A unique and viable approach to establishing local food self-reliance and building stronger communities.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Saving Tomato Seeds

Striped German - Heirloom tomato
One of the missions of the Sharing Gardens is to educate people about the importance of seed-saving and to offer techniques to demystify this process. Today's blog covers the practical steps necessary for saving one of the home-gardener's favorite fruits: the tomato! If you're new to seed-saving tomatoes are good to start with because of their relative simplicity.

In order to save seeds that will "grow true" and produce fruit similar to the one you saved seeds from, you must start with an "heirloom" or "open-pollinated" (OP) variety (not hybrid). Hybrid seeds are artificially created by seed companies to produce plants with unique qualities (early ripening, bug resistance etc). The problem is that they don't "breed true". If you save seed from hybrids, next year's plants may or may not be what you want. If you wish to save seeds, choose seeds or starts that say "open pollinated", OP, heirloom or non-hybrid.
"Heirloom" tomatoes come in all types: here are large paste-tomatoes called "Long Toms"
OK, so lets say you have grown some beautiful heirloom tomatoes and you're ready to save seeds. If you have more than one plant to pick from, choose the plant that is healthiest, most robust, earliest to ripen and with the largest and/or best-tasting fruit. Then, pick one or two fruits that are the best examples of these same qualities.. If there are other people who harvest from your garden, put a twist-tie, or in some other way mark the fruit so no one picks it prematurely. We often use onion or citrus bags (plastic, stretchy netting) so we can actually cover the fruit, making it clear that it's not to be picked. Let the fruit come to fullest maturity possible. It's OK even if it starts to rot a little.

Black Krim (below) and Striped German
Here are two heirloom tomato varieties we saved for seed this year (right). We saved them as beautiful examples of color, juiciness and size. That's a Black Krim on the bottom and a Striped German on the top.

In saving seed, you wish to mimic nature's process. Have you ever noticed what happens to the tomatoes left in the garden after the first frost? They turn to a slimy mush, with the fruit eventually dissolving away from the seed. In the following year, robust little volunteers emerge from where the tomato rotted. The way we mimic this process: Remove the stem from your chosen tomato and put it in the blender with enough water to fill a quart jar. Whiz it in the blender, at a low speed, just long enough to separate seeds from fruit. Don't worry about the seeds. They have a protective gel that keeps the blades from harming them. Pour them into a wide-mouth glass jar. Be sure to swirl the blender as you pour the last liquid out so no seeds are left in the bottom. If you're processing more than one tomato variety in a row, rinse the blender well so you don't mix seed varieties. Label the jar so you remember the variety of seeds you're saving.

The next step is to leave them to "rot". To minimize fruit-flies secure a piece of cheese cloth over the opening with a rubber-band or canning-jar ring. Leave them in the open jar for 4-7 days. When it's warm outside, the process will go faster. Stir them once or twice a day with a chopstick to help separate the seed from the pulp. The pulp and non-viable seeds will form a layer at the top. The healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. Look for a nice scum to form on the top. Mold is OK. The picture on the left is of two varieties of tomato seeds in process. The ones on the right were just blended so no layers have formed. The ones on the left have been sitting a few days. The other picture shows the quality of the scum that has formed on the tomatoes once they are ready for the next step. Notice the bubbles which indicate a mild fermentation process.

The last step is to dry the seeds. Spoon out the scum and pour off most of the water. The viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom but be careful not to pour them out with the pulp/water. Add more water, allow to settle and continue to pour off excess flesh. Repeat this process till you've removed the majority of the flesh. Then pour the seeds through a fine-mesh strainer and rinse them in the strainer. Let them drip-dry and then tap them onto a piece of tin-foil, a jar-lid or other non-porous surface. We find that the lid to a plastic tub (like a yogurt container) works best as it's flexible and we can "pop" off the seeds after they've dried. Seeds will stick to paper towel or napkins. Transfer your label to the drying seeds and leave them to dry for a week or so. Be sure they are thoroughly dry before storage so they don't mold in the bag, envelope or jar.

