Monday, March 5, 2012

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe

After reading Carol Deppe’s book about growing food staple crops in uncertain times I was excited to join the long list in a queue of library patrons awaiting their chance to read Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe. The premise of this book is that most professional vegetable breeders have moved from the field to genetics and now it is up to us, amateur vegetable gardeners to develop open-pollinated vegetable varieties to suit our regional and personal needs. Perhaps a more accurate title for this book would have been The Amateur’s Vegetable Breeding Manual.
Carol Deppe's Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties - A must read!

What really impressed me when reading this book was the information Deppe gives about variety selection, variety crossing and the way in which she reveals how the greed of big seed corporations has kept farmers and gardeners dependent upon corporations.

In the process of reading I discovered that selection can be a little more tricky than I thought. Before I began reading this book I said to myself, “I’m smart enough to improve some current vegetable varieties I am growing through selection”. After reading Carol’s list of 27 things to consider when selecting breeding material in the section on variety selection I felt pretty overwhelmed. Even selecting for a trait as simple as disease resistance can be quite a task. To help you save time, Carol also tells about how you can determine when you cannot actually select for a trait. Carol additionally explains how to increase variability in a population of plants by growing enough of one type to select for specific traits. The reader quickly begins to understand that a keen eye and sound understanding is needed to observe new the occurrence of new genetic traits, either through selection or through crossing.

Crossing a variety of a specific vegetable is something Deppe devotes multiple chapters to. She skillfully guides amateur gardeners through the genetics of the first generation after a cross, or the F1, and explains what your chances will be of getting multiple traits you are seeking for from each parent plant. This helps gardeners determine how many plants they would need to grow to have a chance of obtaining a plant with the traits they desire. This goes along well with another chapter Deppe wrote on de-hybridizing hybrids – something that I would love to do with a few varieties myself. One other aspect I found very important in her writing was a breeding method called recurrent backcrossing, which enables the breeder to obtain just one trait of variety B while keeping most all of the traits of variety A. This was something big seed companies probably did before they began developing hybrid and genetically-modified seed.

In no way does Deppe demonize large hybrid or genetically-modified seed companies, though she gives them little excuse for their abusive practices which include supplying seed of hybrid plants without parents of known origin and creating seeds that will grow plants whose seed are completely sterile. Both of these practices only lead consumers to the conclusion that corporations have their own interests in profits far above the interest of those gardeners and farmers whose livelihood would be destroyed if the corporation went out of business.

Considering everything in this book, every gardener who is serious about gardening – even just to preserve the vegetable varieties they already have – should take some time to read this book. This is a no-nonsense guide with stories of breeding adventures and practical applications that you can implement the very next time you plant a seed.


  1. Thanks for sharing this book information. She should have demonized those corporates and GMO companies - they are destroying everything - seed, bio-diversity, environment, climate, livelihood of small farmers, organic farmers, gardeners and amateurs. Don't worry; those companies are now after big farmers; once they are done with them, they will come after us - where did we get our variety; why are we saving seeds; how come we don't buy every year and etc and etc....

    1. I see your perspective, KL. I think that, before judging any organization though, it helps to gain some idea of what they are doing and why. It helps to know the extent of the destruction before you just jump on a bandwagon and say "I'm against this or that". Though, as you say, I do know that 99.9% of all cotton grown in Arizona is grown from genetically-modified seed from one large company. The tactics of some of these big companies reminds me a lot of what dictators do in other countries to hold onto power. "We don't sue people" they say innocently. This is because they crush all possible competitors before they can even get to court.


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