Saturday, September 13, 2014

What a Year...

What A Year...

It has been a while since I have made a post. I have just been so busy, and honestly, after the long, harsh winter and the two month 'suspension of all activities' due to my shoulder injury, all I want to do while it is still nice is be outside. Yet, I thought today that I needed to take a few minutes and make a post.

It is hard to believe that we are nine months into 2014, with only three months to go! Can you believe that? My, how time flies! January came in and kicked our backsides. We dove right into the deep freeze with the first of the 'Polar Vortices'. Wow, was that fun! And once it was done, I got to spend the rest of the winter and all spring looking at dead, brown bamboo foliage. I have lots of bamboo and it is typically evergreen and lovely all year, and helps keep my spirits up through the long, dark, cold time that is winter, but not last winter! Dreary doesn't begin...

I have often grown my seedlings in pots. We are usually warm enough to do that with no problem, at least for the last two decades or so. 
One small group of seedlings in the snow on my deck on 01/04/14, still looking good and alive just days before the first polar vortex. Yes, I know they were very exposed. That was the point. It is all a learning experience/experiment...

Last year was the first year I had significant seedling kill in pots. I lost in the neighborhood of 30,000 + seedlings. However, even in these wildly exposed pots, there were some survivors. The best survival though was in my larger tubs in more secluded garden areas and seeds that had been direct sown in the ground in November.
Some of the same seedling pots showing significant seedling loss. However, you can see some survivors. In some instances, one or two individual seedling survived in any given pot, while in other instances a whole cross survived in high numbers. As well, in some instance, there were no survivors from some crosses. Foliage type did not seem to be the big distinguishing factor, surprisingly.

However, you shouldn't feel bad for me. I still ended up with about 20,000+ seedlings for my 2013 seed-making efforts. Not a bad haul and definitely enough to get some usable plants. I think a lot of people would have looked at that as a disaster, but I saw it as a blessing. It left me with that many fewer seedlings to have to plant and it allowed me to go more slowly in culling through my older seedlings from previous years. Patience is a virtue, and patience is the reward of patience!

Once spring got here, my left shoulder went out, and I mean way out! I was incapacitated for two months. Once that wonder began to wain, I was beginning to breed bearded iris and the early daylilies were getting ready to bloom when we went into a late deep freeze for a couple of nights. The irises persisted, for the most part and I got sufficient seed for my effort, but the early flowering daylilies were simply a disaster! I have never seen their blooms look so bad, nor have I seen the daylily foliage in general look so bad.
A thoroughly uninspiring garden on 04/27/14...

Once that was past, by early June I was well enough to get caught up on my work and the daylilies began blooming in earnest, starting to look better, and hybridizing got under way. From that point on it was a simply wonderful blooming season, though some cultivars were noticeably damaged, with reduced scape heights and many deformed flowers, but others were perfectly unscathed. You can bet I was taking names and making a list!

Early June in the hybridizing garden. Colors and textures. This is what I garden for... 

By the end of June, much earlier than usual, I found the first cases of rust. Again, don't feel bad for me. I went out of my way to be sure I would have rust this year. I need rust. It is my best friend. Without it I can't cull for resistance. I was simply thrilled to have it that early, as that meant that I would possibly have four full months of rust this year. Last year I had done an experiment to see how easy or difficult it is to quarantine a garden from rust. When rust appeared in my mom and aunt's gardens in August 2013, there was no appearance in my garden. So I planned out my experiment and succeeded in not getting any rust in my hybridizing and grow-out gardens through simple quarantine protocols for all of late summer/fall 2013. In fact, it was actually very easy to not spread it. In my experience, rust is not the wild, highly contagious plague we have heard that it is. It might be when you have lots if highly susceptible plants, but if you don't, it is not so easy to spread. 

So my garden had no rust culling last year. I used that rustless season to move seedlings into the grow-out bed and get them established and to allow my new breeders a full rustless year to establish. I did a lot of culling for rust in the other two gardens, though, and kept good notes. Anything new in those gardens that showed strong rust, that was also growing in my hybridizing garden, was removed from the hybridizing garden to the 'row of shame' where many expensive, highly-hyped cultivars are grown specifically to have a strong pool of rust to be sure the hybridizing garden and grow-out garden can be saturated with spores in years when I do have rust. 
The 'Row of Shame', a few weeks ago, just beginning to show a heavy rust infestation.

A closeup of a heavy rust infestation in the 'Row of Shame'

This year I have found that the 'row of shame' is essential. My experience this year, two months into rust in my main beds, is that when you have a high level of good to highly resistant cultivars, rust can be very difficult to spread, and most certainly does not spread like wildfire. In fact, I had to get a strong spore level in the 'row of shame' so that I could pull heavily infected leaves once a week to make a 'rust broom' (very rusty leaves flex-tied to a four foot bamboo pole to 'sweep' the clumps and seedlings) to ensure regular, strong inoculation. It took several weeks to even see much rust this year, whereas in past years with many highly susceptible cultivar, there was almost immediate rust all over the garden (though not on the highly resistant, of course). I see more and more every year that the key to a low rust garden is to remove the highly susceptible cultivars ("rust magnets"), while the key to successfully breeding for rust resistance is to be sure you keep some of the highly susceptible around in order to have a high enough level of spores to actively cull for resistance. Just try not to breed too much from the highly susceptible...
A very susceptible cultivar in the center of the picture surrounded by resistant cultivars which show no rust in spite of the heavily rusty leaves of the susceptible individual laying all over their leaves. While this picture was taken about three weeks ago, these plants still show the same levels of rust (lots on the magnet and none/little on the resistant cultivars).

