Crowdbreeding! A New Word for the Unique, Altruistic, Open Source, Collaborative, Dwarf Tomato Project
Wednesday, April 13th, 2022
An Open Source Seed Initiative webinar
Moderator: Rachel Hultengren
Craig LeHoullier, a native Rhode Islander, lives and gardens in Hendersonville, North Carolina with his wife, Susan, and small collection of cats and dogs. A chemist by education (PhD, Dartmouth College), he held a variety of positions in Pharmaceutical companies until finally retiring in 2011, allowing his parallel gardening obsession to more fully flourish. His love of gardening began very young, originating from walks through his grandfather’s garden and back yard efforts with his father. Craig’s focus on heirloom and other open pollinated varieties of tomatoes began when he joined the Seed Savers Exchange in 1986. Starting with family heirlooms, moving on to the search for and procurement of many old commercially developed varieties and now developing new, useful tomatoes for home gardeners, his collection numbers well over 5,000 types. Craig may be best known for being the lucky person to receive an unnamed purple tomato in 1990 that he named Cherokee Purple, now one of the better known and widely grown heirloom varieties, for which he is so grateful. Craig was approached by Storey Publishing to write his first book in 2012, culminating in the release of Epic Tomatoes in 2015; Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales followed a year later. The Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project, conceived with his Australian friend Patrina Nuske-Small in 2005, has delivered, to date, 145 new open pollinated dwarf tomatoes to the public. Craig sees more gardening, more breeding, and more books on the horizon, as there is always more to discover, learn, create and share. You can find his books here: www.craiglehoullier.com
Breeding tomatoes was not something Patrina envisioned after graduating as a Speech Pathologist at Flinders University in Adelaide South Australia. Her interest in gardening piqued as internet gardening forums revealed that a humble tomato could be one of several thousands of varieties, but not in the dwarf category which was quite limited back in 2005 when the idea of the Dwarf Tomato Project was born. Patrina successfully made eight crosses between dwarf tomatoes and heirloom non-dwarf varieties which became the breeding material to start the Dwarf Tomato Project in January 2006. Patrina’s more recent breeding of dwarf tomatoes is her Gondwana Series incorporating anthocyanins from Jim Myers’ ‘Indigo Rose’. They are also OSSI-pledged. Patrina co-manages the project from Australia with Craig LeHoullier in North Carolina who manages the Northern Hemisphere team in this fun project. Link to website: https://www.dwarftomatoproject.net
Carol Deppe 00:04
Hello friends. I’m Carol Deppe. I’m Chair of the Board of Directors of the Open Source Seed Initiative. On behalf of the OSSI board, I welcome you to our first webinar. OSSI, as we call it, is an organization that’s fighting for the rights of farmers, gardeners, and plant breeders everywhere to have full access and rights to the seed we need. The rights to plant, grow, save, seed, share, sell, breed with it, use it however we want. We do this by working directly with plant breeders who pledge one or more new varieties they have created into our program. Thereafter, seed of their variety is distributed through cooperating seed companies with the OSSI pledge, which says, “You have the freedom to use these OSSI-pledged seeds in any way you choose. In return, you pledge to not restrict others’ use of these seeds or their derivatives by patents or other means, and to include this pledge with any transfer of these seeds or their derivatives.” There are now more than 500 OSSI-pledged varieties being sold by more than 70 OSSI-associated partner seed companies. For more information about OSSI or these varieties, check out our website at osseeds.org. Today’s webinar is “Crowdbreeding: a new word for the unique, altruistic, open-source collaborative Dwarf Tomato Project. Speakers are Craig LeHoullier and Patrina Nuske-Small. When Craig and Patrina realized that there was a largely missing class of tomatoes of great potential importance, they set up and led a group of more than 1000 gardeners to do the plant breeding work and fill that gap. Craig started seed saving and plant breeding while pursuing a career as a chemist. He is author of Epic Tomatoes and three other gardening books, which will be listed in the program notes. Patrina, located in Australia, pursued a career as a speech pathologist before getting interested in building better tomatoes. She made the eight original crosses that gave the project its start. The Dwarf Tomato Project has released more than 130 finished tomato varieties, all OSSI-pledged and available through seed companies in the US. I’ll now turn these proceedings over to our intrepid moderator, Rachel Hultengren.
Rachel Hultengren 02:35
Thanks, Carol. So today, we’ll have a 45 minute presentation from Craig and Patrina. And that will be followed by 45 minutes of Q&A, which will also be recorded. And so I would ask that if anyone has questions, they please use the chat, which I will be keeping an eye on. And if you have… if you have questions, later, I’ll let you know that you can unmute yourself and ask those personally, if you’d like to during the question and answer period. But until then, I’ll ask that everybody please remain muted so that we can hear Craig and Patrina more clearly. So I’ll turn it over to Craig.
Craig LeHoullier 03:22
Gotta unmute myself. I’ve done a lot of these, but I still leave myself muted. And Patrina’s muted as well. It is so cool to see so many familiar names. And now I’ve got some faces to go with those names. There’s – Rachel and Carol – there’s a lot of people I know in this talk. So this is really, really cool. Thank you all for coming. This is going to be a lot of fun. Thank you really, also for hosting this. And this is, Patrina and I actually get to interact. And she and I have been great friends, we’re two of those great friends who have known each other for a long time that never really get to see or talk to each other. So this is a treat on so many levels it’s just unbelievable. So I’m going to share my screen and off we go. Um, I’m one slide further… Crowdbreeding! So Carol mentioned unwritten books and there’s one of them that I do want to call “Crowdbreeding”, and I’m working on it and I’ve been telling people for a long time I’m working on it. Epic Tomatoes and Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales came with contracts. This one I want to self-publish and my discipline isn’t always the best. And frankly, I just can’t get out of the damn garden enough to sit in front of a computer and write it. It will happen. So greetings from Hendersonville, North Carolina, and I’m going to ask Patrina to share what it looks like in her area in a moment in Australia. But this is my backyard. I took this picture about 15 minutes ago. Straw bales are all out there being guarded by my dog Coda over there, ready to plant just waiting for the weather to settle in. We have daffodils and tulips and azaleas and lilacs and red buds all going at the same time. The birds are all singing, it’s quite divine out there right now. Patrina, what’s it like in your neck of the woods?
Patrina Nuske-Small 05:11
Today, it’s a beautiful sunny day. It’s a country town, a small country village that I live in, in far south New South Wales. And it’s really beautiful, because I’ve got mountains that surround my place, I can see almost 180 degrees of mountains. And I love, I just love being able to see the horizon for a start. And you know, I can’t bear the thought of living in a city any longer, I’m afraid.
Craig LeHoullier 06:38
All right, we’ll schedule the next OSSI webinar for your place, and we’ll all go out there. So buckle up. This is going to be kind of an interesting drive, I hope that you all enjoy. This was a few years into the project. And Patrina actually made the trip to North Carolina to attend one of our Tomato Palooza tastings. And this is Patrina and I on a very hot, muggy day, when we are really at the very beginning of starting to get named varieties from our projects, and all of the tomatoes on that table were from our dwarf breeding efforts. And they were all available, available to taste. And we really knew for the first time that we were onto something, because there are lots of smiles, and a lot of pleasure being elicited from the tasting of those tomatoes. We actually had to stand guard. We didn’t want those seeds going anywhere because they were incomplete. They weren’t stable. They weren’t done yet. But it was a chance for people to try them out. Why did we do this project anyway? and Carol touched on this briefly. For my part, I was selling tomato plants in Raleigh, mostly heirlooms, for about 15 years. And one of the most frequently asked questions I had: “What have you got great, what have you got that tastes great, but I don’t have to climb a ladder to pick it? I can grow it in a pot on my balcony or deck or patio.” And the answer at the time wasn’t a whole lot. And at that time, Patrina and I had started getting to know each other through Garden Web. And it seemed like she liked to do crosses. And I had some good ideas about how to put a project together. So essentially, the project was born through a friendship born over the internet, Australia to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2005. And the rest is history. And here, this is an example of why we didn’t have a whole lot to tell people have the time for what tastes great and grows in a pot. You had determinate varieties, such as ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and ‘Taxi’, a lot of the red marketable hybrid types that, they’re good for farming, machine picking and putting, packing up in a grocery store, but they didn’t taste all that great. And dwarfs, which I’m still trying to explain people what a dwarf tomato is, it is a third type of tomato that is very distinct from determinate and indeterminate. At the time, we started with this project, really all we could point people to were ‘Lime Green Salad’, and ‘Dwarf Stone’ and ‘New Big Dwarf’ and ‘Golden Dwarf Champion’ and ‘Dwarf Champion’, varieties that have actually, had actually been around in some cases from the 1880s. So if the fruit was right there on the tree for us to pick, here is a need – we viewed that container gardening was going to become more important, and a way to grow gardeners. And yet we were a little bit ahead of the curve and some of the seed companies. And in fact, I remember having a chat with Rob Johnson. “We’re trying, we’re starting to put out some of these dwarf tomato varieties – would you like to grow it?” And he’s like, “Well, our interest really isn’t in container gardening right now.” And he pretty much bypassed being in on the ground floor of some of these. So I think, Patrina, I would say you and I got a little visionary and a little lucky, wouldn’t you say?
