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 creating zinnias part of each backyard 12 months.

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

Don Tipping based Siskiyou Seeds, a household run farm-based seed firm, in 1997. His farm with a view is positioned at 2,000 toes of elevation within the Siskiyou Mountains of southwest Oregon, and has near 1,000 kinds 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 every year.

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 present certificates for Siskiyou Seeds.

Learn alongside as you hearken to the Feb. 5, 2024 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You possibly can 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 suppose it’s seed-selling season, so in all probability not winter, not quiet, for you.

Don Tipping: Yeah.

Margaret: You and I just lately collaborated on a narrative in “The New York Instances,” a backyard column on rising onions and leeks, one thing you taught me how you can do virtually a decade in the past, how you can 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 like type 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 believe as a result of they’ve a lot potential by way of variety of flower varieties and colours, I simply maintain coming again to my intrigue with them.

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

Don: Right, yeah. And I believe it’s troublesome; folks need to scale back issues down into binaries of open-pollinated or hybrid. However the reality of the matter is, is that populations are always 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 business ones. Whereas zinnias, particularly, as a result of they’ve what are referred to 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 troublesome to stabilize a few of the distinctive variants of zinnias. You actually should develop 1000’s of vegetation 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 precise in subsequent generations.

Margaret: Proper. So, the mum or dad plant, all its infants gained’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 subject 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 type of an evolution. We used to develop zinnia seed yearly for Seeds of Change [catalog] in massive portions, the place we’d develop 5 or 10 kilos of seed. And after we are doing that, we’re usually rising a single colour. So something that deviated from that, we might really destroy these vegetation, pull them out by the roots. So then ultimately, in about 2009, is once I started to appreciate that, oh, these distinctive ones, that is perhaps one thing value saving seed from and truly starting to nudge it in that path, as a result of similar to my analogy with ice cream, you may get vanilla and chocolate anyplace.

However distinctive sorts, I believe that’s actually the bread and butter for these small regional seed firms like Siskiyou Seeds—not providing the standard type, however having distinctive sorts. Yeah, and it retains it attention-grabbing for me, as a result of I’ve been doing this 30 years, so I’ve bought to seek out new methods to maintain it thrilling.

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

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: … are simply so beautiful, they usually type 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 varied catalog descriptions in varied locations, however I don’t see who it was [laughter]. So, that’s been type of one of many newest in ages.

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

Don: Effectively, I believe 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 a whole lot of flower variants, as a result of florists are at all times in search of the brand new factor, and genetics tends to throw out the off sorts. The mutants have a tendency to not specific readily.

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

We’re not doing that right here. I’m simply actually combing the fields in search of novelty, and we take little ribbons of surveying tape the place I really use jewellery luggage which are like breathable mesh.

So, if I’ve a big inhabitants, let’s say 1,000 vegetation 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 extensively open-pollinate, they usually have two varieties of flowers in them. They’ve disc flowers and ray flowers. And for those who’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 components and may 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 will 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 for those who fastidiously kind out your zinnia seed, you may determine which seeds got here from the disc florets-

Margaret: Wow.

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

Margaret: Cool.

Don: So, each time a pollination factor occurs, you’ve gotten 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 you recognize that complete 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, it’s important to exit within the morning—when it’s nonetheless type of cool out and there’s dew—and search for flowers which are somewhat on the immature facet, after which put the bag over it after which let it mature. You’re tremendously lowering the quantity of viable seed once you do that, however it’s a technique to start to slender down within the path you need to go.

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

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: So that you’re making observations and placing ribbons on them and placing jewellery luggage on them [laughter] and so forth, and type of steering the inhabitants, for those who can, in a path that appeals to you. And the assortment of zinnias that you just promote within the Siskiyou catalog, I imply, you’ve gotten some actually enjoyable ones. You do have a kind of Queeny sorts, I overlook which one you’ve gotten. And one other combine that I’ve at all times appreciated, the ‘Jazzy Combine,’ which I believe is so well-named as a result of it’s bought such enjoyable type of colours in it. However you’ve gotten one which I’ve by no means really grown, referred to as ‘Pink Spider?’ [below]. Inform us about that one. That’s fairly completely different. It seems to be like a species plant to me, that one. Have you learnt what I imply? It looks-

Don: Oh, completely.

Margaret: …very previous, back-to-the-roots type 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 accustomed to, 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 ‘Pink Spider’ is, I believe, actually extra of a progenitor of recent zinnias.

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

Don: Precisely, yeah. So, the vegetation are extra diminutive. They solely develop 18 to 24 inches tall. They’re all crimson. I’ve by no means seen one other one which’s a unique colour. And so they 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 believe that’s the place the identify spider comes from.

You possibly can consider dahlias, that are additionally native to central Mexico. And for those who have a look at the seed-grown varieties, you get to see type of the parental varieties that gave beginning to all of the completely different trendy ones that have been in the end hybrids, after which folks went to tuber copy.