Each seed-saver has his or her preference for containers to store seeds in. We use clean, small plastic bags or recycled plastic pill-bottles or other small jars. The most important thing is to keep your whole seed collection in a dry, dark environment with moderate temperatures, in air-tight containers. Avoid freezing or excessive heat. Stored well, tomato seeds can remain viable for many years.

Tomato seeds drying.

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Enough and to Spare, To Give and to Share!

Cindy sorting beets and carrots. 

Harvest totals and garden update:

Hi folks - We had a beautiful post almost finished when we lost it to a computer glitch. Arrgh...We'll recreate it soon but the gardens have really kicked into high gear in the last couple of weeks and we've been harvesting and weeding and watering like crazy! Here are the harvest totals so far this year, some pictures of many of the wonderful people who help to grow the food and some recent pictures of the gardens so you can enjoy the beauty and abundance. Much love, Llyn and Chris

So far, we've been sharing produce out of the gardens for 18 weeks. Depending on when the first major frost hits, we could be past the half-way mark of garden productivity but the next 15 - 20 weeks will also be way more productive in terms of how many pounds the gardens will yield. So, we could be looking at a record year! (For those of you who are new to the Sharing Gardens, here's a quick overview of our project.)

Donated to S. Benton Food Pantry: 507#
Donated to Local Aid Food Pantry: 455#
Donated to THIP class being led by our local Health Clinic ("Total Health Improvement Program"): 268#
Shared with Share-givers (volunteers): 284#
Used in canning projects so far: 36#
Potatoes harvested so far (that weren't counted in other totals): 94#
CSA member-boxes: 408

Grand total so far: 2,052 pounds!

Huge thanks to all the contributors who are helping to make this, our 11th season, such a success!

We love it when Cindy and Jim's grand-kids come to The Gardens. Here are Adri, Kaylynn and Jace helping Llyn harvest cucumbers, one of their favorite snacks!
Cindy, Rook and John, weeding. On our volunteer days, we often team up and swarm a whole quadrant of the gardens together leaving no weeds behind! This massive amount of weeds is put in our compost bins where the heat of their decomposition kills a majority of the weed-seeds.
This picture was taken July 31st. The gardens are in full bloom!
Here's Becky, weeding beets. Becky is one of our newest 'share-givers' (volunteers). She brings a friendly and playful spirit.
Jace (left) munching on a carrot, to keep up his strength for the potato harvest. We harvested 30 pounds that day off of six plants and they're looking beautiful. Our best year for potatoes yet (and we still have many more plants to harvest, well into the Fall).
Here's one quadrant of the garden in late July. Provence squash, cabbage, Delicata squash and  four rows of blue corn. All but the cabbage will provide storage-food to get us (and the Food Pantry) much of the way through the winter.
Megan, our youngest 'share-giver' (who also started this year), teamed up with 'young-at-heart' Jim - who's been coming since 2011. Here they are trimming the tops off onions.
With this team of guys, weeds don't stand a chance! Our motto is: "Weed 'em and reap!"
A late-July photo taken of the NE garden-quadrant. From top-left to bottom-right: Blue-corn (dried and ground for cereal and baking), red potatoes, a mixed row of celery/collards/kale, a row of cucumbers and a row of kidney beans which we dry for soups and chili. (Marigolds and Cosmos flowers in the foreground.)
Jim harvesting soft-ball sized Elephant garlic. We filled that wheel-barrow, mounded high, twice.
Adri helps Grandpa Jim and Chris with a potato harvest. Kids love this job because it's like hunting for eggs on Easter; you never know how many you're going to find!
Bean tipi at entrance to garden and Sunship greenhouse. The beans are called Giant Greek White beans and we got the seed for them out of the bulk-food section at our local natural foods store. They had made the beans into a salad for their deli and were delicious! We like them as much as Scarlet Runner beans for flavor and grow to be 2-3 times the size! (LINK to Scarlet Runner Bean post)
Cindy with an early crop of onions and greens. Cindy's been coming since 2010 and never misses a garden-day if she can help it. We love her cheerful, 'can-do' spirit!
Dear Rook, in his third season, has fallen in love with being in the garden (and we've fallen in love with him)! He loves to help people and to serve, and has come to embody the spirit of the Sharing Gardens. "Gee, it's great to be alive!"