Author Topic: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming  (Read 707 times)

William S.

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Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« on: 2018-11-23, 01:53:24 AM »
Currently reading Carol Deppe's book "The Tao of Vegetable Gardening". In it Carol suggests that potatoes but not tomatoes can and should be dry farmed. I was surprised because I've been assuming that a few TPS potato plants growing at the end of one of my tomato beds were suffering more from lack of irrigation than my tomatoes. Particularly I thought that might be a causative reason why they had not produced any TPS berries.

So for the past two years I've been experimenting with direct seeding tomatoes and with Lofthouse style land races and grexes as well as some variaties particularly focusing on 60 DTM and shorter varieties. Even those plants I have grown from starts I've crowded excessively in the hopes of natural cross pollination. This has resulted in decent tomato production but from pretty small individual plants. I've also simultaneously been cutting back on the watering. So even the same varieties I grew a few years ago now grow for me as much smaller plants.

It's also quite possible that my 2016 over watering leached some nutrients I haven't replaced.

However it does seem possible to me that tomatoes cold potentially be direct seeded, and perhaps not watered ever in my western Montana climate. Especially extreme short season varieties like Tim Peter's Forest Fire and Sweet Cherriette. It actually seems to work fine in a good tomato year like 2017 for almost any tomato I tried. In a bad year I think it would still work reliably and productively with a short list of extreme short season tomatoes.

I haven't quite cut the hose yet so may be jumping the gun, but right now it seems possible. Also my climate has year to year variability which may be increasing. We tend to get a wet may-June perfect for establishment. Some summers are notably wetter than others. We also may or may not get a suitably timed germinating rain event so far it has worked twice two years in a row.

The suggestion in Carol's book that potatoes cn be dry farmed makes me eager to read (partially reread) her Resilient Gardener book that covers potatoes in more depth. Corvallis Oregon has a bit wetter climate than mine, but dry summers like mine.

Does anyone have suggestions for specific varieties of tomato or potato that might be drought tolerant and conducive to dry farming?

The Solanum peruvianum, Solanum penellii, and possibly Solanum habrochaites material Joseph and Andrew have introduced to us has a lot of potential for improved drought tolerance in tomatoes.

I wonder if William Whitson has any notes on drought tolerance in the wild potatoes he is working with?
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Carol Deppe

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #1 on: 2018-11-23, 03:17:21 AM »
The potatoes can be dry farmed here in Willamette Valley under even very suboptimal conditions. There is now a Dry Farming Collaborative led by Amy Garrett (OSU Extension) that has now, with the help of participating farms, me included, extended the game to tomatoes, squash, corn and even melons. (My Cascade flints and Manna flour corns do very well dry farmed. I designed them in part for that, but didnt have the right soil to test it.)

Most indeterminate tomatoes including Stupice and Prudens Purple, actually do pretty well dry farmed in Willamette Valley of Oregon on class I and II soils with good soil prep and appropriate transplanting and timing. (we usually have no rain at all from may to september. But we start with the soil holding water from winter rains. And there is heavy dew in the morning.) Basically, some varieties taste pretty much the same irrigated versus not. And others may be a bit more intensely flavored when not irrigated. All varieties yield significantly more with irrigation. But this may not be a big enough difference to matter. Many farmers and gardeners don't have irrigation rights or access. And even if they do, irrigating takes labor. So growing tomatoes without irrigation is a nice option.

Search for Dry Farming Collaborative to find the website. There's also a Facebook discussion group for the DFC where people all over the country can interact.

Potatoes are much easier to grow dry farming than the rest of it because you start out with a huge wet tuber and plant it much earlier than tomatoes, beans, or squash, when we still are getting some rain. So the plants are very well established by the time the rains stop. Tomatoes are planted as big transplants right as the rains stop. I suspect your true potato seed transplants were lots more water needy than either tuber planted potatoes or ordinary tomato transplants because they are little transplants, shallowly transplanted, with no nice big tuber-reserve of moisture.