Patrina Nuske-Small 09:04
Yep, yes, absolutely. Yeah, it was perfect timing.
Craig LeHoullier 09:10
It was. And not that any of these are bad tomatoes. It’s just the scope is very, very limited. So this is another catalyst, and this is one area where I got an idea. And I am a seed catalog collector. And so I was flipping through an Isbell 1915. And I saw this description for a tomato called ‘New Big Dwarf’. I think it was released in about 1908, but I didn’t have that catalog. And it essentially gave the answer to the problem: how they created ‘New Big Dwarf’, a big tomato on a small plant, was to take the largest tomato in existence at the time – ‘Ponderosa’, which is a Henderson variety from 1892- and they crossed it with ‘Dwarf Champion’. And then I assume they did generations of work, they created the hybrid, and then they selected. But lo and behold, they had this big tomato on a small plant, they said. I actually found this in the USDA, obtained a sample, grew it out, and there it was – beautiful big pink tomatoes, on a nice tidy three foot tall plant. Now, Isbell, and the people in the early 1900s didn’t have the rainbow of heirlooms that we have today to use as breeding partners onto this set of fairly restricted and ordinary dwarfs. So in a way, Patrina, to me, the project kind of presented itself to us in all of the pieces. Anything else you want to say about the early stages of how we got into this?
Patrina Nuske-Small 10:38
Well, I didn’t really know much about any of this, Craig, at that stage, all I knew was that you presented this sort of idea in Garden Web that, wouldn’t it be great if we could have some of those heirloom tastes and flavors and colors and sizes on a more manageable plant? And you know, we should do some crosses. And I thought, yeah, that sounds like fun. And so so that was my early days. Yeah.
Craig LeHoullier 11:02
So the nice thing, there will be a theme through this. And it’s going to be that word, ‘fun’, that Patrina just used because this project, every step of the way, was fun. And it, and yes, there were challenges, we’ll get into some of those. But there were surprises to find. And because Patrina and I are not trained botanists, instead of reading the book and finding out all about plant genetics, we did m-, we did a Mendel. We sat in the garden, and instead of playing with peas, we played with tomatoes, and we taught ourselves dominance and colors and recessive traits. So this, in a way, is kind of the punchline of the project, after which we’ll get into the details. But every, every tomato on that cutting board is from a dwarf growing plant. It’s funny where I say we formally shut it down in 2018, because in a way, it still hasn’t shut down. It’s ticking along. But we now have 145 stable varieties, because we work them out until they’re essentially open-pollinated, in various seed catalogs, and we’ll talk a little bit more about how we did that. However, this project would have gone nowhere without the talents and the enthusiasm and the creativity and the willingness of over 1000 people the world over. Not all of those thousand stuck with it the whole way. And we’re going to talk a little, quite a bit about resources later on. But it’s been, it’s just been a thrill. So. Let’s look about the parameters of this project as we set it up. All amateur, all volunteer, as far as we knew. If people who were plant geneticists and botanists, if they wanted to jump in, they were they were welcome to but that was not a prerequisite. The project leads make the crossings and it could be Patrina, and later, I jumped in and did some and a few other people. We would grow the hybrids, then we would distribute the F2 and beyond for dwarf selection, and as we would say to people, “You’re now going to go dwarf hunting”, and we would explain how that worked. Patrina and I tended to be the people that made the decisions based on the results. So I’ve got these 20 dwarves from this cross, what do you think we should progress? And so we looked at parameters like taste and color. We didn’t look at parameters like disease resistance and tolerance, and we’ll get into that later on. So here’s another unique part of this. If you find it, you get to name it. So we have cats represented. Dogs, aunts, uncles, grandfathers, flowers, birds, you know, it’s, it was just great. And you get to see what what people are really into by, by looking at what they named the tomatoes, and that name would then follow it all the way through to stability. The new named varieties would be released when they’re viewed to be stable, open-pollinated. And generally with this dwarf project, if a lot of recessive gene, genes are involved, we can get pretty good stability at the F6 or so. If we’re incorporating quite a few dominant traits, we may have to take it out the F8 or the F10. The profits are for realizing by the seed companies and we wanted to pick out small seed companies that needed something to help them to compete with the big boys. This gave them something new, and we would have one of our growers like Bill Minke here in Wisconsin grow out two or three thousand seed. And then we would just send that seed with a description to the company. They would, they would germ. test it, and package it and sell it. So there was some trust involved there as well, that those people that grew the seed were going to achieve what was described. And the only thing we asked is that a link to the project went in the seedcatalog and the names of every person… I’ve got a misspell there I just saw. I did… This is a new slide I did last night at midnight Patrina. So there may be a typo or two. We have no ‘Gails’ in our project as far as I know. But project members, none of us financially gain from this, we wanted the gain to be for the home gardeners who finally had an answer to the question, “What have you got that tastes great, and grows well in a pot?” And then we’d pledge all varieties to OSSI, to OSSI. So, I know Jack (Kloppenburg) wanted us to hit this question early on, or at least hit it at some point, and I thought that this is the perfect spot to bring it up. Why OSSI? It reflects the nature of the spirit of the approach we used in terms of telling people what we crossed, how, how we did it, how it develops, invite them in. And essentially the story is out there. And it’s essentially got that altruistic element of – we’re trying to do this for the home gardeners and the farmers that wish to grow them. So OSSI seemed to be a perfect situation, that they should be pledged to open-source, they shouldn’t be patented, they shouldn’t be protected, they should be there for people to grow and save seeds from and trade, and then us in their breeding project. So to me, it’s a perfect fit. Patrina – anything else on how this kind of resonates with us, the whole OSSI pledge?
Patrina Nuske-Small 16:18
I remember that I only first found out about OSSI when I was watching a documentary called Open Sesame. And it had Jack (Kloppenburg) in it. And I thought, oh, that sounds interesting. So I sort of followed up and sent Jack (Kloppenburg) an email to say, “Look, you know, we’re doing this project.” And he said, “Yes, we know.” And, and so it sort of all moved on from there. But I loved the fact that not only could you pledge new varieties, if you bred them, but the, the sort of, the partnering with the seed companies also sort of, just broad, broadens it out to to make it just very doable. And where people can find out where to buy the seeds. It’s fantastic.
Craig LeHoullier 17:03
I think, I think it’s kind of a match made in heaven. And it’s kind of like our seeds are home, to have gotten this pledge. And it all works out just great. So – how did we do this? And I think Patrina may have her tools of the trade and I have mine. Patrina has done far more, well, at one point she had done far more crosses than I and I’ve kind of caught up a little bit. But my friend Keith – KCTamato- Keith Muller, kept hearing me talk about wanting to do crosses. So one day he sent me a VegiBee (garden pollinator). And I’ve got my little vibrating wand, and I’ve got my nice shiny black spoon, and my tweezers and I’ve got a steady hand. And so what we do, of course, is we find the the father, the dad plant, get the pollen out. And then we use our steady hands and our tweezers. And if all goes well, we removed the anther cone from a partially open, not fully open, flower because tomatoes of course, are perfect flowered. And if all goes well, they pollinate upon opening. We wanted to catch it before that happened or before a bee visited and made a cross that we weren’t looking for. And dab the little pistil into the pollen. And I like to repeat that two, three, four times in a row because you’re plucking the anther cone off a slightly immature flower and you want to make sure this works. I have a general success rate of about 25%. I’m kind of impatient, sometimes a little, I’m a little sloppy with my anther removal or it’s too humid and I can’t collect pollen and repeat the cross. But if all goes well, I like to do two things. I clip the sepals on the flower so I can remember where it is and I put a little twisty tie on it. And if you get a tomato, X marks the spot. If all goes well, you’ll have your F1 hybrid between the indeterminate parent and the dwarf female. Patrina, do you do it similar to this or…? We’ve never really talked about how you do your crosses.
Patrina Nuske-Small 19:06
Pretty much. I actually take the anther cone off a little bit earlier than you do and then I wait about three days before I apply pollen, and I try to apply the pollen two or three times over the next couple of days. But I also tie a little tag that I have written the the actual cross parent, the father, more so because the… I always use the dwarf as the mother. Being recessive traited, you can be sure that your cross was successful if you use the dwarf as the mother. But basically it’s the same thing. And it’s, it’s just learning to practice without damaging the stigma.
Craig LeHoullier 19:55
Exactly right. It’s really about slowing down and trying to get any kind of a tremble out of your hand and being patient. It’s, I find it a lot of fun. So we’ve each got our R&D areas, and all of our volunteers have their R&D areas, but we don’t have pictures of all theirs. But here’s Patrina, and this is before you moved, right? No, this is your new place. Wow.
