Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener by Joseph Tychonievich
How to create Unique Vegetables and Flowers
I happened across this book in my prolific Internet reading, so I am unsure who to exactly credit for bringing it to my attention, but I am very glad they did. While I have always had an interest in plants and gardening — with Botany being the only class I EVER achieved straight A’s in — I had never, seriously thought about attempting to breed my own plants. I had a basic grasp on the biology involved but the patience and care required always seemed a bit too intimidating.
The highest praise I can give Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener is that it made me think, seriously, that I could start creating my own hybrid plants right here in my own backyard. The book is clear, friendly and makes plant breeding all seem very easy, even if it is a bit time and work intensive to accomplish.
Tychonievich entices you in gently first with a bit of history on how a simple native grass was eventually bred into one of the most important foodstuffs of our planet — corn. Then, he makes the case for “rediscovering breeding” in your own garden, how and why to make a breeding plan and some very clear instructions on the mechanics of making a cross.
Only then does he whip a bit of science and genetics on you, so you can gain some deeper understanding of what effects your breeding is creating in the plants themselves. This becomes very important to your success so that you can understand the genetic issues that inbreeding and self-pollination can cause. Tychonievich even goes into the world of F1 hybrids — explaining what they are and how they are created, why they are necessary — and even how you might create them yourself.
Once you start creating plants, you’ll need to select those with your favorite or desired traits. This could involve you working on your own to propagate each generation of your crosses, or banding together with some like-minded gardeners to accelerate the process, with each performing certain crosses and growing on their generations while sharing seeds from everyone’s work.
I hadn’t really thought about it before, but this is one area where having friends in another hemisphere can help you accelerate your breeding trials. If you can easily share seeds via the mail, each gardener can grow a generation of plants within their own season, creating 2 generations per year instead of just one — speeding up the breeding process by 50%.
Tychonievich then offers an overview of more advanced breeding techniques used by large commercial growers, most of which are beyond the capabilities of backyard breeders, but this gives you a bit of deeper knowledge that you might be able to apply.
Finally, the last section “For Example” offers more specific information on breeding a wide range of common plants including his favorites columbines and coleus, but also ranging to roses, squash, corn, snapdragons, lettuces and many more.
If you have even the smallest inkling that you might like to try breeding new plants then this is a great book to start with. It might just give you that gently push to a new level of gardening.