increasing the zinnia palette, with siskiyou seeds’ don tipping

WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE about zinnias? Natural seed farmer and breeder Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds and I each vote an emphatic “sure” in favor of constructing zinnias part of each backyard yr.

However what goes into creating the variety of zinnia colours and types and sizes? And what are some new wanting ones that you just may need to strive in 2024?

Don Tipping based Siskiyou Seeds, a household run farm-based seed firm, in 1997. His farm with a view is situated at 2,000 toes of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 types of greens, herbs, and flowers in its assortment. As if that weren’t sufficient, Don creates a YouTube channel of how-to movies and a long-running weblog, and hosts a number of on-farm trainings for gardeners and farmers annually.

We talked about that beloved annual flower, the zinnia (that’s ‘Queeny Lime Orange,’ above), and extra.

Plus: Remark within the field close to the underside of the web page to enter to win a $25 reward certificates for Siskiyou Seeds.

Learn alongside as you take heed to the Feb. 5, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant beneath. You may subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).

zinnias and extra, with don tipping



Margaret Roach: Winter! However I assume it’s seed-selling season, so most likely not winter, not quiet, for you.

Don Tipping: Yeah.

Margaret: You and I just lately collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Occasions,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me the right way to do nearly a decade in the past, the right way to develop them from seed. And so I’ll give a hyperlink to our former dialog, for individuals who need to get began on these earlybird crops. However zinnias: We share this ardour, as I mentioned within the introduction, for zinnias, sure?

Don: Yeah, very a lot so. It looks as if form of an apparent factor to love, like having vanilla ice cream be your, or I imply chocolate be your favourite sort of ice cream. However I feel as a result of they’ve a lot potential by way of range of flower types and colours, I simply hold coming again to my intrigue with them.

Margaret: Yeah. I imply, I’ve at all times recognized them since I first gardened, and but I by no means knew ones just like the sizes and styles and no matter that I’m seeing today. And so, I discover, I see on some catalog web sites that there are some hybrid zinnias, however all of yours, the entire Siskiyou Seeds’ types of the whole lot, are open-pollinated, sure?

Don: Appropriate, yeah. And I feel it’s tough; individuals need to scale back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the reality of the matter is, is that populations are consistently hybridizing, and that’s the place Dr. John Navazio taught me: to make use of the time period proprietary F1 hybrids when referring to these industrial ones. Whereas zinnias, specifically, as a result of they’ve what are known as leaping genes [laughter], they’re transposons, the molecular-biologist time period for them. However mainly, that is how epigenetics present up in flowers, of genes that may be turned on or off.

So, it’s actually tough to stabilize a number of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually must develop 1000’s of crops to see that one-in-a-thousand particular person. And simply since you save seed from it doesn’t essentially imply that you just’ve stabilized it and people traits will proceed to specific in subsequent generations.

Margaret: Proper. So, the guardian plant, all its infants received’t be equivalent, any greater than I don’t appear like my mother and father [laughter].

Don: Yeah, precisely.

Margaret: To simplify issues. So, what number of years because you first tinkered with a zinnia, because you let an entire inhabitants develop out in a area someplace at your home and mentioned, “Ooh, I actually like that one over there. I’m going to save lots of seed from that one.” How way back, do you suppose?

Don: Effectively, it was kind of an evolution. We used to develop zinnia seed yearly for Seeds of Change [catalog] in giant portions, the place we’d develop 5 or 10 kilos of seed. And once we are doing that, we’re usually rising a single colour. So something that deviated from that, we’d really destroy these crops, pull them out by the roots. So then finally, in about 2009, is once I started to appreciate that, oh, these distinctive ones, that could be one thing price saving seed from and truly starting to nudge it in that route, as a result of identical to my analogy with ice cream, you may get vanilla and chocolate anyplace.

However distinctive sorts, I feel that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed corporations like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the same old type, however having distinctive sorts. Yeah, and it retains it fascinating for me, as a result of I’ve been doing this 30 years, so I’ve received to search out new methods to maintain it thrilling.

Margaret: New adventures. First, there have been, a long time in the past, I don’t even bear in mind the names of the zinnias, after which the ‘Benary’s Giants’ [above] turned a factor. However these days, these Queeny Lime ones, those with the phrase queen in them-

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: … are simply so attractive, and so they form of appeared and everyone, lots of people began promoting them. I can’t discover any data on who bred them or the place they started. I see “the breeder” known as simply “the breeder” in numerous catalog descriptions in numerous locations, however I don’t see who it was [laughter]. So, that’s been kind of one of many newest in ages.