Patrina Nuske-Small 20:21
Yeah, this is my new place. You can see a house in the distance that’s the neighbor across the creek and up the hill. But the actual block sizes are the same as if it were a suburban place. It’s only 20 meters between each neighbor on my street. But this is my backyard.
Craig LeHoullier 20:41
Yeah. And you know, I don’t know if you get this impression. But people come into my driveway, and they look at these and they’re like, those are the most beautiful tomato plants I’ve ever seen. Because of the characteristics the dwarf gene gives them. It makes them distinct from other tomato varieties.
Patrina Nuske-Small 20:59
Yeah, I think they’re great. I love them as seedlings, they’re just the cutest little things.
Craig LeHoullier 21:04
See, I told you this is fun. So this is my… these are various years of my R&D. And I’ve tried different types of arrangements. And I found, like many people have, that when you grow really heavily-yielding top-heavy tomatoes in containers, putting a stake in the bag works only until they top over and you get the pickup sticks effect. So through the years have developed other ways to keep the plants upright. Here in Hendersonville, I can actually bang stakes into the ground and keep them upright. And this is a different view of my driveway. We were in a subdivision with a homeowner’s association and my neighbors thought I was insane. But they did like… I think the reason they let us do this is because they get really cool tomato plants and tomatoes and other produce free for asking. So we bribed our way into be able to use our driveway in a very inappropriate manner for our neighborhood. Now that we’re in Hendersonville, we have a very different setup. And in the background, you can see my straw bales with my indeterminate plants and some dwarfs in front of those. And I’ve taken this gravel part in my driveway, and this is where I’ll be, where I’ll do a lot of my R&D. What a great office it is to be able to just walk out and play in your plants! I mean, it’s it’s, it beats my 25 years in pharma, so much we won’t even talk about it. A few traits of dwarfs – so we’ll talk a little bit… We’ll hone down a little bit further into dwarfs. The bottom two leaves are regular indeterminate or determinate varieties that show typical foliage which is kind of relaxed, spread out. Regular leaf is lower left, potato-leaf is lower right. So the left could be a ;Cherokee Purple’, the bottom one could be a ‘Brandywine’. The gene that produces the dwarf tomato creates another interesting change, two other interesting changes in the plant. It limits the growth, it thickens the stem drastically. In fact, people that grow these for the first time think there’s something wrong with them because that central stem is so thick, but then it puckers up the foliage into a characteristic, the old seed catalogs used to call this “rugose”. It darkens the color into almost a more bluish-green tint. And my personal thought Patrina is potato-leaf dwarfs are the most beautiful tomato plants of all. I mean, they are, they are just unbelievable. When we started this project there was one and we’ve kind of focused on them. And I think we, we must have 30, 40, 50 potato-leaf dwarfs that we’ve released. Just because they are so cool. So growth habit – indeterminate on the left, that’s ‘Cherokee Purple’ in July. You know, when people grow these types and eight feet tall already. Where’s it going to go the other two months of the growing season? This is what annoys people about indeterminates when they’re, they have physical limitation capabilities to manage it or they have space issues. Determinate is the nice little ball of tomatoes in the upper right that are pretty, produce a lot, produce all at once, don’t taste particularly great. So what I tell people about dwarfs is, they take the best quality of indeterminate and determinate: the restricted growth habit of determinate, the steady fruiting throughout the season until frost or disease kills it, like indeterminate. And I tell people, if you have a ‘Cherokee Purple’, that’s eight feet tall by August, your dwarf will be at about four feet tall. And one of the hardest things is people all want to know how tall these are all going to get. And, you know, you all know with gardening, how many variables there are. How many hours of sun do you get? How are you maintaining it? How are you feeding it? What is the weather like that year? So by telling them that they progress upwards at half of the rate of an indeterminate, it gives people a better idea of what to expect from this plant. Patrina, have you found it pretty similar in terms of the, kind of, that half, half rate of growth upwards?
Patrina Nuske-Small 25:09
Yes, definitely. Yep.
Craig LeHoullier 25:11
Great. And that’s a cluster of two potato-leaf and one regular leaf dwarfs in a five gallon grow bag in my driveway. And, of course, any tomato – the more space you give it, the more it will yield. I grew a few dwarfs last year in straw bales and I was picking 30 pounds of fruit off one dwarf plant. But you can get a good 15 pounds, 20 pounds of fruit grown in a five gallon pot, if the plant is appropriately watered and fed. And you know with container gardening you have to use different methodology from regular gardening. So this is just a little primer of some things that we’ve discovered, and some of this I think Patrina and I may have already known, but indeterminant is… and we’ve used these gene characteristics to our advantage as we’ve done this project indeterminant is determ- is dominant to both dwarf or determinate. Regular leaf shape, the serrated edge is dominant to potato-leaf, yellow skin color, so think ‘Celebrity’, think Burpee’s ‘Big Boy’ or ‘Better Boy’, that’s a red tomato, red flesh, yellow skin. Clear skin, think ‘Brandywine’; same color, red flesh, but you’ve got clear skin. And the yellow is dominant. Red is dominant to pretty much everything, and what we’re learning and we still don’t have all the answers to is – between orange and green, between yellow and orange. I don’t, I don’t know Patrina, if you sorted it all out but I don’t have all the dominances of the sub colors yet, if you start crossing the weird colors with each other.
Patrina Nuske-Small 26:44
No, I don’t either, Craig.
Craig LeHoullier 27:47
And I’m sure there are geneticists on this call that would probably help set us straight on it. But I want to learn myself; don’t tell me. Fruit size is, small is so strongly dominant to the point where, when I crossed ‘Mexico Midget’ which is pea-sized indeterminate with ‘Summertime Green’, which is a one pound dwarf, the hybrid was a less-than-one ounce cherry tomato. That small fruit size is just so incredibly dominant. Round is dominant unless heart is involved. And I found last year in doing some crosses that heartshaped comes through in the hybrid. Stripes partially come through in the hybrids, and even some expression of anthocyanin comes through in some of the hybrids. So, kind of cool stuff and knowing just enough about this can help you be an artist and decide what you want to cross. Patrina alluded to this, and it’s important, but what… we use dwarf as the female because a successful cross will give an indeterminate plant in the hybrid. Meaning – do your cross, ripen that tomato, save seeds, grow it out. And if your plant is indeterminate, boom, you’ve got a hybrid. When you grow those hybrid seeds out, you get the typical Punnett Square three to one ratio: 75% of your seedlings will be indeterminate. And in in our project, for the most part, the people toss them because they’re aimed at dwarfs. But sometimes my heart aches at everything we’re leaving on the cutting room floor. There must be so many cool indeterminate that we’re just not even looking at. If a potato-leaf was parent, 25% of that 25% will be potato-leaf. So already now, we’re starting to make finding some of our combinations a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. Dwarf seedlings, they announce themselves really early on. They’re, I’m going to show a picture that Patrina sent me that she took. They’re about half the height, they have much thicker stem, and it can take about six to 10 generations to stabilize a new variety that we identify and name at the F2 stage. With the last two slides, Patrina, anything you want to add to the traits and some of the, some of our little hacks and how we, how we do this?
Patrina Nuske-Small 29:00
Oh no, no Craig – it’s, that’s quite comprehensive. Thanks. I can’t think of anything else.
Craig LeHoullier 29:06
Great. And here you are, your picture. Easy to see the indeterminates – the easiest place to see it is, look at the cell in the right rear and the stem is slender. And look at the seedlings in the right front. And the stem is relatively thicker, and the plant is half the height. And the other interesting thing that I just noticed recently, and Patrina, you may have noticed it before I – the cotyledons on the dwarfs tend to be a little bit more rounded. Whereas the cotelydons on the indeterminates tend to be a little bit more elongated. Have you noted that?
Patrina Nuske-Small 29:44
Craig LeHoullier 29:46
Very good. This is just indeterminate on the left, and dwarf on the right to show that half height thing. These were seeded at the same time, transplanted at the same time. A different view. And you can also get a sense of the darker, the foliage is starting to crinkle up on that dwarf on the right. So one of the things that we really wanted to play with with this project is to increase the diversity of dwarf tomatoes. And this picture, I believe, was taken just a few years into the project. And every tomato on that table was taken from a dwarf plant, a plant that was about three or four feet tall in the driveway. I had tomatoes on that table that were one and a quarter pounds. I, I want to ask Patrina for an impression when we first started getting into growing out some of the F2’s. What did you feel like when you started seeing what some of these were turning out like?
Patrina Nuske-Small 30:44
Oh, it was just incredibly exciting. It was just amazing. Yeah, it certainly spurred us on, didn’t it?
Craig LeHoullier 30:52
And some of the color surprises! So Patrina made a cross between ‘Golden Dwarf Champion’ and ‘Elbe’, which is a yellow times an orange. And we ended up with this wonderful hybrid we call ‘Tipsy’. And it was red! I mean, so we have had genetic surprises show themselves to us. And that has ended up producing some of the most delicious tomatoes in our whole project. Did you have some real flavor hits, Patrina, early on as well, that made you kind of go, “Our proof of, our proof of concept is complete. We can do this.”?
