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Personal Setup and Process for Trialing New Varieties

Part of my grow plan every year includes trialing new variety selections. The source of these selections may be my own crosses or crosses from other breeders. I am a grower in the southeastern U.S. Our climate in the summer is typically very hot and humid with abundant rainfall. My success with a variety can be much different when compared to a grower in another region, due to differences in both climate and disease pressure.

When evaluating a new variety, I like to create a set of controls. First, I will grow the variety in both the ground as well as in a grow bag. I always grow a percentage of my crop in grow bags, so this is a factor for me. I think it is important to trial new dwarf varieties in grow bags because many folks are drawn to the dwarf varieties for the purpose of container growing. From a control perspective, container growing in a soilless media eliminates the factor of soil-borne diseases whereas in-ground planting allows the evaluation of soil-borne diseases like verticillium and fusarium. These diseases are prominent in my soil.

Another control that I evaluate is water. For plantings in the ground, I like to use both a water-permeable mulch as well as a waterproof mulch (plastic). I also use grow bags as a water control. The grow bags require daily watering during the summer. This allows me to test the propensity of cracking as well as the flavor profile from a “heavy” water cycle.

Pollination is another control that I implement. My climate has a prolonged period of high humidity. This presents challenges with pollination that folks in a drier region do not experience. I grow all plants on a trellis system. I have a process where twice a day I will walk each row and vigorously shake the plants. I will leave other plants alone. I also will use a pollinating wand on yet another set of plants. This gives me 3 different points of data to evaluate fruit set for a given variety.

For certain varieties, I will choose to prune a plant and leave another plant unpruned. Some growers cage their plants and thus probably do not prune. Other growers use a trellis system and may choose to prune their plants. These controls serve to provide feedback that is critical to my growing conditions. The evaluation of these controls is another topic.

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