However you’ve gone off in a route; yours, as you described, a few of them appear like “undersea creatures,” and simply a few of them come off kind of cactus-shaped flowers and get even wilder and crazier. Yeah? [Below, a couple of flowers from his ‘Tidepool Mix.’]

Don: Effectively, I feel you’re really shining a lightweight on, once you describe a few of these new varieties that present up within the large mainstream catalogs, on a little bit of the underbelly of the largely Dutch flower-seed commerce. And I can’t confirm this, however I need to begin wanting and poking round. I’ve heard that they use irradiation to induce polyploidy and novelty in plenty of flower variants, as a result of florists are at all times on the lookout for the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off sorts. The mutants have a tendency to not categorical readily.

However by way of actually irradiating or doing novel breeding applied sciences like cell fusion and cisgenics, the mainstream business has been tinkering with issues. So, it’s totally different than the normal GMO.

We’re not doing that right here. I’m simply actually combing the fields on the lookout for novelty, and we take little ribbons of surveying tape the place I really use jewellery baggage which can be like breathable mesh.

So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 crops or extra, and I seen a person, zinnias are within the Asteraceae, so that they’re associated to calendula, sunflowers, lettuce, marigolds, chrysanthemum, asters, that sort of factor. And that they broadly open-pollinate, and so they have two sorts of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And in case you’ve ever held calendula seed in your hand, you may actually see this, or checked out a zinnia, as an illustration, up shut and see how the disc florets have little yellow flowers that in and of themselves are flowers, which have each female and male flower elements and might pollinate themselves or be cross-pollinated. Whereas the ray florets, what we have a look at as petals.

Margaret: Petals, proper.

Don: … are literally showy bracts, to make use of the botanical time period. These don’t have stamens, so that they don’t make pollen, however they’ll obtain pollen. So, once you have a look at the calendula seed, again to that instance, you see what appear like little grey fishhooks, after which bigger buff-colored fishhooks. The little ones are from the disc florets, and the bigger ones are from the ray florets. This differentiation is much less pronounced in zinnias, however in case you rigorously type out your zinnia seed, you may determine which seeds got here from the disc florets-

Margaret: Wow.

Don: … whereas people who got here from the ray florets.

Margaret: Cool.

Don: So, each time a pollination factor occurs, you’ve got an entire myriad of, it may very well be self-pollinating. So, I’m explaining this to explain the jewellery bag. Why use that? As a result of then that entire plant is self-pollinated, or that flower, and that’s assuming you bought to it earlier than the florets on the disc opened up. So, you must exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless form of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which can be a little bit on the immature aspect, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re drastically decreasing the quantity of viable seed once you do that, however it’s a approach to start to slim down within the route you need to go.

Margaret: Oh, O.Okay. So, you’re not irradiating, you’re placing jewellery baggage on it.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: So that you’re making observations and placing ribbons on them and placing jewellery baggage on them [laughter] and so forth, and form of steering the inhabitants, in case you can, in a route that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve got some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a kind of Queeny sorts, I neglect which one you’ve got. And one other combine that I’ve at all times favored, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I feel is so well-named as a result of it’s received such enjoyable kind of colours in it. However you’ve got one which I’ve by no means really grown, known as ‘Purple Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly totally different. It seems like a species plant to me, that one. Are you aware what I imply? It looks-

Don: Oh, completely.

Margaret: …very outdated, back-to-the-roots form of genetics. Yeah.

Don: Effectively, you talked about the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ and that’s really a unique species from the normal zinnias that folks develop. So, the normal zinnia that most individuals are acquainted with, the Latin identify is Zinnia, the genus, and elegans is the species.

Whereas the genus for the ‘Jazzy Combine’ is Zinnia, as soon as once more, the species identify is haageana, so it’s really a unique species. All of them originated in central Mexico, the place it was mainly a wildflower. And so, the ‘Purple Spider’ is, I feel, actually extra of a progenitor of contemporary zinnias.

Margaret: Isn’t it like tenuifolia or one thing? It’s like an entire species into itself.

Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the crops are extra diminutive. They solely develop 18 to 24 inches tall. They’re all purple. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a unique colour. They usually don’t are likely to thrive as a lot right here, and maybe we stay within the mountains, so perhaps it’s our cool nights, whereas subtropical central Mexican highlands is a unique local weather than Oregon. However nonetheless, I like rising them only for their novelty. And the petals are usually thinner, so I feel that’s the place the identify spider comes from.

You may consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And in case you have a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see kind of the parental types that gave start to all of the totally different fashionable ones that had been finally hybrids, after which individuals went to tuber replica.