Patrina Nuske-Small 31:32
I thought most of them were just amazing, because I was just used to supermarket tomatoes. You know, I mean it was just a revelation. But it was, it was a lot of fun, sort of, finding the different flavors, the sweetness or the tanginess, or sort of, almost complexity that you couldn’t imagine that somehow was tied into the aroma and things like that. It’s fascinating.
Craig LeHoullier 31:58
You were very descriptive in the flavors. I remember, I think it was Uluru, ‘Uluru Ochre’. You you were using all kinds of adjectives to describe the flavor of that, right?
Patrina Nuske-Small 32:09
Absolutely. People used to look at me cross-eyed, but I really could taste all those differences. And then you’d notice a bit of saltiness or a bit of smoky flavor, or, you know, and the complexity always just blew me away.
Craig LeHoullier 32:25
You know, you actually, I’m glad you brought that up. And we’re talking about flavor, because you can look at leaf shape, you can look at plant habit. And you can look at fruit color, and size, but you can’t see flavor. And so one of the challenges, when you start coming around to stabilizing these is, you may think you have it licked, and you could grow three or four plants that look all the same. But the flavors are going to be really different from each other. And I mean, we both hit on that quite early on, didn’t we?
Patrina Nuske-Small 32:59
Yes, yes. And that’s how you make a choice about which, which, which one to keep going with.
Craig LeHoullier 33:05
And which ones to kill. Like you, you had a beautiful, you had a beautiful tomato. It might, you might have named it ‘Banksy’, or ‘Queen’ or something similar to that they came out of the ‘Dopey’ line. And it looked beautiful and we could never get the flavor or you could never replicate the flavor that you found initially, in any of the subsequent generations.
Patrina Nuske-Small 33:27
Yeah, I gave up pretty quickly.
Craig LeHoullier 33:30
So this is just an example of tomato genetics at work and how you can look at a result and it may look totally wrong. But then when you go through the genes it’s totally right. So I crossed ‘Cherokee Chocolate’ on the left. It’s got crimson flesh but it’s also got that additional pigmentation that makes ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Cherokee Chocolate’ and all of the other dark-flesh tomatoes, what they do. And it’s got yellow skin. And then on the right is one of our dwarfs called ‘Dwarf Mr. Snow’, one of my favorites. White flesh. It’s kind of an ivory color, clear skin. And in the middle is the hybrid, which I named ‘Chalky’ because ‘Cherokee Chocolate’ we need to call it ‘Chalky’. Red flesh, yellow skin, looks like a supermarket tomato. And I thought bingo, my cross worked, because that is exactly what I would have predicted. That tomato in the middle exhibits all of the dominant traits and it ignores all of the recessive traits. This is an aside and this is, for those on the phone that are interested, that it’s not all about dwarfs but breeding other tomatoes and I’m only going to talk about this for five seconds. But I had this – what happens if I crossed two great heirlooms, what do you get? So last… two of my favorites with ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Lillian’s yellow’. And so I created the hybrid and I grew it and that was it last year and it is one of the single greatest tomatoes I’ve ever eaten in my life. It’s, so it’s there. Anybody who wants to go out there and create a tomato that will be a real crowd pleaser, cross those two varieties. I’m not going to market it, I’m probably not going to create the hybrid anymore. But wow. This is how I learned that stripes are partially dominant and heart shape; where I crossed a stripe with a heart and I got a, for a hybrid, I got a slightly striped heart. So, a little bit more about the project. When we started, Patrina came up with this great thought: Disney has dwarfs. We can name our dwarfs. Unfortunately, we ran out of Disney dwarfs quite quickly. You may wonder where did ‘Sleazy’ come from? Well, we ran out of dwarfs. So a, uh, rather twisted fellow from our project named Bruce in California decided to name his cross ‘Sleazy’. But ‘Grumpy’, ‘Happy’, ‘Bashful’, ‘Witty’, ‘Dopey’, ‘Doc’ and those, those are the crosses that kicked off our project. And Patrina will always be my hero for doing that first one, ‘Sneezy’, crossing ‘Golden Dwarf Champion’ and ‘Green Giant’, just about everything that came out of that has been outstanding in flavor. And I think we have 10 varieties just out of that cross. That’s ‘Golden Dwarf Champion’ in the upper left, and that’s ‘Green Giant’ on the right. And that was really one of the only two hybrids that Patrina made from that first set, that tasted really good. This is the full set of those tomatoes that I just showed, the ‘Sleepy’ and the ‘Doc’ and all. And we learned another important thing. You can cross your indeterminate and your dwarf; don’t expect your hybrid to taste wonderful. And if it doesn’t taste wonderful, don’t worry, because once you start growing out the F2 and beyond the flavor re-emerges. And I don’t know about you Patrina, but this was… some of these hybrids were just uninspiring to eat, didn’t you find?
Patrina Nuske-Small 37:01
I have to admit, Craig, that I actually can’t remember. That’s too long ago.
Craig LeHoullier 37:08
Sorry, my photographic memory is popping up here. But yeah, we had conversations about it. And I think we kept using the word, “Well, kind of bland, kind of ordinary.” But boy, did they pop after it. So just to show people a little bit of a selection of… ‘Dwarf Sweet Sue’, upper left bright yellow. My wife’s name is Sue. I named it after her. It just turns out to be one of my favorites. That’s how luck is involved here. ‘Dwarf Speckled Heart’, upper right. ‘Fred’s Tie Dye’, lower left. There’s one of Patrina’s very favorites, ‘Uluru Ochre’, and that was kind of… We invented a, we discovered a color – would you say, Patrina?
Patrina Nuske-Small 37:48
Yeah, that was a really strange situation. And it was also a really unique situation in that usually in dwarf hunting, we only keep growing the dwarfs, and we toss the ones that are indeterminates. But on this occasion, it was early in the project and I decided to just grow a few of those indeterminates that we would normally toss. And I gave my brother some to grow out and I was collecting samples from him. And I saw this strange looking tomato, really odd coloring. And I thought, “It looks like it might be going rotten”, but I thought, “I’ll take it as a sample and I’ll save seeds”. So I took it home, cut it open, and it smelled amazing. And I thought, “It doesn’t smell bad. I’ll taste it.” And so I had a taste and man, just blew me away. And I thought, “Oh, wow. Okay, I wonder if I’ll find a dwarf in the next generation because this is not from a dwarf.” And sure enough, dwarf hunting in the F3’s, I found a dwarf and so we now have ‘Uluru Ochre’.
Craig LeHoullier 38:56
That was so lucky. And really what this is, is the first black-orange. Because of, ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Cherokee Chocolate’ are black-reds. And, you know, this is that chlorophyll retention genetics embedded into an orange tomato, what give it that dusky color. ‘Firebird Sweet’, that’s of the ‘Beauty’ line. That was ‘Beauty King’ (from Brad Gates) times ‘Dwarf Wild Fred’. We get so many color, we, every color of the rainbow has come out of that cross. ‘Tiger Eye’, which is another version of a black orange. And this came out of ‘Hardy’ which is a heart-shaped metallic green striped purple, that is… I named this one ‘Dwarf Chocolate Heartthrob’ because it is. It is a heartthrob, it is so unique and so beautiful and really delicious. And we have our first named variety out of a ‘Mexico Midget’ cross, which is ‘Dwarf Eagle Smiley’, which our volunteer Justin created. That yellow cherry, on the right, is the closest tomato I’ve tasted to ‘Sungold’. And Victory (Seeds) is selling it for the first time this year. I made cherry tomato pesto out of it and the pesto is white. It is the most incredible thing. It has white flesh and yellow skin. We’re also playing with the variegated traits. And we’ve got ‘Pico’s Pride’ and ‘Walter’s Fancy’ and ‘Elsie’s Fancy’ out of that. And we’re just starting to play a little bit – I know Patrina’s played more extensively with the anthocyanin with her series. And I’m, I’m trying to get really good flavor and anthocyanin and I’m, so I’m hunting for it. And I think I’m getting close. So that’s a little tour through our varieties. One of the mainstays of being able to manage a project is having a format that you can track results. And we were very fortunate from the very start right from 2006 that a P2P formatted website called Tomatoville had just formed. And Craig, the owner, decided that it would be fine if we could turn, we could take part of it and turn it into our playground. So in this slide, you can see we have a list of all of those families and they’re clickable. And if you click those families, you can get into all of the work that’s going on in those families. If they’re named, they’ll have a name, the name – the Tomatoville name of the person underneath. So ‘fischer1611’, et cetera. And on and on and on, we have our entire project is sitting on this. We have the ability to post pictures, and so, it’s a nice format, because you can create little mini stories. In some, I guess, Patrina, you could say they’re novels, in some case, because some of these have a lot of information. And then once we release a product, a variety, we go through, and we chart out the genetics, the vial numbers, the generations, who worked on them, what we saw as a result, and it helps us to hone in on all of the work that we did along the way. We’re going to talk about Tomatoville a little more in a moment. You also, everyone who works on this, we like them to have some sort of a format. I’m an Excel spreadsheet type of guy, I have my entire seed collection, double cross reference, triple backed up. And so, you know, in filterable columns, and I have the dwarf family, the variety name, who sent me the seed, reference vial number it was grown from, and fruit descriptions. And so that is, that’s kind of the maintenance that goes into it. And I know, Patrina, you were running this the the southern hemisphere branch of this. I had the northern hemisphere, but I would say it’s it’s not a data management nightmare. But there’s a lot to juggle. I mean, from your point of view, what did you think about the information management?
