Author Topic: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley  (Read 718 times)

Joseph Lofthouse

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Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« on: 2020-04-29, 12:04:19 PM »
Last year I worked on projects to develop wheat and barley landraces for the rocky mountains. It's part of the ongoing work that I have been doing with the Heritage Grain Trials project of Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.

In previous years, the project focused on trialing varieties to determine which ones thrive in our area. In 2019, my part of the project focused on developing a landrace variety of wheat that is well suited to our ecosystem, and to human scale agriculture. An evolutionary breeding project.

Wheat and barley are mostly selfing, with some ability for cross pollination. Depending on variety and growing conditions, it may be as much as 10% crossing. Because pollination tends towards being a highly localized event, I inter-planted about 16 varieties of the most productive and highly favored varieties from the Heritage Grain Trials. They were planted close enough together that the flowers of different varieties could jostle together.

They thrived for me, as expected based on the trials. Most of the seeds that I harvested were from plants that grew mid-thigh or taller. I selected for grain that is easily harvested without stooping over. The wheat varieties tended towards being taller plants than the barley. Most of the wheat plants were harvested, but only about half of the barley plants.

Occidental Arts and Ecology is doing a similar project, and put together a grex containing about 2000 varieties of wheat. Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance shared seed with me.

I planted it in the spring of 2019. The diversity was startling even to me.

Some of the plants grew ankle high. Some were waist high, and everything in between. I only saved seeds from plants that were over mid-thigh in height. I want to be able to easily harvest with secateurs without stooping over.

Maturity dates varied over a 3 month period. I saved seeds from both the early maturing and the late maturing varieties. Harvest of the late maturing varieties corresponded with my emergency frost harvest, so rather than threshing them the day of harvest, they got stuck in a bin for later harvest. Mice ate the entire seed stock. Therefore I only got seed stock from the early maturing varieties.

The Occidental population had a few plants that seemed like they didn't get enough cold in the spring, because they grew all season without flowering. I wasn't interested in saving seeds from the ankle-tall plants, or the knee-high plants.

I estimate that I (successfully) saved seed from about 25% of the Occidental plants.

I returned seed from all populations to the Heritage Grain Trials.

For my own purposes, I combined the two wheat populations into a single population which is 85% RMSA seed and 15% Occidental seed -- selected for tall plants and early maturity.  I sent the combined seed to Experimental Farm Network for distribution.

2020 Growing Season

Seeds from all of these populations fell to the ground and sprouted in the fall. All of them produced large populations of overwintered plants. The barley was pretty susceptible to winter-kill. Nevertheless a large stand survived. This spring, I cultivated the patches leaving a foot-wide row of each population. Winter-hardy grains are earlier and more productive for me, and can be grown without irrigation. Might be nice to move the population (and my practices) in that direction.

Last fall, I collected seed by phenotype, and replanted by phenotype this spring. I'm expecting some variations in phenotype among the offspring which will give me an estimate of cross-pollination rates.

Long Term Prospects

The RMSA grains were highly productive at my place. Much more productive than what I experienced while growing out random wheat varieties. The productivity of the Occidental population was akin to growing random varieties. I expect quick adaptation to my growing conditions.

I am expecting that the naturally occurring hybrids will experience hybrid vigor, and will tend to be more productive. Thus by growing small grains in this manner, the population will tend to self-select for higher rates of promiscuity. I suppose that I could help it along by marking plants that have exposed anthers.


« Last Edit: 2020-04-29, 12:08:45 PM by Joseph Lofthouse »

Ocimum

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #1 on: 2020-04-29, 02:02:23 PM »
nice project!
Do you have pictures of the heads?
Do you have different colors in the different species?
Do you have hulled and hull-less barley?
Do you have different species of wheat, including emmer and the like?

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #2 on: 2020-04-29, 11:01:39 PM »
We only planted hull-less varieties. I am putting a lot of effort into selecting for human scale harvesting with simple hand tools like buckets, tarps, sticks, secateurs, etc. With those selection criteria, the hulled-emmer types would have been excluded during planting and harvest, even if they were grown. I don't know the species composition of the wheats.... Too much effort to research it.

