What is involved in testing a new seed variety?
A seed producer sets parameters for the characteristics of a particular fruit or plant desired. A plant breeder will license a specific hybrid or triploid seed from a specific tetraploid and diploid cross.
Commercial seed growers plant licensed foundation seed in large areas. The workers then go through their fields removing "off types" - plants or fruits that don't meet specifications. This process is called "roguing".
Plant breeders working much like a commercial seed grower, plant much smaller experimental areas, performing new crosses, and keeping strict field maps documenting the outcomes. Multiple crosses of closely related diploid and tetraploid plants are made until the fruit produced consistently expresses the selected traits.
New varieties are called "hybrids" and given interesting names such as "Summit", "Texas W5", "Kleckley Sweet", "Crimson Sweet" and "Iowa Belle". The plant breeder or the seed grower usually does the naming of a new variety. If the seed grower wishes to name the variety to identify that variety as their brand, this may be acceptable if there is an exclusive license or the company may assign a name and license the right to produce and sell the variety. If multiple companies have the rights to the same variety, then there may be geographic limitations on marketing areas.
With the timing of planting based on climate and grower preference, seeds are initially germinated in green houses and small plants are set out. Watermelons require a relatively long growing period and prefer hot, rather dry weather. They do not thrive in heavy, wet soil. By rotating locations that include different climates, it is possible to grow two generations in one year, but typically only one generation can be tested each year.
When plants are set in the soil, it takes approximately 50 to 95 days before flowers are produced. To guarantee the desired crosses, workers enter the fields as early as 5:30 AM(or late the previous afternoon) to cover flowers until they are ready for hand pollination later in the day. Bees begin active pollination when the temperature reaches 65 degrees F or higher. The appearance of flowers changes over the course of days and selecting a newly opened flower from one that has likely been pollinated during a previous day is not difficult. After about 25 to 40 days, the fruit is carefully assessed for a variety of different traits, consistency in production and the seed is saved or discarded accordingly.