Patrina Nuske-Small 43:03
I said, “Thank God for Craig.” Oh, unbelievable, because I only had a small handful of volunteers, but you had hundreds, and you had to keep track of them and try to get seeds back from them and, you know, take notice of their results. So the data, the amount of data is, I can’t even get my head around it.
Craig LeHoullier 43:28
I think it’s fun. But anyway. But thank you. Victory Seeds, from the start, has expressed an interest in this project. And Mike Dunton, who owns Victory is a really good friend of mine, one of my best friends. And he has created, he has pledged to carry all of our dwarfs, so we now released our varieties through him first and the other companies pick them up. So, how did we end up… You know, we just, Patrina and I just talked about how we did it. Now we’ve got varieties, what comes next? So we chose this word of mouth method, instead of a publicity method. Where, you know, a Burpee catalog or other company: Here’s this featured new tomato, we’re going to make a glossy cover picture of it. We’re gonna have an Instagram and a Facebook campaign. We just said, Okay Seed Company, here’s some seeds. You know, I’ll talk about it in my Instagram feed and I’ll sell seedlings now and then, but it’s bottom up instead of top down, and that was rather, I was really fascinated to see how this would work. So our early adopters were Victory and Southern Exposure (Seed Exchange), Sand Hill (Preservation Center) and Heritage, Casey’s (Heirloom Tomatoes) up in Canada, Tomato Growers Supply (Company), Tatiana’s TOMATObase, Sample Seed Shop, Fruition (Seeds), these are the small seed companies that all expressed an interest. And some of them carried one, some carried four. Southern Exposure (Seed Exchancge) is listing a few each year. People are putting their toe in the water. But we… ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ was one of our first releases in 2010. I, two nights ago, I did a Google search. With no hunting at all, tt’s now listed in 20 different seed catalogs all over the world, places in Europe, places in… And then a 2011 release, ‘Dwarf Sweet Sue’, I found it in 12 different places. So they’re kind of getting around just fine. And I think it’s word of mouth. You know, when I go around the country doing my garden talks, I am not a big splash guy. I am a kind of a common man, bottom up, let’s roll together and see how this works person. And this fit, I think, I don’t know – Patrina, did this fit your style as well, to do more of a quiet launch rather… or a soft lunch rather than a big splash?
Patrina Nuske-Small 45:53
I didn’t really think about it a great deal because I thought, “Well, we’ve done the basic work. Now it’s up to someone else to carry it forward.” And I just sort of watched what happened, I suppose. I, I didn’t plan anything.
Craig LeHoullier 46:08
Are you, are you pleased?
Patrina Nuske-Small 46:11
Delighted, absolutely delighted. Someone in Belarus has been in touch with me and the people in Russia, Belarus and some of those previous Soviet countries, they absolutely you know, 100% dwarf fans, all of them. Yeah.
Craig LeHoullier 46:31
And I’ve, I’ve, I’ve talked to people in Philippines, Greece, Sweden, you name it. So now we get to a fun slide. And this, this is when we talk about, where, “So what did we learn?” Maybe that’s what we call this – What did we learn? What are the most important factors of doing a project in this, maybe, unique manner. It’s really up to anybody on this call, and others to decide how unique it is. But it’s the one we chose. What have been our challenges? Resources, particularly consistent resources, people who just don’t dip in, get 10 samples of seed, say, oh, that’s kind of fun, didn’t send any seed back and they vanished. Now I’m not, I’m not complaining about that. It’s just a fact. It’s what happened. We’ve had other people that have been with us the entire time in their response, they’ve had their fingers in half of our releases, but getting consistent resources. The example I use on this is, Seed Savers Exchange formed in 1975. They’ve never had more than 1200 people actively listing seeds in their yearbook, so – many are called, few people are as insane as I am. You can get a million people in a room, and this type of project may appeal to one or two of them. So finding those people are tricky… Adequate and consistent data collection. And I’m sure Patrina and I are just as guilty as this, the garden’s… the season’s getting busy, you’re harvesting, you’re cooking, you’re giving things away, you’re seed saving. “Oh, I must have taken pictures of everything.” You go back and look. No, you don’t have pictures of everything. You don’t have weights, you don’t have data. That is a very disciplined activity that’s taking place in a period of the year, where you’re really busy. Our collaborative working tool is great, and Tomatoville was perfect for us. But it’s tenuous, because the person who owns it has had it for 16 years. And other, you know, Instagram and Facebook and Tik Tok, other social networking has taken business – not that he’s paying… Not that we’re paying to use it. But he doesn’t want to run a site that doesn’t have a lot of activity, because it’s work. And so it could disappear at any moment. And if it does, all of our data is gone. Consistent return of seed samples. This this, this isn’t… This is a pain in every regard, the barriers to seed sharing. And I perfectly understand why, because you don’t want to get tomato disease and other diseases infecting crops in other countries. But when we could bounce things back and forth and get two growing seasons into one calendar year, we were moving, like greased lightning. And now we’ve had to sever the project. And it’s hard for Patrina to get volunteers there. And so that’s problem. And even, I got an email from Ireland today, somebody who would love to… He owns a seed company. How do I get these varieties? I don’t know what to tell them. I don’t know how he can get them. I can’t do phytosanitaries, that’s just a problem. And even Patrina and I sharing our varieties. How much have we left behind that we haven’t explored? Each one of these crosses probably deserves hundreds of growouts. But sufficient space and populations to explore all the possibilities and ensure complete stability of the releases. And maybe the biggest one of all – I get an email from Seattle, “Craig, I want to grow a dwarf, which one would you recommend?” We don’t know yet which one of our 145 will fail in Vermont, thrive in Seattle, be diseased in Arizona, delight people in North Carolina. And so again, we’ve worked a little bit with Seedlinked on this. And Patrina, you just said something great, we’ve taken it this far. I will now add to that we have now taken it this far. But I’m not sure we can fulfill. It’s up to us to fill everything now that’s left on this to do sheet, particularly the part about finding out how these things are going to do in different places. That’s just, I think, beyond our scope. So Patrina, anything you want to add to, kind of, the challenges or any other challenges or aspects that came to mind?
Patrina Nuske-Small 50:43
I remember one of the things that I constantly worried about was, was people taking not very good photographs, because you need to have, you need to have that pictorial sort of reference point to see color to see seed location to see, so well, even, sort of, skin color compared to flesh color and so on. Yeah. Yeah. And, yeah, there’s so many, there’s so many sort of entries on my website that just don’t have photos.
Craig LeHoullier 51:13
Yeah, well, but but but you know, Patrina, you have to admit the pay kind of stunk. It was zero. So. So anyway, here’s, I hope we can get into some of these in a little bit of dialogue during Q&A time. But here’s up Patrina’s Dwarf Tomato Project website that she manages, and I managed one on my website. And it’s craiglehouillier.com/dwarf-tomato-breeding-project. And, or you can just Google Craig LeHouillier Dwarf Tomato Project, whatever. Patrina’s is dwarftomatoproject.net. And I strive to answer all emails the day they come in, email@example.com. And Patrina’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. And often, Patrina gets emails through her website that she bounces to me, which is kind of cute. It’s like, I don’t know if people don’t know where you are, or know where you are. But I’ll get a little stream of email coming in from Patrina, for things that only I can answer over here in the US. So I appreciate those. That I believe… Oh, no, very important slide! Take a picture of it. So Patrina, and I had a discussion the other night about, out of the 145, could we pick out some that we love to eat and rather than having separate slides, I decided to put in bold, those that we both love. And I’ve got some with my name after. And this doesn’t mean Patrina wouldn’t love them, it means that she just does not have access to a lot of our most recent releases. So we have released things you haven’t grown or tasted yet. And then Patrina has some that, it’s not that I don’t love them. It’s just that they go to the top of Patrina’s tastes palette, and, you know, we’ve got a red, a pink, purple, an orange, a white, a green, a bi-color, a purple. We’ve hit the whole rainbow with this list. And I’m trying to count the potato leaves here. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine of these are potato leaf dwarfs. So pretty cool. Anyway, the frustrating part of doing a talk like this is – I hope this is connecting with people. But it was really fun to do. And so delighted to have Patrina at the other end. So grateful for all, for all of you for coming. And just, I guess we’re just ready to open it up and see what you’ve got for us in terms of questions. Patrina, anything else you want to add?