The barley had purple seeded and tan seeded types. Six rows and 2 rows.

The wheats were all tan seeded. (A purple seeded "wheat" was included in the planting, but it turned out to be a barley, therefore it was excluded before harvest.)

Here's a few photos. Each of the photos is clickable to a high-resolution photo on my web server.

Occidental wheat (Overall the population tended to be very short)


RMSA wheat


RMSA barley


Cache Valley Rye (showing off how tall it is!)


Occidental seed head diversity (a small sample)


Sin-et-pheel wheat. One of the varieties in the RMSA grex.


Barley weed in wheat


Barley


Archetype for this grain: Seed heads about waist high to minimize stooping.



« Last Edit: 2020-04-30, 12:08:29 AM by Joseph Lofthouse »

William S.

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #3 on: 2020-04-29, 11:22:40 PM »

I have just Googled secateurs Google showed me mostly photos of what I think of as pruners one of my most used tools for wildland seed collection. Is this right?
Western Montana garden, glacial lake Missoula sediment lacustrian silty clay mollisoil sometimes with added sand in places. Zone 6A with 100 to 130 frost free days

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #4 on: 2020-04-29, 11:38:03 PM »
One thing that jumped right out at me when reviewing these photos all in the same place at the same time is how blue/gray the leaves are on the RMSA wheat. Gray leaves are a trait the tends to be favored by many desert adapted species. I also see it in my moschata and watermelons.  It's looking to me like the RMSA grains, which have been selected for great growth in the rocky mountains have the gray-leaf trait, but the seed that came to us from coastal/maritime California have mostly dark green leaves.

I found a couple more photos.

Barley Diversity


How to distinguish between barley, rye, and wheat. Barley has one seed per peduncle. Rye has two. Wheat has three.
« Last Edit: 2020-04-29, 11:45:53 PM by Joseph Lofthouse »

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #5 on: 2020-04-29, 11:43:29 PM »
I have just Googled secateurs Google showed me mostly photos of what I think of as pruners one of my most used tools for wildland seed collection. Is this right?

Yes. I love them for harvesting grain. Much easier than a knife. 

Ferdzy

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #6 on: 2020-04-30, 06:36:59 AM »
Joseph, this is great, and gives me some ideas about my own much tinier barley project.

After I planted mine, it got cold again and snowed at least 4 times. I was a little concerned especially about a week ago when there was still nothing up, but finally it looks like at least half has germinated. I will need to replant, but it is there.

I've been wondering about the ideal height for barley plants. I did not think about the height for harvesting, as I will be growing really quite small quantities. However, it sounds like the barley straw will be an excellent garden resource so I would like some height, but it also sounds like I may want to cover it to keep the birds out of it, so it shouldn't be too tall.

I was surprised at how little they cross. Since they are wind-pollinated I was expecting a much higher rate.

When do you plant your wheat and barley?

reed

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #7 on: 2020-04-30, 07:48:29 AM »
My attempts at growing barley and oats have failed miserably. I love barley and oats both and like them just as whole grain rather than to use as flour. I really wouldn't know what to do with wheat.

Last time I tried barley and oats they both looked great but just as they were getting about ready to harvest some kind of mold or fungus ruined the whole crop. I wonder if there are varieties more adapted to my climate that might be more tolerant of that and where I might get my hands on them.

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #8 on: 2020-04-30, 09:04:13 AM »

Barley and oats aren't reliably winter hardy for me, so I plant as soon as the snow melts in the spring. Mid-March. They do fine as long as I get them planted any time before early May when the apple trees flower. (Last frost/snow date is the end of May.)

I plant wheat any time between mid-September and early May. Wheat is reliably winter hardy for me. If fall planted it produces more grain per plant, and can be harvested a few weeks earlier.

Rye grows best for me if fall planted. It still grows great if spring planted. When I have shared seed, we find that it needs a certain amount of chill hours, so if spring planted, it's best to get it in as soon as possible.

