Saturday, July 04, 2009

I run into folks who rarely ever see potato berries on their potato vines. When they do find them they will ask why they don't see more of them. Potato berries, seed balls, potato fruits, etc., are not how most people see next year's crop like I do, nevertheless, I get a myriad of questions to the point where I see a need to organize a primer of sorts, namely;

I talk in circles about my potatoes, losing everybody in the wake, but every now and then........I combine statistics, musings, and experience in hope of making silly, ignorant questions thrown at me seem erudite being I may have a proper response to many questions (implied or impishly) surfacing.

Is there a simple answer to the questions of why some people have potato berries and others don't? No, but that doesn't stop me from using some stats to make it interesting to me. I ask myself these questions similar to this all the time----- all of the 56 years I have been breeding potatoes.

I am also a tomato breeder and I have to save seed. Why can't I just save seed all the time with potatoes? You mean ter say that a potato fella can be a true seedsman rather than just another YouTuberman?

The most obvious question to ask is...Do most potato varieties set berries?....the answer is No! What follows is the evidence, etc.

1. No berries 463 varieties
2. Very rare 236
3. Rare 288
4. Rare to occasional 74
5. Occasional 134
6. Occasional to frequent 47
7. Frequent 129
8. Frequent to v aery frequent 7
9. Very frequent 14

1392--The number of varieties in the European Potato Database comparing berry occurrence. Yes, it does include a lot of American varieties.

Note that on this list 987 out of 1392 will have either
(1) No Berries
(2) Very Rare or
(3) Rare

That means about 70% of all varieties will not set berries as a rule.

Note conversely, that 21 varieties fall into the last two categories:
(8) Frequent to very frequent or lastly--
(9) Very Frequent

That means that the extreme likelihood of having one of these varieties is just slightly more than 1%, or one out of 66.

Below is the list of the categories (8) and (9):
BF 15
Leksands Vit
Comle (1964)
Dr McIntosh
Inca Sun
Mayan Gold
Nemes Rozsa
Orion (1947)

I have grown about 11 of these, soon to grow another one if the tubers arrive, and I would say that Granola and Leksands Vit fall easily into these categories of nearly always having berries, but ones like Morene, Desiree, and Record fall short. The only variety most folks on TVille might have in their garden is Desiree.

I noticed that the Potato Pedigree database shows Granola used 18 out of 25 times as a male (pollen) parent. Conversely, a variety like Agria which never has berries is used as a female parent in almost all of the 66 times it shows up as a parent. There were a few pedigrees that show it as a male but that has to be an error of record keeping. Just try to get any pollen out of an Agria flower.

129- The number of varieties that are listed as frequent in making berries. I have grown about 25 of those in the list and I concur that Atlantic, Katahdin, Vestar, Saturna, Stina, Hindenburg, Boxer, Pentland Dell, etc. fall into this category. Most years you will see some to many berries on these lines but not always. Are any of these in my potato varieties? Yes, all of them, thank goodness!

I think one of the many reasons we have so many varieties listed as having few, if any berries, is that we tend to use them a lot as female parents. They are easy to use since you don't even have to emasculate the flowers. But the unwitting role that plays is that the roll of the dice is creating more and more varieties that are poor berry makers. The genesis of poor berry setters has to do with the maternal lines with historical poor berry setting factoring heavily in the descent of offspring.

I have a habit of selecting potential parents that are good in producing lots of pollen and set their own berries without having to rely on insect pollination or my crossing to them. In other words, good OP lines. which really means good selfing lines. By putting together parent blocks (varieties planted in small numbers in a tight plots) of varieties that are versatile in both directions in a cross, I am creating a population that will carry the selfing ability into the ensuing populations of TPS. That is one reason I have so many good berry makers and most other folks do not. A variety that produces its own berries and for year after often ends up in many crosses, thus is a valuable resource for me.

Too many times a seedling line grown from true seed will produce berries but after growing the plants from tubers will sometimes be reluctant to produce berries. Those lines get dropped quite easily from the parent blocks for the third year. Nordic October is a red variety that has always produced berries even if it was infected with a virus. Since I had the variety cleaned up through meristem tissue procedures, I have been using it in so many crosses that I find it several times in the pedigree of some my recent lines and many of these new lines are great berry makers.
I do believe that during the evolution of creating and preserving cultivars of potato varieties..... that an unwittingly desire for non-berry makers has shifted because the lines that do well under near perfect conditions of agronomic actions just don't have the survival instincts to produce berries. The timing and auxin of the tuberization inhibit the fruiting instincts and the abscission zones abort the flowers since the pull of nutrients is redirecting itself from the plant to the tubers. The big growers kinda like the varieties that are absent berries, and when the plants do set berries it is usually due to an adverse environmental stress such a water stress, injury, tillage, etc.

I will be video recording many of my potato plots this year showing berry formation, crosses, etc. in conjunction with varieties from all over the world with me talking about the attributes of many of my lines that favor berry set.

These videos will show hundreds if not thousands of new clones that will disprove the adage that potato varieties rarely set fruit. It will show the interested audiences that there IS a potato breeder willing to chart a new paradigm of potato production.

I would go so far as to say I am the only potato breeder that gives the number one priority not to disease tolerance, yield, flavor, etc., but to berry setting!

Tom Wagner
AKA TaterMater