Even tuber planted potatoes differ by variety in how they respond. Some just don't do well on short water rations. Some, such as Yellow Finn, yield just as well, and taste about the same. But some varieties (Yukon Gold, Amy Russet, Azul Toro) not only yield about as well dryfarmed, but have a profoundly more intense delicious favor. Dry Farming Collaborative has not trialled potatoes. For that, see the work Nate France and I did, as reported in The Resilient Gardener.

The Yukon Gold is good for boiling, mashing, steaming; not baking. The Amy Russet and Azul Toro are superb for frying and baking; not boiling or steaming. Bakers are high dry matter potatoes. Boilers are low dry matter potatoes. There is no such thing as a potato that is good for both boiling and baking. A really excellent baker falls apart into soup if you try to boil it. And a good boiler turns gummy if you try to bake it. When a potato is touted as being good for everything, that is either a lie, or it means the variety isn't very good for anything.
« Last Edit: 2018-11-23, 03:55:21 AM by Carol Deppe »

Carol Deppe

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #2 on: 2018-11-23, 04:47:08 AM »
To transplant tomatoes onto unirrigated land, where you cannot count on even a single rain, I suggest, first, you have nice big properly hardened off transplants. Second, you remove most of the older leaves of each transplant the day before planting so there is less water loss from transpiration while the root, always somewhat damaged in transplanting, recovers and gets established. Water transplants thoroughly the night before transplanting so they are thoroughly hydrated. Transplant in the morning, ideally on a cool overcast day.

If you don't have a hose in the field, take water in 5 gallon buckets. I like the holes to be trenches. Put a pint or so of water in the bottom of the trench. Then place transplant in trench at a slant, burying almost the whole thing. New roots will start at every buried node, giving a more extensive root system. Fill in soil to support main stem. Ideally, with the right amount of water, the area around the root ball and lower stem is wet, and capillarity is created to the moister soil beneath. And that soil is packed down. Then finish filling the trench with loose soil that is NOT packed down. You don't want capillarity established to the surface. With no capillarity to the surface, the water you added stays down there instead of getting drawn to the surface of the ground and then evaporating. Also, with the surface of the soil loose and dry, few weed seeds germinate. And weeds are competitors for water. Of course, if there is a hard rain, that reestablishes capillarity, but also solves the immediate problem of giving the transplants a good start without irrigation. As the last step I use a clot of soil under the stem where it emerges from the soil to help support it. (It is sticking up at a 30 to 45 degree angle.)

This style of transplanting encourages the root system to establish down where the soil is moist rather than nearer the surface where soil is more subject to drying out.

The reason I plant transplants slanted is I want to bury as much of the transplant as possible. But the deeper the root is planted, the colder the soil, and tomatoes need warmth to grow. By planting sideways I can bury most transplants at depths of about six inches or less, even foot tall transplants.

William S.

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #3 on: 2018-11-23, 10:30:50 AM »
One of my familiar weather patterns in Western Montana in an approximately 20 inch precipitation zone is wet June weather. So in my 2018 garden I direct seeded tomatoes about twenty days before the expected date of last frost (may 15th) so the tomato seeds went in about April 20th. They then germinated without any watering. Wet June kicked in and I didn't bother to water a thing until towards the end of June and early July. Then we had one if the longest dry spells ever. July, August, and September normally have a slight Mediterranean / great basin influence here but this year it was more intense. I think many years where the wet June pattern happens I could direct seed tomatoes here without any water, especially if I gave them some space. Because the month of June is enough time to establish. However in this pattern each plant is going to be small and produce just a few tomatoes.  That's not a problem as with this pattern I can plant 100s of plants.

I also transplanted all my tomatoes without watering them, though I did water the flats well before transplanting. I started transplanting right around May 15th and then didn't water them till about end of June as well.

I probably should have watered some things (my wife decared the greens inedibly bitter). I was busy though so didnt as the plants were healthy.

In contrast back in 2011 I planted perhaps no more than a dozen tomato plants from transplant. I also had lots of tomatoes. The plants were well spaced, very large, and each plant produced a lot. I have to go back that far because I often have years when I don't get to garden because of botany field seasons that take me far from my garden.

