The plant breeder: If the world owes a debt of gratitude to any one professional, it is to him. He has yet to invent new genes; but by selection, crossing, general manipulation of those that are naturally available, he continually comes up with superior food-producing plants.
The sugarsnap pea -- in which full-size peas were grown in edible pods -- is one example of a markedly "superior" plant developed late in the 1970s. Now comes news of other breeding breakthroughs -- in peas as well as in the cole and squash families.
The Novella dwarf leafless pea (offered by Stokes Seeds Inc., Buffalo, N.Y. 14240) promises to bring high production as well as great taste to the home garden. Tests suggest that the same production may be possible in one-third of the space required by normal peas.
Using germ plasm from the New York State Experiment Station at Geneva, geneticists developed a plant that produces leaves only around the central stem. This enables the plants to be grown much closer together. In England, where Brussels sprouts are grown on a wise scale, the loose leaves at the top of the plants were considered of no commercial value until about a decade ago, when someone discovered they made great- tasting greens. Ever since, British housewives have been buying the tops as avidly as the sprouts themselves.
This, in turn, prompted breeders at the National Vegetable Research Station at Wellsbourne to look into improving the top. The result: a plant that produces fine-tasting sprouts on the stem and a cabbage head on top. The cabbage head is small, but big enough to feed two for dinner. Cabbage- sprout seed is available from Thompson & Morgan, PO Box 100, Farmingdale, N.J. 07727.
The Kuta squash, developed in West Germany, is being offered in the United States by the Geo. W. Park Seed Company (Greenwood, S.C. 29647). At a very early stage it is delicious when served raw in salads or as a dip. Later it can be cooked as conventional summer squash. Finally, if left to mature, it becomes a hard-shelled winter squash.
Few worthwhile vegetables are produced without years of trial and error. Such was the case with the West German-bred Kuta squash. The breeders made hundreds of crosses before finally arriving at the Kuta.
They began by crossing various zucchinis with pumpkins and got good taste and texture in a squash that is less watery than zucchini. But it was too oval in shape. Crossing zucchini and cushaw squash was similarly successful, but the fruit was too long. Finally, they tried a white English marrow with good flavor but poor texture, and a dark-green winter squash, enjoyed in north America for its flavor and texture but not popular because of its impractical shape.
The result: a squash "with all the qualities we had hoped for and more," according to Klaus Mampell, president of the West German breeding firm.
The squash grows to about 12 inches long and i n maturity turns a butternut color.