Margaret: Yeah. You will have some enjoyable with them. I imply, you’ve got, talking of ones which can be within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra frequent species, you chose from one that folks could know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you just name, I feel ‘Firestarter?’ Is that proper?

Don: Yeah. Effectively, this began, Frank Morton and I, we had a dialog of, I simply requested him like, “Hey, the ‘Peppermint Stick’ is 2 totally different colours.” And actually three, there’s kind of yellow and purple, after which white and purple, however there’s additionally kind of a cream and purple in there, which I feel is an middleman one.

Margaret: Yeah, and we must always say Frank is a seed farmer, Wild Backyard Seed. Sure, yeah.

Don: Yeah, thanks for mentioning that. And he’s positively an expensive good friend and mentor of me.

Margaret: And so many.

Don: And an early pioneer.

Margaret: He’s wonderful. Yeah.

Don: And yeah, test them out earlier than, I feel they’re inching in direction of retirement, so form of get it whereas the getting’s good. However we had been joking round. I used to be like, “Hey, have you ever ever considered stabilizing one of many colours?” And he was doing the white and purple. So I used to be like, “Effectively, I’ll do the yellow and purple.”

So, we use greenhouses generally if we need to stabilize one thing that’s actually engaging to pollinators, with the pondering that we are able to management pollination a little bit bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is de facto simply saving seed from probably the most yellow and purple ones.

And I need to point out a extremely enjoyable factor, and perhaps you’ve seen this in zinnias or different flowers, is that selection specifically tends to supply what are known as chimeras. And it’s also possible to see leaping genes in motion. So, in my number of that selection, I watch for the primary flower to occur, and I solely need to save the crops that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually appear like both yellow petals that someone took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of purple on them, or not directly.

So then, I rip out all those which can be white and purple, after which I reduce off all of the flowers of the yellow-red ones, that first flower, as a result of it might have cross pollinated with the white and purple ones. Then, I let all of them flower, and what I’ve seen occur is ones that produce all purple flowers. And earlier than I discovered this, I’d reduce these off or rip these crops out. However then, I started to note, like wow, on the identical plant, they’ll produce all purple and yellow-and-red-striped. And what that’s, is the plant doesn’t distribute progress hormones and its genetic potential equally.

Margaret: Oh.

Don: Similar to we don’t appear like our siblings, regardless that we technically have the identical genetics. And the opposite factor it’ll do is chimeras, which is, I don’t know if that’s a botanical time period or simply within the flower commerce, one the place the flower is mainly half purple and half one other colour, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t assume chimeras is one thing you can pin down genetically. It simply has to do with progress hormones and transposons, and the way genetic potential is distributed in a given plant relying on environmental stresses.

Margaret: Yeah, it’s fairly cool. So, that’s a enjoyable one, ‘Firestarter.’

A few of yours are these mixes, otherwise you generally name them remixes. You will have one that you just name the ‘Dreamin’ Remix,’ as an illustration. And that was already a cross of elegans, and haageana.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: That was already a cross of elegans and haageana, that another person did, at Peace Seedlings, Dylana Kapuler. So that you then have a look at the inhabitants and you retain going, yeah? You may hold going?

Don: Yeah. And this will’t… Perhaps you might describe it as a backcross, so it’s a hybrid between these two zinnia species, then backcross to the ‘Cactus Combine,’ and making an attempt to get my purpose with that. And I feel gardeners like novelty, and I attempt to be clear in our catalog to not count on each plant to exhibit the identical traits. However you’re certain to, it’s form of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a unique shock in each field or one thing.

That my purpose is to supply one that appears just like the ‘Dreamin’ Combine,’ that Dylana took over from her father, Dr. Alan Kapuler, of that cross. They usually’ve by no means disclosed it’s a cross, however I’ve grown sufficient zinnias the place that’s my hunch, due to that trait that you just see within the ‘Jazzy Combine’ or the ‘Persian Carpet’ sort zinnias.

I need to get one which has that fascinating form of bullseye sample of various colours on each petal, however with the quilled petal form of the cactus sorts. So, we’ll see. There’s no assure. I feel generally when you’ve got a breeding goal, it’s really counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one method you be taught that’s by way of trial and error.

Margaret: Yeah. I like the identify of 1 that you’ve got your providing that you just bred, you name it ‘Loopy Legs’ [above]. Inform us about ‘Loopy Legs,’ talking of this kind of cactusy…

Don: Effectively, in order that began by rising giant quantities of the ‘Cactus Combine,’ which has a quilled petal form, which the botanical time period would both be revolute, like rolled outwards on itself, or rolled inwards on itself (which is involute).