Patrina Nuske-Small 54:01
No, I’m, I’m happy and content. Thank you for the presentation.
Craig LeHoullier 54:06
Thank you for being here, man. And all of your work and your friendship. It’s just been wonderful.
Rachel Hultengren 54:14
All right. So we have about half an hour for questions from anyone who has one. If you would like to ask a question in person and not in the chat, if you would please use the Raise Your Hand function to let me know that you would like to ask that question, or if you’d like to put it in the chat, we can take questions that way too. And if you’re joining by phone, you can press star nine to raise your hand and star six to unmute yourself.
Craig LeHoullier 54:54
It can’t have been that comprehensive folks. There’s gotta be questions. I’ve even got questions about this: Is Craig sane?
Rachel Hultengren 55:03
There’s a question in the chat from Alex, asking about Craig, your comment about the hybrids that didn’t have great flavor and sticking with them. They ask if you could elaborate on what “sticking with them” means, so whether that’s to continue growing the hybrids and taste testing them as they mature, or, or something else and at what point would you determine that the hybrid wasn’t worth continuing with?
Craig LeHoullier 55:30
Sure. Patrina and I can kind of co-answer this because I’m thinking of ‘Sleepy’. ‘Sleepy’ has put out some outstanding tomatoes, right? ‘Rosella Crimson’, ‘Rosella Purple’, ‘Wilpena’. ‘Sleepy’ was just a six ounce red tomato, that on a scale of one to 10, I would have ranked a six. And so you don’t then assume, “I’ve got a real average hybrid, I’m going to stick with it and grow it out and see what we find.” And Patrina, you did a lot of the initial work on it. And I mean, your early finds with the ‘Rosella’s were amazing, flavor-wise, weren’t they?
Patrina Nuske-Small 56:19
Oh, definitely. But I honestly can’t remember the flavor of the hybrid. And also, I think it’s quite possible that I actually never did grow the hybrid because I remember sending the hybrids to you.
Craig LeHoullier 56:34
Patrina Nuske-Small 56:36
Then you sent the F2 seeds back to me. So some of the hybrids I didn’t even end up tasting. But I remember that we discussed that they were, you know, weren’t anything wonderful on quite a few of those early ones.
Craig LeHoullier 56:50
We’ll elaborate a little more on Alex’s question also. Flavor seems to jump around a little bit. So let’s say you’ve got a color and fruit size combination that’s in a dwarf plant, and you taste one of them. And it doesn’t knock your socks off. You can do two things from that point, you can go back and dwarf hunt some more, and try to find that color and flavor combination, and it’s likely you’ll have a better flavor. But you can also save seeds from that dwarf that doesn’t taste so good, and grow it out and potentially get a really outstanding result. And this is where, you know, this is where, when you can’t see flavor and you can’t see disease. The other one, we didn’t talk about it at all, if people want to ask questions about it, disease resistance, disease tolerance, that that is a beast to be able to study. And, and so in our project, we kind of drew a ring fence around the fact we’re going to look at color, flavor, size, et cetera. But we can’t really get ourselves involved with doing selections for disease tolerance, disease resistance, because everybody’s garden has totally different populations, different diseases come in every year, you need to be able to definitely confirm the disease that you have. So that, to me, is another bit of work that’s undone. And if anybody out there loves our dwarfs, but doesn’t love the… how it, how would they handle disease, then certainly they’re out there already to be then bred for increased disease tolerance with you know, with some varieties that would impart that. So I view these as building blocks and starting points. They’re, they’re, they’re great for people’s gardens as they are. But for those that want to continue to play and do crosses and breeding, I think they’re… I mean, we had five varieties to play with when we started. People now have 145 plus five, they have 150 varieties to play with if they want to start breeding things to them. So as you can see, I have trouble controlling myself with my garden projects. My wife has learned to handle it over 41 years of marriage and she lets me just do my crazy stuff out there but it’s fine.
Patrina Nuske-Small 59:14
I’ll just add to that to say that, you know, if you, if you hybrid turns out to taste lousy, continue with it to the next generations, because… Don’t, don’t throw it out and think, “Oh, this, I won’t bother with this one.” Keep going, keep going and grow some generations and then see what you think.
Craig LeHoullier 59:34
Yeah. I think one thing, one more thing to add is we’ve done about 100 families. And I would say maybe 20, or 30 of them never really added up to anything. We never really found what we were looking for. And you have to know when you call it in. It’s like, yeah, ‘Doc’ is one that I recall. And ‘Bashful’ is another one that I recall. ‘Stumpy’ was another one. But there’s a few, that just – okay, we’ve got so many. Why don’t we bang our heads against the wall looking for something great from this one? Let’s just move. But then you always get somebody from Tomatoville says, “Send me all your seed. I like a challenge. I’ll see if I can find something.” So you say, “Good, knock yourself out. Go for it.”
Rachel Hultengren 1:00:20
We’ve got (clears throat) excuse me. We’ve got a question about – one of the challenges that you highlighted on your slide, Craig, was the the issue of seeds going between the United States and Australia. Someone’s asking if you could elaborate more about how seeds were sent and what the challenges were in doing that. And when you stopped being able to send seeds between the two parts of the project, why that happened? And exactly how that that happened.
Craig LeHoullier 1:00:51
I’m gonna let Patrina handle that one to the start, because she is the one that kind of raised the alarm on this. And we can talk, should we talk about getting visits from the USDA and stuff? I mean, the whole thing was pretty freaky. But I’ll let Patrina start the story.
Patrina Nuske-Small 1:01:06
Certainly for the first few years, there was no problem just sending seeds, normally as you would with, with notation on it. We had to make sure we put (Solanum) lycopersicum… lycopersicum info on, on the seed packets – that was essential so that when they were inspected, they could see that, what, what they were. And so at the beginning, there was no problem. I think that one stage there was a slight problem where the permissions changed, but then it went back to being okay again. But in 2013, I had a visit from the USD… – no, our, our quarantine people, sorry – to say that we were not allowed to send seeds unless they had been checked for various diseases, seven viroids, I believe. And so they would require samples. And what they called a sample was something like 20,000 seeds to do tests on before they would allow varieties to come in. But Craig and I were basically only sending, you know, 10 or 12 seeds of varieties back and forth for each, each one. There was no way that we could comply with that. And so it became just impossible. Also, the other option, of course, from Australia’s point of view was that I could provide them with seeds, and they would grow, I think eight plants as a minimum. And they would grow them in quarantine. And I would have to pay for all of the workers who had to look after them for eight weeks and a certain amount per, per square meter of space in their facilities. And I worked out it would cost me $1,000 per variety to get the permission that they were cleared to come in. So it just made it impossible. That was 2013. Yeah.
Craig LeHoullier 1:03:04
And right around that time. I got a call from the person who owned Tomatoville saying, “You’re gonna get a visit from the USDA, because they’re going to visit, and they’re going to have a chat with you about sending seeds to Australia.” And this is the first time I’d ever heard any of it. So I did, I got, I was a nervous wreck. So you know, so, when I went shopping, I got home, there was a little paper on my front door. “You’ve had a visit by the USDA, you need to show up, at such and such a place.” So I was, I was like, “Man, what are they going to do, throw me in jail for tomato seeds?” Possibly. So I went down and met with them. They were all fine. They said, “No, you just… We want you to really know the regulations.” We’re trying to, you know, trying to do everything on the up-and-up but it, but the the process was impossibly onerous and expensive at that point. And so we just had to sever the project. Now, so, the implications for this – think of the Seed Savers Exchange and think of the amount of seeds that they share with people all over the world. And a lot of these are just slipping through. You know, people are sending a card with one little packet of seeds in it. So I… There are wider implications in this. And I wish, I wish there were a way for if you’re doing research amounts – five or 10 seeds – there could be an exemption so that you could get… You know, if I were to send between the five seeds of a variety, that would be all she’d need to get it in, that variety, into Australia to be shared with Australian seed companies, which then allow that to be sold. But everything now is just so wacky and strict that, like I said, this person who emailed me today, in Ireland can’t get any seeds from these dwarf varieties because of all these different seed importation rules and needs for expensive phytosanitary certificates. So fortunately, we had done so much by that time, and we each had teams built up so that we could continue our work. If that would have happened in 2006, this project may have had a lot of trouble even getting off the ground. But you know… So that’s kind of how it all went down.
Patrina Nuske-Small 1:05:22
I continued on my own from, from that time, from 2, from 2013. Yeah, it’s just been running me alone.
Craig LeHoullier 1:05:31
So other questions?
Rachel Hultengren 1:05:34
Yeah, there are a couple of people asking how they might get involved in the Dwarf Tomato Project. And given that you said that it shut down in 2018, maybe you could talk a little bit about what it means that it got shut down? And whether there are, are opportunities for people to be more involved, if they’re interested.