The most exciting thing this year though has been observing the rust resistance in the older seedlings in the grow-out bed. Many of those seedlings have been through one or two rust selection years, though some had not yet been exposed. The levels of resistance in those with two selection cycles has remained very steady and very high. Those with one selection cycle have not been as consistent, which is consistent with the results of the older group that have been tested twice before. Those that had not yet been exposed are all over the map, with many highly susceptible. I am noticing though that the crosses with the highest numbers of resistant individuals are from breeding two highly resistant cultivars together. This is no surprise, but it is nice to observe in the field.
A shot of the grow-out bed from 09-05-14 with seedlings still blooming and reblooming as well as reblooming bearded irises.

I am simply thrilled to see certain seedlings that have now shown high resistance in three rust cycles (three years). I am extremely encouraged by the results, though I am not surprised. Selection gets results. The use of parents that show desired traits tends to get results: basic breeding 101. It is nice though to see it holding true. This isn't rocket science, quantum physics or genetic engineering. It is just plain old, garden variety breeding. Anyone could be doing this, you just have to loose your gut-wrenching fear of the rust-monster...

I am finding the best results are coming from very resistant x very resistant, but good results can come in small numbers from very resistant x less resistant. It is hard though to get much in the way of usable results from very resistant x highly susceptible. This is a salvage project and takes huge numbers in order to find tiny numbers of usably resistant offspring. It is worth doing in certain instances, but a resistance breeding program can't be based solely around such salvage projects if you expect to really get anywhere. As well, just breeding two resistant plants together (no matter how resistant) does not ensure that all the offspring are resistant. There are susceptible plants even in the offspring of such crosses, but my results are pointing toward such susceptible plants being far fewer in number from crossing highly resistant x highly resistant plants. What I am seeing this year has me more excited than ever...
A highly resistant tetraploid seedling from two highly resistant parents showing very intense, rich red coloring.

And it is a good thing that I am excited, because I have somehow managed to produce over 100,000 seeds this year. Yes, you read that right. And this in spite of "cutting back some" this year. I guess it is a good thing I "cut back", or I would have produced twice that many! To make matters worse, I am still making seeds on H. sempervirens, as well as still gathering seeds! To quote Miley Cyrus, "I can't stop, and I won't stop"...apparently! :-)
H. sempervirens with its very late, lovely little spidery flowers, tall scapes, many branches, tons of buds and lots of seed pods. H. sempervirens is very fertile with dip pollen. I have not yet tried it with tets. Next year...

However, I will be approaching seed rearing differently this year. As I fear we will have another very bad winter, I will not be potting any of the seeds (live and learn!). I will plant some in November in any empty barrels, but the bulk of the seeds will be directly planted into the ground in November. Approximately 70-75% of the seeds I have produced are diploid, and the bulk of those will be direct sown along with a good number of tet seeds. I will also raise some special crosses in the house this year - mainly tets - something I haven't done in the last three years, but there are some crosses I lost last year during the polar vortices that I remade this year and some other crosses from new things that are in very small numbers that I want to be sure I don't loose.

I find that I am only more and more excited about the daylily breeding projects I am pursuing as time goes on. I now have a large enough pool of rust resistant, modern tetraploid cultivars to make resistance and face breeding feasible at the same time in the tetraploids. It has taken me four years to gather those cultivars together and test them out, just to really even have the gene pool to get started at a reasonable level.

I have been told by various friends and acquaintances in the dayliliy worlds that "dips are rust resistant and tets are not". That is a gross over-generalization and not true. It is true that there are a lot more dips that are resistant, and there are very few tetraploids that show high resistance, but that is more about chance than the actual susceptibility/resistance levels of dips or tets. While I have seen many more resistant dips, I have seen many dips that are truly horrible rust magnets, and while I have seen many tets that are highly susceptible, there are some standouts amongst the tets that are highly resistant. 

A number of factors have coalesced this year to give me a new focus in my daylily breeding. I now have sufficient tetraploids to breed tetraploids for flower advancements and rust resistance at the same time. The bulk of my seed production is from diploids, and I produce too many seed every year. As well, I have a lot of diploids that show high resistance to rust, so I have begun to cull my diploid breeding stock drastically to get down to a very focused, smaller group of resistant dips that also meet my criteria for plant habit and flower to focus on for future breeding efforts. That might actually cut my seed production drastically and will also allow me to focus more on my tetraploids where seed production will probably never be as large and, in my humble opinion, more work is drastically needed.

So I think this year it became official and the daylilies won, as I have found myself cutting back on all my other breeding projects to make more and more room for daylily breeding and seedling rearing. So I suppose that it is official...


I'm not in the least bit upset :-)