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TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE THAT IS THE QUESTION

By Ken Stock

It can only be a year since I first spoke to Jack Gott, and yet I feel like Iíve known him for years. He has that easy Northern manner that could pacify a wild horse, not that Iím a wild horse, or want pacifying. What Iím trying to say is, because of his direct yet calm approach, Iíve spoken to him easier than some people Iíve know all my life. Mind you I havenít met him yet, although Iíve seen his photograph on his web site, but donít be fooled by that, Iíve seen the one they used in the Garden News, but for Godís sake donít get me started on the Garden News. We all know why he keeps the younger version on his web site, and itís not because of that beautiful vase of miniatures. Itís because it attracts the ladies, donít deny it mate, what about that Polish University student, oh you havenít told anyone about that yet eh! 

Any way best get on, from the title borrowed from that great man William Shakespeare, who of cause come from the North no matter what anyone else says; you can tell weíre back on that old chestnut, the hand or the bee? Jack has produced some beautiful flowers using these little fellaís, to tell the truth, theyíre not fellaís are they? Theyíre workers, because they have no bits and pieces. The males or drones as theyíre called have one purpose in their very short life; to make the Queen pregnant. Hold on itís not that exciting, itís all over in a flash, and most times thereís only one Queen, and hundreds of drones, so they donít get much of a look in. Let me say using the bee has produced some magnificent dahlias, and the trouble that some of these breeders go to, with their corridors of muslin that direct Mr. Bumble and his friends to the pollen, and honey fields is ingenious, but my preference is still for hand pollinating. So when Jack phone and we started talking about breeding, Iím sure I got him interested, because he suggested I enlightened him by writing a short article on the subject for our magazine.

 So here goes Jack, this is an article Iíve written especially for you mate. For everyone that has looked at the other article called `Flukes are for the Beesí on my web site, youíll see a difference in both length and content; this article will contain just the bones of breeding. I can already here some of you saying `Thank God for thatí but I canít be certain how long the article will be, because Iíve only just started.

The main reason I enjoy producing new varieties by the brush or what ever implement is use; is because I do know the parents involved. So far success has come my way with just one variety Charlie Dimmock. Thought I wasnít gonna mention her eh! No chance, but Iím only mentioning this particular variety because I know both the parents that produced her, and I grow both parents. So I see both parents in Charlie, itís like your kids, in both of our daughters we see similarities, different bits of each of us, to many to remember, but theyíre there. So it is with everything that God ever made, I believe in Darwin theory as well incidentally, how could I not, but we are a product of our parents. There are so many things that point to it, I canít spout some technical explanation, but I know when it comes to breeding anything, the varieties we choose will influence what the end product will be. So first and foremost I select first class varieties, those with a strong constitution, good form, wonderful colour, and even those that produce excellent tubers which have good keeping qualities. Keep your eyes open, learn how to pick `em, remember how you chose the wife, sorry, or partner, and your over the first hurdle without falling. Oh you want to know Charlieís parents? Promise not to tell anyone?  Taratahi Ruby x Yvonne, go on, have a go yourself using the same varieties, Iíve proved theyíre compatible, but you might not get many seeds. Better still try the cross in reverse, use Yvonne as the mother, and Taratahi Ruby as the pollen provider, the Kings of breeding tell us this some times produces even better varieties., and of course cross there is always the ultimate cross, both parents back to both parents, but let me stress, Iím a year in front of you and always will be, regards any seedlings I produce. However if you do produce a belter, let us know Iíll be the first to congratulate you.

 Talking about choosing dahlia varieties for breeding, you may have heard this little story before, so if you have forgive me. It was told to me over the phone, and involved two superb dahlia breeders who are sadly no longer with us, and a very lively Liverpudlian we all know, called Don Sutcliffe, he was the one that told me the story.  Picture the scene, it was a lovely summers day, and Don was with a friend called Peter Cleaver, thatís right the gentleman who raised that world beater `Sir Alf Ramseyí they were watching the bees going through their paces, hopping from flower to flower as they do, when they realised there was a pattern in their movements. Over the course of two or three hours the bees patterns changed, in the earlier hours they were going from pink to lavender, latter hours white to yellow. I think they must have been influenced by the light, but of course we will never be sure. During the telephone conversation Don mention another great name in British dahlia breeding, Pi Ensum. They could have been giving Pi a visit I think, because he mention how Peter was trying to find out which varieties Pi was using in his quest for more fantastic giants, but try as he might Peter couldnít open him up. For my part the older I get, the more I want to leave some of me behind, and if I can help anyone to further the dahlia as well, so be it. Everyoneís different though. I can understand when breeders like Pi, who had developed so many wonderful varieties, speaks to other raisers; they all wanted to know his secrets. Any way this wonít buy the baby a new bonnet, or breed a new dahlia come to that.

