Back 25 years ago, when Farmer Ike (The Fruit Breeder) and I were getting married in between our junior and senior years of college (how about them apples?!), Ike was considering going to grad school for plant breeding (which he opted not to do) and was already working on developing new varieties of fruit (which he has done).
The first project he started, while we were still in college, gave us a number of trial apple seedlings which moved around with us as we finished school and moved on to work on farms. At one point, we had the apple seedlings growing in pots in our college apartment (which was certainly a conversation starter at parties). To differentiate the individuals, we gave them working names based on characters from the films 2001 and Alien (hey, why not?). That first apple breeding project resulted in our apple “Monolith”, which is, you must admit, a more interesting apple name than the others had. Apples “Hal”, “Floyd”, “Ripley” and “Bishop” are definitely less-interesting names, but “Monolith” is still a conversation starter.
“Monolith” was a long time coming, what with us graduating and then moving several times over the next 5 years before we started North Star Orchard and could give it a permanent home.
The next fruit breeding projects yielded the new peach varieties “Margaret” and “Erin”, both of which are fairly petite, but very flavorful and juicy. “Erin” was named for Ike’s orchard assistant Erin. And “Margaret”? I have no idea. Ike says he just likes the name. (I notice there is no “Lisa” anywhere abouts….)
The Fruit Breeder is back to apple variety development projects now. One, started a couple years ago, is a cross of Gold Rush and Florina. Those trees, now over 6 feet tall are in later stages of selection.
Making selections in fruit breeding reminds me of some of those reality TV shows where people get whittled down to where there’s one left in the game. Same things go here. Potential varieties are culled out based on their lack of disease resistance, a poor growth habit, and eventually, by the taste of the fruit they bear. Unlike those TV shows, however, we don’t take great glee in tossing out the ‘losers’. But decisions are made nonetheless, and may the best variety win.
Please take note: The Fruit Breeder makes use of plain old ordinary plant sex to develop new varieties, not modern in-the-lab type genetic engineering or GMOs (genetically modified organisms). For more info about “Sex in the Orchard”, check out our blog post from last year here.
Just last week, The Fruit Breeder made a bunch of selections from new fruit breeding projects he started last year. Although to us, it looked like he was tossing them aside willy nilly, in each case he was making real decisions on these little babies’ first efforts of life. The ‘winners’ were planted out in rows in our front field, right next to the ‘teenagers’ who went through the same selection process last year.
Now that we have space to plant so many babies, we certainly don’t name them all. Back in the college days, we started with only five babies, so naming came naturally. Now, there are hundreds. But someday there may be only one or two “winners” from these crosses and then we’ll have to go about the difficult process of naming them.
We may have to go with names from some shows/movies which are more current. How about “Leela”, “Sheldon”, or “Schrute”? Hmmm….we may need to work on that. But with long-term projects like this, The Fruit Breeder has plenty of time to contemplate names. Although, I’d still like to know where “Margaret” came from!