And I started to note ones that had these different traits. One really has a botanical identify known as fimbriated, the place the petals don’t finish at a tidy level, however are extra splayed out.

After which I seen one the place the petals themselves, as a substitute of rising straight, had been kind of squiggled. And my preliminary breeder’s identify for that was Frippertronics, after Robert Fripp, who was the guitarist for the form of ’60s, ’70s progressive rock band King Crimson. However my seed employees, who’re all below 40 was like, “No, that doesn’t work.”

Margaret: “No, Grandpa.” They mentioned, “No. Grandpa.” Proper? [Laughter.]

Don: Yeah, completely. Effectively, and I take these surveying ribbons and I write with a Sharpie on there simply so I can hold monitor of all these things. So, I used to be like, “O.Okay., you’re going to be Frippertronic,” as a result of he invented the primary digital tape-loop music, simply one thing novel. So, ‘Loopy Legs’ was a extra descriptive identify. ‘Loopy Legs’ is a fuchsia one. I’ve cream-colored model in growth and an orange one in growth and a yellow one. However these aren’t stabilized but.

Margaret: Effectively, they’re enjoyable and wild as is your one I discussed earlier than, the one which kind of seems like undersea anemones, the ‘Tidepool Combine.’

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: So, earlier than we take up on a regular basis with zinnias,  I need to simply ask you about what else are you enthusiastic about in the intervening time? As a result of it sounds such as you’re nonetheless enjoying with zinnias. Are there different issues that you just’re…

Don: Effectively, yearly we decide three or 4 issues to do selection trials on, and that permits us right here on the farm to actually use the farm not only for seed manufacturing, but additionally as a analysis and growth facility. So, those we’re doing for that this yr are radicchios, as a result of there’s an entire pattern beginning there and we simply need to be taught as a lot as we are able to to develop as a lot range. After which we’ll provide that blend as a seed crop for 2025, which feels bizarre to say that.

After which, we’re additionally doing carrots, however just like zinnias, not many individuals develop China asters, however they’re simply as straightforward to develop and I feel simply as spectacular. And I feel it may very well be one of many subsequent large issues for house gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.

Margaret: I feel these are, what Callistephus, is that the genus? Callistephus, I feel.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah. They usually’re stunning flowers. And talking of issues that may come in several flower types, they’ll appear like an enormous double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they’ll look ethereal and, I don’t even know the right way to say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: In order that they actually, they are often fairly totally different.

Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now pondering they’d make a wonderful companion, like some cool variant combine with the ‘Tidepool Combine’ zinnia. And perhaps for some future Octopus’ Backyard assortment or one thing.

Margaret: Oh, I like that. The Octopus’s Backyard assortment. Yeah, a lot of tentacles [laughter].

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: ‘Loopy Legs.’ A number of ‘Loopy Legs.’ Yeah. Good. O.Okay. So, these are three issues: radicchio, carrots, China asters.

Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor form of, just like the zinnias that I’ve been engaged on, is a striped kernel candy corn that I name ‘Starburst Choose.’ And also you see this trait in flour corn, some Native communities name it chin-mark corn, named after the cultural custom of tattooing ladies in a number of the Northwest tribes. However mainly, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in growth that may be a candy corn, and once you eat it, every kernel seems like someone took a small paintbrush and drew a little bit starburst of purple on it.

And I’m 85 % of the best way there of getting a range that, so far as I do know, has by no means existed earlier than, and I don’t know why, as a result of it wasn’t that tough to create. So, that’s thrilling. And we provide seed of that. We at all times promote out. It’s very restricted amount proper now.

Margaret: Huh. Attention-grabbing. You’ve achieved so much through the years with flour corns, those as in you’ll make meal or flour out of them, not flower corns.

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: Very colourful, a few of them have been very colourful, that are simply stunning as nicely. And I feel it looks as if you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as nicely, yeah?

Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we’ve got what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to reply to the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve seen an enormous resurgence in curiosity in individuals rising their very own medicinal herbs. So I’ve an worker who has some expertise with that, Taryn Hunter, who I’ve actually simply tasked with determining what’s the recent herbs to develop, what ought to we be both rising. Or we additionally work with an excellent firm out of Washington known as Mates of the Bushes Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the identify Skeeter, who’s one among our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. They usually develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.

Margaret: Effectively, plenty of enjoyable decisions. As I mentioned, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and perhaps 700 in any given yr being supplied. I’m so glad to talk to you; I at all times be taught from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll hold the teachings going for extra years to return. So, thanks, thanks, and have seed-selling season, huh

Don: Thanks a lot.

extra from don tipping

The Siskiyou web site

Our earlier dialog about rising onions (and leeks) from seed

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