-band light, specifically the 120 W.
I have not had cuttings under it yet, but I have grown plants from seed to flower so I assume cuttings would work under the Tri Band too. {Dear reader: Please E-mail me or post a comment if you have a good cuttings system that uses LED, with a picture I may be able to get you something from HTGSupply.com}. As I have said in past blog posts, not all LED’s are the same, some do not work very well for growing plants, I know the Tri Band does. Basically, the higher the wattage the more light output so if you have a lot of clones (in a larg area) or big mother plants go for the highest wattage LED you can afford.  I think the 120 W is a good place to start if you have a small set up.
I usually recommend using fluorescent lights with cuttings, and maybe even mother plants. A T-5 light might be a good choice, it may use more electricity, depending on how many bulbs you use, BUT it will have a lot of energy in the form of blue light which promotes vegetative growth. You may have to put the T-5 lights vertical beside a large mother plant, and have them horizontal for cuttings. I don't know if you have a separate area for mother plant and clones. If not you will want to use reflective material to bounce light around since it might be hard to have lights at the right distance from both big mother plants and small cuttings.
 I know a guy that used pieces of wood he made into a square frame to make platforms to keep all the plants at the same height. The smallest plants had three platforms, and as the plants grew, he’d take out a platform until it was just a plant in a 5 gallon container. He sometimes had to tie plants down if they grew too big, but eventually just found hybrid seeds that always grew to the right height.  He then used a light mover and had many plants growing all at the same height over a ten foot area with two 400 HPS.
If you do have big and small plants in one area an LED might be good since it has high light intensity, meaning plants can be further from the light and still get enough energy from the light to grow well. You would want to keep the cuttings a few feet away from any light as big or bigger than the 120 W Tri Band.
If you do go with T-5 make sure you get the bulbs that are blue for vegetative growth  not the red one's which are more for flowering. A T-5 will have a bit more heat than one LED, but it is tried and tested.
I hope this helps, I'd like to hear what LED you use, if you do and how it worked out.
Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


What Is a Hybrid?

I mentioned in a previous post about buying hybrid seeds and I want to add to that topic.  Keep in mind when if buy hybrid  seeds, Some hybrid plants are developed for specific growing conditions, so pick ones that are right for your indoor growing conditions

Plants are usually classified as open pollinated or hybrid. An open-pollinated plant is the natural offspring of out crossing plants. Heirlooms are open-pollinated plants that have been essentially unchanged for many years. What I mean is that today's heirloom tomato plant is nearly the same as a tomato from a century ago. In general, the seeds from an open-pollinated plant will produce a similar plant the next grow cycle/season. A hybrid is a combination of two different varieties of the same species. Plant breeders usually develop hybrids for specific reasons, meaning they choose specific traits from the parents and try to combine them in the hybrid offspring. Some examples would be breeding/combining plants to produce more colorful or bigger blossoms, or fruit and vegetable plants tha are more uniform in size or more disease tolerant. Since the plants are genetic combinations from two different plants, their offspring (the F2) tend to have a lot of diversity and are not always the same as the hybrid parents.

Brief Hybrid History
From what I can tell, corn was the earliest hybrid developed for commercial use in America. The use of hybrids has extended to vegetables and flowers; and more recently, rice and some other crops. Scientists conducted experiments for many years on hybridization and saw that it often resulted in superior plants.  In the 1930’s less than 1 percent of corn seed was hybrid compared to nearly 100 percent today. There must be a a benefit to growing hybrids if they are increasing in such over whelming numbers.

What Are Hybrid Seeds?
Hybrid seeds are produced by creating inbred lines with specific reliable traits and then two established inbred lines are crossed to produce first generations (F1) hybrid seeds. The hybrid seeds are prized because they produce uniform plants and also have what is termed heterosis (hybrid vigor). Heterosis can result in a large increase in yield compared to the inbred lines or lines that are out-crossing (heirlooms). What exactly causes heterosis is still unclear. Thus, hybrid seeds are produced by companies through careful pollination of two specific varieties. Normally, this highly selective plant breeding is done to bring together two traits in each of the chosen varieties so that the resulting seed has both of the traits. For example, one tomato plant may be very drought tolerant and another tomato plant produces large yields, the two plants might be cross pollinated to produce a drought tolerant tomato plant that produces a lot of tomatoes.

The down side to hybrids, as I mentioned is that if you breed/cross plants grown from hybrid seeds they typically do not produce seeds that are all the same, and often can even produce seeds that are inferior to out crossing heirloom varieties.

Though the term “hybrid seeds” is often used in relation to vegetables, any kind of plant that produces seeds can be bred into a hybrid variety.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


E-mail – High Humidity Cures

Doc, Thanks for the quick response. I'm also having a problem with humidity.  Any suggestions on how to bring it down. I have a fan to circulate the air and an exhaust fan taking air out but my humidity is still to high. Thanks for your help.
No problem I am always glad to help. High humidity usually is not a problem for plant growth but can lead to mold. I say this since high humidity won't slow down plant  growth unless it is very high, say over 80% humidity. Plants need to give off water as part of photosynthesis, so if the humidity is too high it might lead to slowed photosynthesis which can slow growth and lower yields. If you don't have mold, and never did it might not be a big problem for you. I also mentioned that many pests (aphids, soil gnats, root aphids and others) like high humidity so lowering the humidity might help people that have pest problems. High humidity is also something that really limits the life of carbon filters
The easiest thing if you can spare the space and electricity is a dehumidifier. I find that when I start using my HPS, it lowers the humidity in my grow area. Many growers only have small spaces  to grow in so maybe you don’t have room for a dehumidifier.
Do you have open water, as in a hydroponics set up or water in trays after you water the plants? If so you could try to cover the hydroponics medium to prevent some evaporation (not easy with some set ups) or drain the water trays a few minutes after you water so there is not standing water. If you don't have water in the room, the next thing to think about is that the plants put out water into the room as part of photosynthesis, so the more plants you have and the more you water them, the higher the humidity. So, you could try to water the plants a bit less, but not so much they wilt, which will stress out the plants and slow growth. Moreover, you could try running the exhaust fan longer, maybe even when the lights are out, or upgrade to a bigger fan which will move more air/water vapor out of the room. You should try to exhaust the air to the outside of the house, otherwise you are just moving the humidity around your house and not really getting rid of it. Something else to try is to put corn starch, baking soda, talcum powder or silica gel in the room, these tend to absorb moisture. You will need to replace them every month or less if you have very high humidity. I hope this helps.
Good Growing
Dr. E.R. Myers