Carol- I think I could use your transplanting method many years without watering at all, but knowing my shortness of season and June rains I would put those transplants out around May 15th to June 1st and they would get decent rain for about a month before the dry pattern started.

http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/dry-farm/dry-farming-collaborative

Here is a link I found searching for the dry farming collaborative
« Last Edit: 2018-11-23, 10:39:39 AM by William S. »
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

William S.

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #4 on: 2018-11-23, 11:16:52 AM »
I do transplants for wild tomatoes and wild hybrids because they are more K selected (except perhaps peruvianum). I also transplant some longer season favorites like Brad Gate's Amethyst Cream. I also would like to try a blight resistant hybrid which tend to be long season to start a dehybridization. These would all be great for experimenting with transplant dry farming.
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

Raymondo

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #5 on: 2018-11-23, 01:35:31 PM »
We grow our potatoes dryland, heavily mulched. Our climate supports this practice reasonably well though as we usually have summer rains. Itís our winters that are dry. We also can and do grow corn, squash and melons dryland but again, summer rains make this easily workable. We havenít yet left our tomatoes unwatered over summer. Tomatoes are an important source of income for us so we water when necessary.
Ray
Mildly acidic clay loam over clay and ironstone; temperate climate modified by altitude (1000m); avg rainfall 780mm; usually wet summers and dry winters.

William S.

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #6 on: 2019-12-15, 12:10:21 PM »
In 2019 my tomato dry farmed and direct seeded patch did fine with mostly domestic plants. Could just have been a perfect year with well spaced rains though.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191209112147.htm

Here is an article that suggests drought may be in store in future years.
« Last Edit: 2019-12-15, 12:17:10 PM by William S. »
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

Lauren

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #7 on: 2019-12-15, 06:19:23 PM »
This year I had two tomato plants that were essentially dry gardened. One was actually IN the dry garden area (a purchased transplant, I don't remember the variety) and produced nothing, although it did survive the summer with 0 water. The other was in an area that was technically getting five minutes from overhead sprinklers once a week, but other things grew up around it and it got a little overspray if anything. That one was one of my mongrel tomatoes and produced small tomatoes all summer. I got probably a dozen small fruit off it. The last one I smashed on the ground and smeared the seeds around--we'll see if anything grows next spring.

Drought tolerance is one of the things I'm going to be working on with the TPS potatoes. If they can't grow dry, I probably won't continue growing them much longer.

Diane Whitehead

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #8 on: 2019-12-15, 09:52:10 PM »
Water is my biggest expense during the summer, so it would be great to be able to grow vegetables using less. However, I assume any area growing dry-farmed crops successfully does not have large trees nearby.  There are some winters when my soil is still dry a shovel-depth down.

Diane
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
cool mediterranean climate  warm dry summers, mild wet winters,  70 cm rain,   sandy soil

William S.

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #9 on: 2019-12-15, 10:48:41 PM »
Water is my biggest expense during the summer, so it would be great to be able to grow vegetables using less. However, I assume any area growing dry-farmed crops successfully does not have large trees nearby.  There are some winters when my soil is still dry a shovel-depth down.

Diane

Depth of soil itself is an potential issue. Forest soils are very different from grassland soils. 
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

reed

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #10 on: 2019-12-16, 06:49:51 AM »
I planted my tomatoes in mid May this year, as usual, and they were doing fine. Then first of June it got cool and started raining, not a single sunny day and 21 inches of rain by June 21. Tomatoes looked awful, little stunted things hidden in weeds, some even had yellowing leaves. By early July it was hot and dry, not another drop of rain till one inch in late August.

In mean time I had pulled and hoed the weeds and piled them up around the sickly tomatoes, purslane sprouted all over the place and I just left it alone.  The tomato plants exploded and produced one of the best crops I've had in an long time. It got so dry I was out watering pretty much everything else almost daily but the tomatoes never looked like they needed it so all that production was without any more water at all. Also almost no diseases this year so first time in years they kept producing till frost put an end to it.