Margaret: Yeah. You’ve got some enjoyable with them. I imply, you’ve gotten, talking of ones which are within the Zinnia elegans, the extra anticipated species or extra frequent species, you chose from one that folks might know, the ‘Peppermint Stick,’ to make one that you just name, I believe ‘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 completely different colours.” And actually three, there’s type of yellow and crimson, after which white and crimson, however there’s additionally type of a cream and crimson in there, which I believe is an middleman one.

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

Don: Yeah, thanks for mentioning that. And he’s positively a pricey buddy and mentor of me.

Margaret: And so many.

Don: And an early pioneer.

Margaret: He’s wonderful. Yeah.

Don: And yeah, examine them out earlier than, I believe they’re inching in the direction of retirement, so type of get it whereas the getting’s good. However we have 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 crimson. So I used to be like, “Effectively, I’ll do the yellow and crimson.”

So, we use greenhouses generally if we need to stabilize one thing that’s actually enticing to pollinators, with the pondering that we will management pollination somewhat bit extra. So, the ‘Firestarter’ is de facto simply saving seed from probably the most yellow and crimson 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 particularly tends to provide what are referred to as chimeras. And you too can see leaping genes in motion. So, in my collection of that selection, I look forward to the primary flower to occur, and I solely need to save the vegetation that produce yellow-and-red-striped ones, that actually appear like both yellow petals that any individual took a paintbrush and painted a stripe of crimson on them, or indirectly.

So then, I rip out all those which are white and crimson, after which I minimize off all of the flowers of the yellow-red ones, that first flower, as a result of it may have cross pollinated with the white and crimson ones. Then, I let all of them flower, and what I’ve seen occur is ones that produce all crimson flowers. And earlier than I realized this, I’d minimize these off or rip these vegetation out. However then, I started to note, like wow, on the identical plant, they will produce all crimson 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: Identical 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 crimson and half one other colour, like on this occasion, red- and yellow-striped. I’ve tried saving seeds from this, however I don’t suppose chimeras is one thing that you could 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’ve got 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 maintain going?

Don: Yeah. And this may’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 attempting to get my objective with that. And I believe gardeners like novelty, and I try to be clear in our catalog to not anticipate each plant to exhibit the identical traits. However you’re sure to, it’s type of like, I don’t know, Cracker Jacks, you’re going to get a unique shock in each field or one thing.

That my objective is to provide one that appears just like the ‘Dreamin’ Combine,’ that Dylana took over from her father, Dr. Alan Kapuler, of that cross. And so they’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 attention-grabbing type 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 believe generally when you’ve gotten a breeding goal, it’s really counter to the reproductive success of the plant [laughter], and the one manner you study that’s via 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 type of cactusy…

Don: Effectively, in order that began by rising massive 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 referred to 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, have been type of squiggled. And my preliminary breeder’s identify for that was Frippertronics, after Robert Fripp, who was the guitarist for the type of ’60s, ’70s progressive rock band King Crimson. However my seed employees, who’re all beneath 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 maintain observe of all these items. So, I used to be like, “O.Ok., 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 improvement and an orange one in improvement 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 type of seems to be 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 meanwhile? As a result of it sounds such as you’re nonetheless taking part in 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 improvement facility. So, those we’re doing for that this 12 months are radicchios, as a result of there’s an entire pattern beginning there and we simply need to study as a lot as we will to develop as a lot variety. 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 believe simply as spectacular. And I believe it may very well be one of many subsequent large issues for house gardeners and small-scale farmer-florists.

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

Don: Yeah.

Margaret: Yeah. And so they’re lovely flowers. And talking of issues that may come in several flower varieties, they will appear like a giant double chrysanthemum [below, ‘Tower Chamois’ China aster] or they will look ethereal and, I don’t even know how you can say with simply, I don’t know, simply so effusive, a few of them.

Don: Precisely.

Margaret: So that they actually, they are often fairly completely different.

Don: Yeah. And I’m simply now pondering they’d make a superb 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, plenty of tentacles [laughter].

Don: Yeah.

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

Don: Yeah. After which, one other factor type 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 few of the Northwest tribes. However mainly, on the stage of consuming, I’ve this selection in improvement that may be a candy corn, and once you eat it, every kernel seems to be like any individual took a small paintbrush and drew somewhat starburst of crimson on it.

And I’m 85 % of the way in which there of getting a spread 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 arduous 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. Fascinating. You’ve finished rather a lot over time with flour corns, those as in you’d 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 lovely as nicely. And I believe it looks like you’ve been including some medicinal herbs to the catalog as nicely, yeah?

Don: Yeah. And as a seed firm, we now have what we’re enthusiastic about, however we even have to answer the place the tradition goes. And that’s one thing I’ve seen a giant resurgence in curiosity in folks 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 amazing firm out of Washington referred to as Buddies of the Timber Botanicals, and that’s Michael Pilarski who goes by the identify Skeeter, who’s one among our permaculture elders right here within the Northwest. And so they develop and harvest medicinal herb seed that we provide.

Margaret: Effectively, a whole lot of enjoyable selections. As I mentioned, there’s like 1,000 issues in your assortment and perhaps 700 in any given 12 months being supplied. I’m so glad to talk to you; I at all times study from you, Don, and I hope that we’ll maintain 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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Are zinnias a daily in your backyard? Any favourite varieties?

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