Bill Starr: Abbreviations in gardening

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It seems in this modern age of texting and tweeting there is a new language that has formed; it is the language of abbreviations,  for example: IDK, IKR, W/E, LOL. Did you get all that? If you didn’t,  ask a teenager. IDK = I don’t know. IKR = I  know right! W/E = whatever. LOL= laughing out loud.
With spring gardening season getting closer I wanted to take a moment and explain a few abbreviations that you may see when selecting vegetable seeds or transplants. The first and most recognized abbreviations would be found on a pack of tomato seed. You may see something like this: V, F, FF, A, N, T, TSWV. So what do these letters mean?
They stand for certain resistance traits that are bred into the tomato varieties. The V stands for verticillium and the F stands for fusarium. Both of these are soil-borne fungal pathogens that will attack tomato plants. If you see the FF, then the variety is resistant to multiple strains of fusarium. Early blight is a disease caused by the fungus alternaria which is what the A stands for. N stands for nematode, and usually refers to root knot nematode. These are microscopic roundworms that feed on and damage plant roots. So how about the T and the TSWV? These refer to tobacco mosaic virus and tomato spotted wilt virus. Both of these viruses can affect tomato and are transmitted by insects such as aphids.
There are some other important resistance traits that you may want to consider this season. If you plant squash or zucchini you may want to look for a variety that is resistant to powdery mildew. There are also several viruses that infect squash, and likewise there are varieties out there with resistance to these as well. If you see letters that look like this (CMV or ZYMV) you will know that it is resistant to one or several different viruses.
What about sweet corn? I know that there are plenty of people out there that have a favorite sweet corn. There are abbreviations to understand when selecting a sweet corn for you and or your customers. The main abbreviations that you will see will be SU, SE, or SH2. The SU varieties are some of the older varieties. This abbreviation lets you know that these varieties came from the standard mutation for sweetness. The first abbreviation, “SU,” stands for “normal sugary,” indicating a variety with this designation produces kernels containing moderate but varying degrees of sugar. The overall sugar content depends on the variety, but in general “SU” varieties accumulate two times more sugar than standard field corn. These varieties are ones that need to be picked and cooled quickly and eaten within a day. The SE stands for sugary enhanced. This gene increases the sugar content of the kernels and slows the conversion of sugar to starch. This improves the shelf life of these varieties. Varieties with this designation contain more sugars than “SU” types. On average, “SE” varieties, if refrigerated, will remain sweeter for two to four days following harvest. This happens because the conversion of sugar to starch is greatly reduced in “SE” varieties compared to “SU” types. Finally there are the SH2 varieties these are the super sweet varieties. The abbreviation just stands for shrunken 2,”shrunken” owing to the appearance of the kernels of “SH2” sweet corn. These varieties have two to three times more sugar and the conversion to starch is even slower. What this ultimately means is that these varieties stay sweet and crisp longer. SH2 varieties are known as  “super sweets” because they contain two to three times more sugar than “SE” types and the conversion of sugar to starch in these varieties is negligible. If kept refrigerated, these “SH2” varieties remain sweet up to 10 days following harvest. The most important item to remember when planting super sweets is to isolate them at least 300 feet from “SU,” “SE” and “SE+” sweet corn plantings. Otherwise the corn will cross-pollinate and produce starchy kernels. Several “SH2” varieties are stubborn to germinate uniformly. Kernels (seed) of these varieties must absorb twice as much water as “SU” and “SE” types before they begin to germinate and emerge.
Well, now that that is clear as mud hopefully you can select varieties of vegetables and corn that have the traits you are looking for. What it all boils down to is: you should try several different varieties to see what you, your family or your customers prefer. Just think you can pick your veggies using an ATV and haul them to your SUV while listening to a CD or watching a DVD, while watching out for PYTs. After all these letters I need to go take a BC.

Bill Starr is Sumter County Extension coordinator, ANR agent, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.