Wisconsin Fast Plants Network

To know a plant, grow a plant!

Recently Dan Lauffer asked me if I'd grow up a new strain of Fastplant that the Fastplant folks have been working on.  You may not know, but the original Fastplant was developed as a research tool to help Dr. Paul Williams carry out his pathology work on Brassicas.  By coincidence, many of the traits that made the Wisconsin Fastplant an exemplary research organism also worked well in the classroom.  Characteristics like short stature, fast life cycle, outcrossing that work well for the researcher also worked in the classroom.  However,  the classroom environment provides some additional challenges that aren't typical in the research environment.  For example,  light sources are often minimal and the plants tend to grow in length to the point that they can't stand on their own. The new strain of Fastplants is being developed specifically to address the lessons learned from more than 25 years of growing Fastplants in classrooms around the world.  They actually started this project a couple of years ago by outcrossing current stock with several varieties of brassicas to enhance the plant variation to work on--kind of an artificial selection experiment on steroids.  

For now the new strain is called New Rapid Rapa and it is not available yet.  I have a sample of the variety that has gone through 10 generations of selection.   It is very close to the targeted plant they had in mind when they started this project.   I'm growing this sample along with the standard stock seeds to compare the two.  I thought I'd keep this group posted as the plants work through their life cycle.
First off, I decided to use a method for growing a number of plants that uses plastic shoe boxes and sections of plastic 200 cell pak inserts.  (I ordered these online:  http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-8131-plug-flats-200-cellsflat-pack-of-... or http://www.amazon.com/Pack-Trays-Starting-Seeds-Cuttings/dp/B01BA3528U)
If you've visited the Fastplant booth at NABT or NSTA you'll likely have seen plants grown with this system.  It is fast and convenient.
Here's the shoe box with 3/16 inch diameter dowel rods inserted through holes in the sides. 
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These dowel rods suspend a piece of salvaged, corrugated plastic signboard above the bottom of the shoe-box but about 1.5 inches below the top of the box.
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1703/26234192715_eec2ef993f_b.jpg" width="409" height="545"/>
This arrangement allows the plant cell paks to be placed below the top of the box.  The rim of the shoe-box works then to help hold the plants in place--a good thing in a classroom.
Here's the Pelon thick felt wicking material in place.  BTW, I got the Pelon at Walmart and washed it to remove the sizing and then cut it to size.  
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1600/26167903601_8b79379ec7_b.jpg" width="409" height="545"/>

Note that the the wide strips extends over the top of the plastic sign board and overlays narrow strips that extend into the reservoir.
Here's with the 6 cells x 10 cell sections of cell-paks:
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1609/25961302120_5c364f1d77_b.jpg" width="409" height="545"/>

The cell paks have large enough holes in the bottom that water can wick up through a wicking mat without additional wicks.  Obviously, you could use multiple, smaller sections as well if you are growing with students.
And here you'll see the growing systems with soil and seed under the lights.
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1541/26141745592_78c9fa505e_b.jpg" width="545" height="409"/>

The seeds were planted on Sunday, April 3.  Note that I don't have the lights down as low as I usually do since I want to see how the new plants respond to good light but not excellent light. I'm excited to see how these plants do.   I'll keep you posted on how things turn out over the next few weeks.

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I know you've been wondering if I somehow failed with my fastplant test....

Here's an update.
Here's the plants on Day 8:
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1512/26566500652_9540b273da_b.jpg" width="477" height="477"/>

You'll note that already you can see a difference.  The plants on the left are the original Fast Plant standard strain and the ones on the right are the new ones.   The density of the plants has more to do with the person doing the seeding but it seems to me that the new plants are shorter and with larger leaves at this point.
Here's 2 days later, Day 10:
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1563/26055749583_693f63b753_b.jpg" width="495" height="495"/>

I think the difference is more pronounced here.
This is day 14. Note the difference in flowering.  But also notice how spindly the old standard strain is at this point.  It is growing all over the place.  This is the last time I let the two sets plants get this close together.  Started pollinating after this.
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1621/26566500882_d9709e730f_b.jpg" width="495" height="371"/>


I got tired of using a bee stick on hundreds of individual flowers (after about 20) and went to simply using a gentle plant manipulation.  I enclosed the plants between my two hands and moved my hands back and forth, in opposite directions in a way to cause the plants to "rub" up against each other.  Hopefully, I'll get enough seed set with this technique.  This technique seemed to work very well with the new strain.  I applied this method of pollinating for four days in a row.
Here's Day 23.  
 
https://farm2.staticflickr.com/1458/26056394193_501034c6bd_b.jpg" width="495" height="371"/>

The new strain is still more upright and shorter than the old standard strain.  I'm really liking this new strain and I'm sure that it will be easier for students to grow these plants successfully.
BW

Great documentation, Brad. I am in full agreement--I LOVE stocky stemmed plants, and I'm really liking the variation that we see in the new strain, too.

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