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

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