In the some times muggy atmosphere of a typical English, or should I say British summer, it is difficult to produce the seed we rely on for next years crop. I think the only way we can be sure of having a dry summer like 2003, is to grow our breeders under glass, or similar structure. Okay a little more work involved, but the rewards are worth it, in 2002 Charlie Dimmock the dahlia was born, and I produce the best crop of seedlings Iíd ever done, true Charlie is the only one that made it, but it was the year I realised that in Britain, with our uncertain summers, to go under cover was as important to me as the F.B.I. or M.F.I come to that. For one thing youíre in control and not the weather, and for another thing your varieties are restricted within the pot, which is no bad thing, as they need to be grown lean if you want seed. Second hurdle negotiated successfully.

We are now getting to the tricky bit, and this is the bit that Jack wants to know about. Iíve done a few illustrations, well Iíve drawn and painted them so far, all that has to be done now is outline them, itís a bit like painting by numbers. As soon the flowers start to open you must get them ready for pollination, this involves removing the petals, or florets, but wait until the flower reaches the half way stage, youíll find you can pluck the petals out easier then, without damaging the part of the head that their attached to, technically itís called the receptacle. As the bloom ages you will start to see the disk florets, which are the ones weíre going to use for breeding. Technically all the florets on a composite type bloom, which the dahlia flower is, are individual flowers.  As soon as the last ray floret is removed we are ready to proceed with our breeding process.

 

 

                                             Fig 1                                                           Fig 2                           

                                                              

 

                                             Fig 3                                                          Fig 4

                                                   

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Before we start however there is something that you must understand, for all you super breeders, go and make a cup of tea, youíve probably left us by now in any case. Any way, the only difference between the ray florets (Fig 1.) and the disk florets (Fig 2.) in these cut away drawings is the ray florets have no male parts, they consist of just the style, which is the stem holding the stigma erect, in this drawing the stigma is open. (Fig 1.) The disk floret in (Fig 2.) shows as well as its female part something else, these are small filaments which hold the anthers aloft, and which in turn carry the pollen, which is the human equivalent of the male sperm. As the stigma grows, the anthers produce their pollen, which sticks to the unopened stigma as it brushes through to reach the out side world (Fig 3.) Unfortunately the pollen is no good on the outside of the unopened stigma; it needs to be in the open cleft of the stigma as shown in (Fig 4) for conception to occur.

Most of the pollen unfortunately has either falling off, or remains on the under side when the stigma eventually opens. There is a theory that deems there can be no cross pollination within the same variety. However I am sure in some instances, cross pollination within individual florets does occur, and in that case, it would explain the appearance of varieties with different names, which have similar characteristics. Such as Charlie Two raised by Mr. E Fuller in 1989, and Mascot Mayo raised by Mr. S Mellen in 1994. There are other examples take Willoís Violet raised by that fantastic Australian breeder Norman Williams in 1937, what a storm must have brewed when Mr. Gardener come up with Birchwood Minx in 1976, especially if the powers to be questioned whoíd raised it. Of course he raised it, as did countless others that have their varieties marked in the National Dahlia Society Classified Directory as synonymous with other varieties. One of the reasons for coming up with this theory is, a variety that I raised has finally been taken out of the Wisley trials, there is nothing wrong with it as a garden flower, in fact it has all the credentials a garden dahlia should have, but `Sir Bobby `Mí just didnít conform to the usual Wisley practice of disbudding, leave it to grow the way nature intended, which is of course the way the average gardener will grow it, and it is magnificent. I was disappointed because it is a great dahlia, with a great constitution, and it has the name of a great football player, and it could have earned some money for a charity fighting the disease that Bobby Moore died of, enough said. Any way back to the plot, Sir Bobby `Mí, `Mí standing for maestro of course, how could it mean anything else? Was raised from seed that was collected from Superfine, I had no hand in it, d'you get it, hand in it. The bees did it all, and according to some, at the correct time, etc, etc, but the bees still didnít know what they were doing, and more to the point I didnít know if there was another variety involved. I can guess there wasnít, because of the similarity between the two. Hold on, Iíve just had a thought, I do have them occasionally you know, how did the raiser of Charlie Two know there would be two of them? Forget it.

 

                            Fig 5                                                    Fig 6

                            

 

                                                            Fig 7

                                        