Craig LeHoullier 1:05:55
You can never shut this project down, so. What, what that, how can you shut this project down? There’s still stuff we haven’t done. When I made that slide, we kind of stopped talking about it at Tomatoville. We didn’t have like 150 people involved anymore. But then, but then something happened. And it was a book called Epic Tomatoes. And it was me going out and giving talks. And so it’s still percolating along. Let’s just say I sent seeds to about 100 people this year. And I have bags and bags of things that need to be explored. So we… Yeah, I’m still willing, all people need to do is send me an email. And you know, let me know what, what kind of things they’re looking for. And I’d set them off. And there’s all – you know, they can dwarf hunt. I can send them F2’s or F3’s or F4’s. You wouldn’t believe all the stuff I’ve got. Or maybe you would, after looking at the talk. You know, the project will probably end up having somewhat of a life of its own. It’s, it is too fun to stop. And you just want to start seeing how many recessive traits can I pack into a tomato? Can I do a heart-shaped, anthocyanin black-fruited and variegated foliage with yellow background foliage? And the thing is, you can. You just have to cross the right thing. So yeah, I, hopefully, I’ll be hearing from some people out of this talk. And, you know, some people will help me continue on. Just being a little understanding, it’s kind of a busy time of the year for me with gardening, so I may get something to them this year, but it may be next year after I’ve done my seed saving. But yeah, there are possibilities. So I hope that helps explain that. Did I say, “Yes, the project is still alive.”? Okay.
Rachel Hultengren 1:07:47
Someone asks about disease resistance. Craig, you talked about that being a really difficult trait to evaluate for. Have any crosses been made with known disease-resistant lines, or varieties?
Craig LeHoullier 1:08:01
They haven’t yet, because in order to test them fully, you would need them to have sizeable gardens with that known issue, or to have a known presence. I mean, when you think about tomatoes, you’ve got a host of viral diseases, a host of bacterial diseases and a host of fungal diseases. So, you know, so would it be septoria? Would it be early blight, late blight, verticillium, fusarium and nematodes? So you’d have to kind of pick, but then what do you use to cross it with? And if anybody is willing or able or interested in doing that type of work, because I think it is incredibly important, I’d be willing to work with them on that. But I want to talk a little bit about dwarfs and disease in general because they are dense plants foliage-wise. So if you are growing them in a humid area or a hot area, you have to use really good garden hygiene, meaning: space your plants adequately, maybe do some foliage pruning so you can get the sun reaching areas of the plant. Some of the varieties actually would benefit from removing some inner foliage to open the center of the plant up and sometimes the fruit are just, this tomato doesn’t have any fruit because they’re all stuffed into the center of the plant, surrounded by all of these leaves. So if you, one of… when I showed that picture in Raleigh, where I had them all lined up, that was like disease highway. And if we had hot humid conditions and lots of rain, the early blight would just go right down the line, plant to plant to plant to plant. I don’t spray, I don’t use antifungals, I don’t use any of that stuff. I use – treat your plants, well feed them well, water well. And if you see the slightest bit of septoria, early blight, get the leaf off the plant. And I’ve been able to carry them late into the season with really good fruit production. But if people are in, if people have issues with fungal diseases with their indeterminate varieties, then they’re probably going to have perhaps even more issues with foliage diseases for their dwarf varieties. Patrina, I don’t know if you struggle with some of those foliar or fungal diseases in Australia, like we do here. But any comments about that? And also fruit set, maybe in the heat, what you’ve seen, in general? Certainly the diseases and things here, it varies from place to place where you are in Australia. And it’s more humid where I am now than when I was in Adelaide. Adelaide had hot, dry summers. And I didn’t really have as much of an issue with diseases as I do here, perhaps. But I don’t spray either, I don’t do anything, I just let the plant either survive or die. But I do remove the suckers below the first flower truss, so that there’s airflow under the plant. And occasionally I do prune out some of the dense foliage a little bit. But other than that, I just let them either survive or die. Basically, it, basically I sort of figured that the ones that survive are the best ones to save seeds from anyway. Darwinism at its best, all right! You’re tougher on yours than I am. Yeah, I’ve lost some to disease and you’re right – it just it’s kind of like a two or three strikes and you’re out. And if you can’t, if you can’t get something growing well, then it’s probably, it’s got some issues in its genetics that’s not worth pursuing. So I hope that helps a little bit. But yeah, anybody who has ideas about you know, breeding some disease tolerance or resistance into some of these, shoot me an email and let’s talk. I can, I can be a kind of a consultant, more than a pair of hands on that one and just kind of guide you, maybe to some really good varieties to use as models for things like that. I know all of these very, very, very well, except maybe the 10 I haven’t grown yet, but I’ll get to them eventually. Other questions?
Rachel Hultengren 1:12:10
Zack says that they bought ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ and ‘Dwarf Eagle Smiley’ to grow this year and asks for a recommendation of one more variety if they had to buy one or if you had to choose.
Craig LeHoullier 1:12:21
One more variety out of 143 other options. Okay, I can do this really fast. ‘(Dwarf) Eagle Smiley’ and ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’. Yeah, I would say ‘Summer Sweet Gold’. Love it. Or ‘Uluru Ochre’, if you want to make Patrina happy, and yourself happy because it is wonderful. How do you choose, right? All right.
Rachel Hultengren 1:12:50
Patrina did you have, would you like to get to choose?
Patrina Nuske-Small 1:12:54
It’s, it’s too hard of a question. I’d have to, I’d have to quote you at least 10.
Craig LeHoullier 1:13:03
Maybe go to our favorites list, and pick one of those.
Patrina Nuske-Small 1:13:05
Well, I would agree with Craig: ‘Summer Sweet Gold’. I actually don’t have that here. Well, I do have it here but I call it ‘Summertime Gold’. Because I use that as ‘Summertime Gold’, and I figured that, being in Australia, that’s fine, because that’s what everyone will grow, and I’ll call it that. Yeah. Yeah, definitely one of the favorites as well.
Rachel Hultengren 1:13:29
William has a question about crossing dwarf tomatoes with currant tomatoes. It sounds like there have been a couple of varieties released from crosses with currant tomatoes, and they wonder if there are more releases forthcoming.
Craig LeHoullier 1:13:47
So, the, the one that – the the first cross we’ve done… Let me see, we’ve done ‘Mexico Midget’ times ‘Summertime Green’, which created the ‘Teensie’ family. We’ve done ‘Mexico Midget’, and those are currant tomatoes – ‘Mexico Midget’ with ‘Dwarf Emerald Giant’. And that is, I can’t remember the name of that family off the top of my head, I should… ‘Emmie’! The ‘Emmie’ family. What we usually do is take part of the word of one of the two varieties, so ‘Emerald Giant’ became the ‘Emmie’ family. I’m not sure how, oh ‘Teensie’ was named because ‘Mexico Midget’ is such a teensy little tomato. And I’m, actually, this year at the suggestion of some friends in Florida, going to cross ‘Everglades’, which is a currant-type tomato that pretty much grows wild in Florida. It’s a little pink, but it’s got really good disease tolerance for there. I want to cross, I’ve already crossed ‘Everglades’ with ‘Rozella Crimson’, and ‘Tanunda Red’. But I just had a request to make it a little more fun and cross ‘Everglades’ with some green ones and striped ones and brown one. So I’m going to be doing that. What you tend to find is that tiny fruit size really dominates in the, the children of the cross. So pretty much what we’ve seen from Teensie, that’s, that’s a pea size times a one pound and just about all the tomatoes are variations on the size of a cherry tomato, from half ounce, maybe to an ounce with the occasional what we call mini-beefsteak types. So you know, think of a little cherry tomato and flatten it, enrich the shoulders, and you get this cute little, looks like if you were to put a beefsteak tomato in a shrinking machine. So that’s what, I know – you can picture it, can’t you, Patrina, what those look like, those little flattened mini-beefsteaks? So what we’ve not seen out of the currant times larger fruited dwarfs are anything above maybe an ounce or two. That could be there, however, the purpose for doing it, the reason I did that for the people in Florida was to find out if I could create some varieties that would be bigger than ‘Everglades’ and maybe give different colors or flavor characteristics but also be able to withstand the conditions of growing in Florida. And I actually just had a Zoom, a Zoom (meeting) with my friend Melissa down there yesterday where we talked about the project. And they’re revving a whole bunch of people out, up, that are going to be doing testing and that is the ‘Evie’ family – ‘Tanunda Red’ times ‘Everglades’. So yeah, it’s work in progress. And you know, that’s another thing – shoot me an email if you want to chat about that. It’s, how big am I going to make this project, Patrina, by the time we’re done? But we’re not done yet. Like I said, we’re not done yet. It’s a great question, though. And yeah, I mean, any of these topics, if I pique your curiosity or interest, we’ll just take it offline. You know if you’d want, if you want to schedule an individual one-on-one Zoom some time to talk things over. I’m a retired guy. I’ve got lots of time to do these things, so.
Rachel Hultengren 1:17:10
Are you still working on variegated varieties and have any been released?