As far as the crop molding... I wonder if there are varieties and/or planting dates which would allow grain to ripen during more favorable weather? Or if there are varieties that are more resistant? All of my varieties are being selected for the arid west.



reed

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #9 on: 2020-04-30, 02:23:23 PM »
All of my varieties are being selected for the arid west.

And that doesn't fare well here with some things, the grains especially did terrible. Bush beans too, forget harvesting dry bush beans here unless you like a lot of mold and mud in your soup.

On the other hand what I named Utah Heart is one of the very finest tomatoes I'v ever seen, I think I might rename it Lofthouse Heart if that's OK. Most of your corns do great too, although they get considerably taller than expected. And those giant dahlias! In your pictures they look waist high, here they're six foot shrubs.
« Last Edit: 2020-04-30, 02:25:03 PM by reed »

Ellendra

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #10 on: 2020-05-05, 03:14:14 PM »
Bush beans too, forget harvesting dry bush beans here unless you like a lot of mold and mud in your soup.


Pick the pods (or whole plants) as soon as they start changing color or show signs of drying down. Spread them out indoors to finish drying.

Wet autumns are a problem here, too. I can only get dry beans if they finish drying indoors. But, knowing that, I've been able to get good bean crops the last few years.

Harsh winters, high winds. Temps on the edge between zones 4 and 5. Steep, north-facing slope. Soil is high in clay and rocks. Fast draining, which is a surprise for clay soil. Indicates a sandy/gravelly layer underneath.

Kai Duby

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #11 on: 2020-05-06, 08:37:13 PM »
The diversity of grains is always surprising! Those blue/gray wheat leaves jumped out at me too. They look just like a lot of cereal rye I've grown.

The idea of selecting for tall plants is great for the added biomass as well!

When you go to select out seed for planting how do you winnow out the seeds that keep their hulls? I can get things pretty clean with buckets and tarps but those few tenacious hulls are hard to get out of the hulless seeds.

I look forward to taking part in RMSA grain trials in upcoming years.
San Luis Valley, CO. >7,500'. Zone3-4. Low rainfall: 8-10''. Low Humidity. High winds.

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #12 on: 2020-05-07, 02:04:31 PM »
When you go to select out seed for planting how do you winnow out the seeds that keep their hulls? I can get things pretty clean with buckets and tarps but those few tenacious hulls are hard to get out of the hulless seeds.

I do the first winnowing in the field with natural wind. Then I do a second winnowing at home using a fan on high. Grains produce abundantly, so I don't mind losing some of the gain in order to remove more of the hulled seeds. Also, the culls are good chicken food.

Then I hand sort before planting.

With oats, which have more of a problem with persistent hulls, It's common for me to harvest a single seed-head, and thresh it right then, and only save seeds from those that are hull-less and easily threshed. And then sort, sort, sort.

Kai Duby

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #13 on: 2020-05-07, 08:13:56 PM »
Thanks for the technique pointers Joseph! I've been experimenting with just grinding wheat with some hulls still on and it has worked well but adding the same mix to soup has not been a crowd pleaser. My friend recently remarked that he couldn't finish the soup for all the little husks. I don't personally mind. They have a nice abrasive texture but a fan and a little sorting may be in order.

Have you done any selection for taste or culinary attributes between the different varieties?
San Luis Valley, CO. >7,500'. Zone3-4. Low rainfall: 8-10''. Low Humidity. High winds.

Joseph Lofthouse

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Re: Evolutionary Breeding: Wheat & Barley
« Reply #14 on: 2020-05-07, 08:28:17 PM »
I will eat an occasional hull if it's ground up into a fine flour. I really dislike hulls on cracked or whole grain. So for me, it's lots of hand sorting. I daydream about a dehuller.

We haven't done any selection for taste or culinary traits. (Other than what was done by the ancestors).  I'm unlikely to do that selection myself. I'm not much of a fan of eating wheat, barley, or oats, so I'll leave that part of the project to people who can taste a difference, or notice a difference in cooking characteristics.

It would be easy for me to separate out a population of purple seeded barley. That might be useful to somebody for some type of food. Purple beer?