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You can tell Iím enjoying myself, but this screen in front of you is just like the T.V. if Iím boring you there is always the off switch, or better still keep on line, and find another site. But I do hope you stay until the end of the line, because from here on the story intensifies. Here goes, and I promise not to deviate, the trouble is I canít write it down until I think of it, and my thoughts are triggered by events within the story, and as it isnít a book with countless rewrites, I can only put it down as it comes. In (Fig 4.) we see the open stigma with the pollen it has collected from pushing its way though the anthers stuck to itís under side, and the shrivelled remains of the anthers and their supporting compatriots the filaments. Iím sorry you are having to scroll backwards and forwards to see the drawings, I could have inserted  them on another page, and carried on in that vane, but Iíve been told by my computer Guru Dave Bates I should keep my images to the minimum. Mind you poor olí Jack Gott to his credit kept saying, ďI canít understand why you have all these duplicated filesĒ Tell you what, why not print the drawings out, or the whole article come to that, it will make it easier from here on in. Iím sure Gotty has done just that. Now so far we have only concentrated on the receiver of the pollen, which is the mother flower, or seed bearer. Now we need to prepare the provider of that all important commodity, `pollení, without which there would be no hybridizing, and hence no new varieties. To make the flower, you are using as the father ready, do as you did with the seed bearer. The flower should be more developed obviously, because it has to have its pollen ready for when the flower youíve prepared as the female are ready to receive it. So make sure that every petal is taken off the receptacle, and only the disk is left, and it has plenty of ripe pollen attached to its many stigmas. You can tell when itís ripe, it get everywhere, and is more dust like. With your Sable haired brush lift some of the pollen on to its soft bristles, or if you have it in abundance hold the flower over a plastic container with a lid, because should you have any over, you can pop it in the fridge when youíre done, it will last for months. As you are in the confines of the green house there will be no wind to blow your pollen away, oh almost forgot, you should have covered all open vents with a fine muslin previously, to prevent Mr. Bumble and his friends from getting in on the act. Gently tickle the brush between the open Y branch of the stigmas, and your first true cross has occurred. Most breeders quote doing this more than once, I canít deny it is best to do this, but if the time is right and both parties are receptive, all should go well on the first attempt, but of course flowers are like people, some couples find it harder to bear fruit than others. Hereditary and compatibility are two major players in plant breeding, so hopefully you have picked two crackers, of course because of the inheritance factor we canít be sure what we get, but there is more chance to get a winner by this method, than any old bee ever could ever think up, and more importantly, you definitely will have more double flowers, although this has the added disadvantage of giving you selection problems. You can never win, but I bet you agree that itís better to have more good flowers to select from? Now our story has almost come to its conclusion, for apart from anticipating hosts of new varieties for you to sort out, I can help you know more, except for wishing the very best of luck. However there are two drawings, and a photograph that we havenít commented on. Two of which represent future developments in my quest for better seedlings, and are at an experimental stage, so we can try them out together. The other is an illustration that I thought I would need to use (Fig 6.) but I found the words to cover the situation, and left it in because it was decorative, thatís the baby in the centre. Okay (Fig 5.) shows a floret that has had its male parts cut a way, makes your eyes water to think of it. I havenít had any success with this experiment; so far, as the parts of a floret are so delicate, but I shall continue to try this method on some of this years crosses, and let you have the results. The idea was to isolate the stigmas from the anthers, in order to get an uncompromised cross from the pollen source, then, and only then, I could be sure the resultant seedling was a true representation of both parents. There is another way of doing a similar cross, it involves using the female parts of the ray florets, and this is how Harry Lawson, one of Britainís finest chrysanthemum breeders does most of his crosses. He must have eyes like a Hawk, because although I have tried every which way, I have ended up with shrivelled style and stigmas, either the  style and stigmas in the dahlia are to soft, or Iíve not performed the operation correctly, but when I think how small the style and stigma is in a chrysanthemum are, to that of a dahlia, itís probably me. Then the expertise of the master, Harry Lawson does come in to the equation. Except from the centre drawing, which is supposed to be a single flowered variety that was going to indication what a plucked flower should look like. Thereís the photograph (Fig 7.) of a Seed Pod Brolly, the name was coined by me in 2003, it was invented by a gentleman who was a chemist, ďTheyíre bl..dy clever these chemistsĒ says he. Thinking of the man who came up with the idea whose name is Warner Chatham, and of course the master Wayne Holland. This devise is very good at keeping the damp from other wise successfully pollinated seed heads, should you have to make room in a crowded green house, and you have to take your charges out into the open after pollination. You can use it also for all of your out door crosses, itís been my number one implement against the British summer. Iíll make a few up at different stages of construction, and photograph them for this article, so as you can see how simple they are to make.

                                                   Seed Pod Brollys

                

 

The original design started off with ordinary plastic cups, and sticky tape, almost a Blue Peter project, but later in the year I thought Iíd make them with the polystyrene cups, thinking that like a good drink, theyíd keep`em cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. You canít really see in (Fig 7.) how it attached to the stem of the seed head, but it is only twisted round. During the gales of 2004 they werenít damaged by the wind, which says something about the design, being lighter than the original; they only moved with the stem. Well Jack I hope I have laid a few ghosts to rest, and you give this hand pollinating lark a try. I must say the only thing against success for you Jack, is time, because your heavy schedule will make it hard work, still youíre used to that, and hopefully that wrist will be getting stronger every day. But Jack do us a favour, if you do get any crackers, when you photograph them, keep your thumb out of the picture will you, whatís the good of producing a beautiful bloom, and then spoiling the photograph with a great big  thumb.

Thank you all for looking in.

See you at the trials. Ken Stock 2005.

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