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HYB: Winter Planning

From: Sharon McAllister <73372.1745@compuserve.com>

Dennis Kramb wrote:

>  I am too new at this to know what will bloom, and when.  Pretty much all
>  I do is wait for two nice ones to bloom and then cross (and back cross)
>  them together.  Furthermore, how can you be sure something will bloom??
>  Do you have heaps of each cultivar???

And even if it blooms you can't predict whether it will do so in weather
conducive to hybridizing -- but you CAN do contingency planning.  
Determine the long-term objectives of your program and develop strategies
to attain those objectives.   Then the decision of WHICH two "nice ones" to
cross can be made in the context of your overall plans.

>   I'd love to hear what the rest of you do this time of year
>  in anticipation of the next bloom season.  At the moment I only have
>  vague ideas of what I want to cross.

This year, my mother is needing so much of my time and attention that I
don't expect to be able to make any crosses.  The following is what I did
in the period when I had about 3000 bloom-size seedlings under evaluation,
in addition to species and named cultivars.

January -- Read, review records and determine specific objectives for the
coming season.  

When I  re-read some of the highly technical articles in the old ASI YBs, I
still spot new things to try -- so I highly recommend re-reading old books
& bulletins as well as keeping up with the new publications.

In terms of planning, I have some long-term projects for which plans are
essentially stable from year to year, and some short-term projects designed
to learn more about some aspect of iris genetics or produce special
breeding stock..  To avoid a book-length dissertation, I'll just use my
tetraploid aril breeding as an example.  

1.      Intra-species crosses, to preserve the gene pool, has always been
top priority.  

2.      Intercrossing the tetraploid arils to expand the gene pool is a
long-term priority.  

There's inevitably tetraploid aril pollen left after making these crosses. 
What to do with it?  Save some for use on any TB bloom I manage to get, of
course.  But there are many other possibilities, and that's where the
short-term projects come in.

One year, I concentrated on testing it with 3/4-breds.   I expected it to
set some seeds on the unbalanced tetraploids, just wanted to see what would
happen with the triploids.  Some VERY interesting results.  

One year, I didn't see the whirlwind coming in time to protect the pollen
tray.  The result, of course, was upended cups and an array of mixed
anthers in the bottom of the tray and strewn over the ground.  At least I'd
had only the one tray, so I knew everything in it was tetraploid aril. 
This pollen is something I do NOT waste, so after making all my other
priority crosses for the morning I went through the garden with the tray
and put mixed tetraploid aril pollen on any uncrossed fresh flower. 
Repeated that every day until the tray of mixed pollen was used up.  I got
a surprising number of seedlings from crosses onto 1/4-breds, so the next
year I made that type of cross a high priority.  In the long-run, I learned
that using the tetraploid aril pollen on 1/4-breds gave a much higher
percentage of takes than on TBs.  More seeds, more seedlings, better

Once in a while, a short-term project does take priority over everything
else.  When Lloyd Zurbrigg sent pollen from his rebloomers so I had
relatively fresh TB pollen in tetraploid aril season, using it on my
tetraploid arils became the season's priority cross and I then shipped
tetraploid aril pollen to him.   

Mid-February -- Move seedlings from growlights to garden.

The whole process of taking the inventory, sorting & and preparing maps,
making labels, and examining the seedlings as I line them out usually gives
me more ideas for crosses in the upcoming season.  

Late February & Early March  -- Prepare supplies & equipment.  

This starts as soon as the seedlings are out of the house, must be finished
by St. Patrick's Day as that's when bloom season normally starts.

In one room, the growlights were added to the bottom of each one of a set
of deep, storage shelves.  When the seedlings have been removed from those
shelves and the lights turned off, I clean all of the pots & trays and
store them there for the next season.  

A large light was installed over the kitchen table, on chains so that the
height is adjustable.  When the seedlings have graduated to the garden, the
table is freed for use as a workstation during bloom season.  At this
point, I'd clean off the shelves above the kitchen table.  Stock one with
supplies:  a box of 1,000 tags; a box of coin envelopes; extra Sharpies;
condiment cups & lids; extra masking tape, spare box of colored toothpicks.
 Set up trays for sorting & storing pollen cups.  Leave the top shelf empty
as a staging area for drying pollen.  On the back of the table itself,
underneath the bottom shelf:  camera, memo pad & pen [for recording
photographs].  Otherwise clean and ready for action.  A place to spread out
record books, or leave trays of pollen cups between trips to the garden.  

I'd get out & clean up what Gus used to call my "doctor's bag", but is
actually a large fisherman's tackle box with many small compartments. 
Stock it with 3 black Sharpies, a roll of masking tape, at least 3 sets of
tweezers, a stack of condiment cups & lids, a box of colored toothpicks,
and a handful of hybridizing tags.  I'd also clean out the refrigerator,
arranging the shelves to accommodate the tackle box, array of pollen trays,
and boxes of film -- and defrost the upright freezer, moving things around
in it to make the pollen trays more accessible.

Another large light was hung over a desk.  Not your standard desk, but a
large one we built with a door slab for the top and finished with washable
acrylic paint.  When the seedlings have been moved off of the desk, it
becomes a place to set up the microscope [for checking pollen], portable
computer, or spread out record books.

Of course, there'd be as many [if not more] seedlings in town. Some under
lights, others being hardened off in the garden room.  But those spaces
don't have to be converted to other use during hybridizing season.

In the garden, I'd check labels and replace damaged or illegible ones.  I'd
clean up the garden secretary -- something like an old-fashioned wall
secretary, with a front hinged at the bottom with chains on the side so
that it forms a writing surface when opened and storage shelves inside.  
I'd stock one shelf with pencils &  hybridizing tags.  Those are my version
of Post-it notes for the garden.  I use them for notes-to-self, like adding
a "TBR" tag to the garden label of a selected seedling.  Regular garden
visitors  use them  to suggest names.

Probably a lot more than most want to know.  Of course I'm not suggesting
that everyone needs to go to such lengths in preparing for bloom season.  I
was always trying to make as many high-priority crosses as I could in the
little time available and my overall program has been a rather ambitious
one.  [See my article in the January 1998 AIS Bulletin, if you're curious.]

Sharon McAllister

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