Tuber planted potatoes were mulched under weeds and grass clippings and also not watered and they were in a spot where tree roots likely suck up some of the water. Still got a pretty good harvest but they were small. The plants  bloomed abundantly but produced zero seed berries.

nathanp

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #11 on: 2019-12-16, 05:15:09 PM »
Tuber planted potatoes were mulched under weeds and grass clippings and also not watered and they were in a spot where tree roots likely suck up some of the water. Still got a pretty good harvest but they were small. The plants  bloomed abundantly but produced zero seed berries.

What potato varieties? 

I have found root competition from trees to significantly reduce yield for potatoes.  Even trees 50 or more feet from the potatoes can impact yield. 

All my potatoes grown from tubers are dry farmed.  I never water, and if it doesn't yield well under those conditions, it isn't one I will continue to grow.  I do water my TPS seedlings, but usually only when they are planted and in some years, will water a week later. 

reed

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #12 on: 2019-12-17, 06:06:01 AM »
I had White Superior, Pontiac and some little purple Peruvian ones. White Superior and the purple were ordered from the Main Potato Lady, I got the Pontiac at a local hardware store. All grew pretty good and produced lots of potatoes but they were small. There are two standard peach trees about thirty feet away but I think they still manage to get roots into than end of the garden.

I was surprised that the Peruvian vines stayed alive longer after it got hot and dry than the others did but didn't help on tuber size. The biggest were about the size of my thumb. I'm sure I missed lots of smaller ones, wondering if they will sprout next year.

White Superior made two seed berries for me a few seasons ago. Two of the three total potato seed berries I've ever seen. When I planted some they grew but made only tiny potatoes and no more seeds.

Are you aware of any that can produce a useable amount of potatoes, and seeds, from seed?
« Last Edit: 2019-12-17, 06:07:41 AM by reed »

William S.

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #13 on: 2019-12-17, 06:16:10 AM »
I remember a story from a facebook tps group where one lady had a strain that could be grown from seed to a good harvest every year. It must be possible.
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nathanp

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Re: Breeding Tomatoes and Potatoes for Dry Farming
« Reply #14 on: 2019-12-17, 05:31:32 PM »
I had White Superior, Pontiac and some little purple Peruvian ones. White Superior and the purple were ordered from the Main Potato Lady, I got the Pontiac at a local hardware store. All grew pretty good and produced lots of potatoes but they were small. There are two standard peach trees about thirty feet away but I think they still manage to get roots into than end of the garden.

I was surprised that the Peruvian vines stayed alive longer after it got hot and dry than the others did but didn't help on tuber size. The biggest were about the size of my thumb. I'm sure I missed lots of smaller ones, wondering if they will sprout next year.

White Superior made two seed berries for me a few seasons ago. Two of the three total potato seed berries I've ever seen. When I planted some they grew but made only tiny potatoes and no more seeds.

Are you aware of any that can produce a useable amount of potatoes, and seeds, from seed?

First, I think several of your varieties are male sterile, or at least have very low male fertility.  Purple Peruvian and White Superior are both male sterile, and I think Pontiac probably is as well or at least very weakly fertile, though I can't dig up documentation on it.  It's female parent is, so that probably is an inherited trait.  So I'm not surprised that you did not get berries.  If you got any berries with the same varieties in the past, Pontiac was probably the male, but I would not expect that to happen regularly.

Male sterile varieties can produce berries reliably sometimes, but you do need a male fertile variety to be the pollinator. 

This link (Facebook Post) is a list of known male fertile potatoes that are reliable berry producers.
https://www.facebook.com/groups/KenoshaPotatoProject/permalink/10156812682302859/

As for first year yields from TPS seedlings, if you have a season shorter than 150 days, it is difficult to reliably expect plants to produce comparably to yields from tubers.   If you have that long of a season you will have some that will produce well, but it is just a higher percentage than with a short season.  Seedling potato plants normally have a much longer growing season (often over 180 days) than when the same plants are later grown from tubers, and it takes longer for them to produce yields equivalent to when grown from tubers.  Early varieties are the exception, and some will go into senescence within 30 days of planting, producing only marble sized tubers (or smaller). 
« Last Edit: 2019-12-17, 05:39:03 PM by nathanp »