What will be very exciting to me this year though is the breedings I am preparing to do. Truly, a new day is dawning in my program, where I am no longer in the testing phase to figure out what is a good breeder, but using those that have proven to be good performers and breeders over the years they have been here. Many plants in this category have seven years up to a decade or more of provenance here in my garden. A great many of these are my own seedlings. Amongst my own seedlings, except for a tiny few from before my official program beginning year of 2010, the oldest will be 8 years old in August of 2019. The seven and eight year old seedlings went through the entire five year rust resistance screening program. I will now begin to make my own select seedlings central to all efforts, with the original base plants and secondary/tertiary level cultivars from other hybridizers becoming accent plants to return to for backcrossing.
Another thing that is exciting, and that I greatly anticipate, is seeing the first flush of flowers on seedlings bred in 2017. They won't all bloom, but enough will to give some significant ideas on how those matings combined. The first half of the 2017 breeding season was completely given over to Solaris Symmetry pollen, with about 95%+ of matings at the tet level using this single pollen parent. 2017 was the last year for experimenting with a base plant at a large scale. I haven't devoted a huge amount of use to Solaris Symmetry pollen since 2012, focusing on Solaris Symmetry as a pod parent and observing its grandkids. By 2017, with the rust resistance testing phase passed and Solaris Symmetry having proven time and again to be an excellent plant and parent, I decided it was time to make one final season/garden-wide long cross. This included backcrossing Solaris Symmetry to all the select seedlings I have raised from it in the past. So I will see a whole range of types of crosses, from wide outcrosses to type breeding (flowers similar to Solaris Symmetry) to backcrosses to offspring to the large number of seedlings I have from selfing Solaris Symmetry that year (yes, its pollen was used so extensively, I even used it on itself!). This will be the largest single data collection I have done on Solaris Symmetry, and the first I have done with it as a major pollen parent. I am just jittery to see what range of variations it makes!
A major breeding strategy will involve using the pollen of my select seedlings (especially the most longterm tested ones) that were broken up for line out testing last fall. While these will not give a good show, all the ones that bloom will likely give good pollen, and the ones that perform the best next year in this final major test will become the main pollens used in 2019. Most of my seedlings from this part of the program show good pod fertility and I have used those seedlings predominantly as pod parents, so this year, with none of those plantings full established, their pollen will become the focus for pollinations in 2019, and they will be allowed to rest as pod parents. I will be able to move the pollen of the select seedlings over select cultivars from other hybridizers, some of the base plants in my program and my own seedlings that have not been moved and can reliably have seeds set on them.
I think of creating a breeding program much like braiding strands or cooking. In braiding, you take separate strands and turn them into one stronger strand by looping them through each other. A fitting description of breeding strategies. In cooking, you are mixing different ingredients - stirring, steeping, concentrating, folding-in and mixing - until you get something that is no longer the ingredients, but has become a thing of its own, with its own unique flavors and essence. I would say that I am finally at the point where I am no longer adding lots of ingredients (though we may "season to flavor" later on by adding something special from other programs), and am now beginning to see the ingredients take shape and prepare to bake. Over the next five or six years, the recipe will be baking.
Beyond the breeding season, as we move into late summer and early fall, there should be another round of digging, dividing and lining-out seedlings for further testing. I think that I have done enough work in the gardens (shifting things around, donating superior but excess plants, culling inferior plantings and building new infrastructure) over the last five years, and especially the last two years, to have created a new trajectory and a new system of work and focus. This will be the first year I will working with the new garden layout and I am excited to see how it is going to run.