Craig LeHoullier 1:17:15
‘Dwarf Walters Fancy’, which is an eight to ten ounce… It’s essentially ‘Dwarf Mr. Snow’ with variegated foliage, same flavor, same col- same fruit color. ‘Dwarf Elsie’s Fancy’ – so Walter was my grandfather that got me into gardening. And Elsie was his, my grandmother, his wife, so I needed to name tomatoes after two of them. And then ‘Pico’s Pride’ is essentially like Parina’s, I mean Patrina’s ‘Barossa Fest’, only with variegated foliage. So it’s a little, kind of golf ball-ey bright yellow delicious tomato on a potato leaf variegated foliage plant. I sent something called ‘Sandy Stripes’ to Mike Dunton to grow out. And that is going to be variegated foliage, three ounce chocolate fruit with green stripes, so… But I’ve got so much more stuff that hasn’t been explored. What I need help on is yellow leaf stuff. I’ve only just dabbled in chartreuse-leafed things. Definitely variegated and antho(cyanin). And so I’m just pushing the envelope. And I don’t have the resources to do all the things I’ve begun. So this is where, if people express interest, and you’re wanting, want to get into some really fun things, they may not all be delicious. They’ll all be edible. But they’ll all be interesting. And when you, when people grow variegated plants, they either love it, or I have a neighbor that came over and said, “I hate variegated plants. It looks like the bird pooped all over it.” And I’m like, no, no, no, you’re missing the whole point here. This plant is gorgeous. And birds can’t do it to that effect. They’re just not as artistic.
Patrina Nuske-Small 1:18:56
They can’t paint!
Craig LeHoullier 1:18:58
They can’t do strategic poop. They, you know, anyway.
Patrina Nuske-Small 1:19:03
Craig LeHoullier 1:19:04
(Laughs) I’m getting a little punch drunk, now. I need, I need to find my beer soon, but that’s all right. Anything else, Rachel? I’m still, as long as people have questions, I’m here to answer.
Rachel Hultengren 1:19:19
Someone asked if you could talk more about how many iterations it takes before you would consider a variety stable.
Craig LeHoullier 1:19:26
Between F6, between six and eight, maybe up to 10, depending on how much they flop around. So the hardest, we, it’s, the hardest color to get stable seems to be red, because it’s dominant and recessive traits just keep popping out of it. And if you, if you’re developing a regular-leaf dwarf that had potato-leaf in the mix, you see potato-leaf popping out, right up until the like, sixth, seventh generation until you can, kind of, cull them away. But if you’re doing like a potato-leaf, yellow, you can get that really close within like four or five generations. So it all depends on the types of genes you’re working with, how many of them you’re working with. And, you know, this is where I trust Mike a lot. Because he’s growing, he’s growing like 20 or 30 of these plants out to sell them. And so he’s getting a chance to, to examine our uniformity. And there have been a few things we’ve sent him where, you know, ‘Cache Valley’ is supposed to be a brown; half of his plants were green. I grew up last year, it was green. So he has to then, he’s doing re-selections for us, and getting them stable before he’ll release them. So he’s actually kind of a breeding partner right now, as well as a seed company for us.
Patrina Nuske-Small 1:20:49
It also, it also depends a little bit whether or not the two parents were fully stable, and some of the crosses where I used an F5 generation, for example, that took a lot more generations to finish stabilizing the varieties.
Craig LeHoullier 1:21:08
I’ve actually done two crosses of ‘Sungold’, you know, everybody’s favorite hybrid cherry tomato, with dwarfs. And the jury’s out – they’re very difficult to work with, you get some really funky things. We’ve gotten some like unpleasant flavors, so, whatever… You know, if you’re using a hybrid to create a hybrid, then you’re, you’re actually loading in twice as many genes, you can get a real mess on your hands. But everybody is kind of looking for that – I want the dwarf version of Sungold’. They just need to try ‘(Dwarf) Eagle Smiley’. And I think they’ll be so close that they’ll be absolutely delighted. Hey, Jack!
Jack Kloppenburg 1:21:47
Thank you, Patrina and Craig – marvelous presentation, you know, fascinating stuff! And I’ve gotten some that I’ve been enjoying, some of the varieties. What about other companies? Have they shown an interest? With Johnny’s (Selected Seeds) and Fedco (Seeds), and what do you do with them? And supposing that, well what do you say when a company wants to produce them?
Craig LeHoullier 1:22:13
So if, if a company wants to carry a variety that’s already out there, I have to send them to Victory (Seeds), because at this point, they have the standard seed. So for any of our release varieties, I have very, very little seed because it’s. it’s kind of like it’s taken care of now. It’s, it’s being, you know, fostered by a responsible parent. So what happens is, I send them, and that’s how Tomato Fest ended up getting a lot of them, is they bought them all from Victory (Seeds). And I, you could have knocked him over for a feather when I saw ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ in Johnny’s catalog, because I love Johnny’s, they’re one of my favorite seed companies. And I thought, “Whoa, this is great!” And then today, I saw that either Gurney’s or Henry Field’s is carrying a few. So, and I know Adaptive Seed in Oregon is starting to take a big interest in them. But if you look online, there’s a company called Vertiloom that I don’t know much about, and a, and a company called Renaissance. And essentially, as soon as we, as soon as Victory releases a variety, they pick it up, and now they’re selling it. And so what this gives me is… If I want to know what people think of ‘Dwarf Emerald Giant’ now, I can just Google it. And look at how all of the companies carrying it, describe it to get a sense of what people think of it. So it’s a little bit voyeuristic and vicariously enjoying it. But I, actually, Mike allowed me to go into Victory and rate the varieties from my point of view, putting my name against them, because people, people tend to not like to write things. And here’s all these wonderful dwarfs and only 10 of them had ratings. Now, I was honest, you know, I’ve got some three stars and four stars and five stars, what they taste like, hoping that that will entice people then to buy them and try them because somebody is actually taking the time to go and review them. So there’s, there’s lots of ways to kind of play in this project and in different ways. The things I think about when I’m watching the Red Sox get beat at 10:30 at night. You know, you, you grab the computer and start doing stuff.
Jack Kloppenburg 1:24:24
Seems like we at OSSI ought to be working with you a little more closely to make sure that we get OSS advertised and out there in front of people.
Craig LeHoullier 1:24:35
Yeah, I know Victory is very disciplined about that. What will be, what would be really a good thing to do is to do a Google search of each named variety, see who’s selling them and do that double check to see if the, the, the OSSI moniker has followed the tomato over there. That’s a great, great thing to do.
Jack Kloppenburg 1:24:54
How would you feel if Seminis picks them up? I mean, if we had… I might feel okay about it if they were putting the OSSI logo on it.
Craig LeHoullier 1:25:05
You know, well, this, our project is to get seeds out for gardeners, and I don’t want to control the vector by which they get out there. Where I would be upset if somebody grabbed something and slaps a patent on it and says, “You can’t save seeds from it, or you can’t use it to breed with.” That’s the line that would cross… Other than that, I mean, there’s all kinds of seed companies and each one of us who garden have different opinions about each seed company based on past experience, or we’ve heard about them. But everybody’s trying to do the same thing. They’re trying to get people to grow good food, they’re,they’re trying to get gardeners and farmers what they need to succeed. So you know, I’m just supportive of the cause of gardening. I’m trying to grow gardeners. That’s all I’m trying to do.
Jack Kloppenburg 1:25:57
Have you seen IPR’s being taken out on any derivatives, any – nothing?
Craig LeHoullier 1:26:02
Not yet. Not yet. But I’m also not looking for it. Sorry about that. I’m also not looking for it. Because, as all of you know, who are involved with projects or anything like this, you have to pick your battles. And you know, even the dwarf project for me was a bit of a stretch, because it was always heirlooms, and stories and flavors and colors. And I didn’t think I’d end up playing with plant breeding. I mean, this is, this is the magic of Patrina and I meeting each other and something happening that neither one of us would have foreseen. I mean, a friendship grew out of it, a project grew out of it. And, and that’s why I better get the damn book written, because the story about this really, I think, needs to be in print. And so some some of you guys have to shackle me down or do something to make me write the bloody book so it’s out there. But like I told my wife, only Patrina and I can tell this story. It’s not like I worry that the story is going to be stolen. It just needs to be told. So bad me. Got to write the book. (Laughs) Great questions, Jack. Thank you.
Rachel Hultengren 1:27:08
I see that we’re at time. So I would like to, to let folks know that Craig and Patrina actually have another half an hour to spend if anybody would like to stay on the call and ask more questions or chat. But that for everyone else who needs to leave, I want to say thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate you sharing your time, and we’d love to hear from you how you think the webinar went. So if you have any feedback that you’d like to share, you can reach out to the Open Source Seed Initiative at email@example.com. And I’d like to let you know that the second webinar in this series featuring Dr. Michael Mazourek and Edmund Frost will be taking place on May 11 at the same time as this webinar, so 7pm Eastern Time. And they will be presenting on ‘Combining Cucurbits for Downy Mildew Resistance and More.’ So I will stop the recording now and thank everyone for joining.