Monday, November 30, 2009

And now… the tomato seeds!

tinyseeds 002 Here are the cherry tomato seeds I collected two weeks ago (yesterday), ready at last.  These are the variety I call Early Tiny Cherry.  They have no name because I received them in a packet from WinterSown.org that was only labelled “Cherry Tomato Trio.”

My method of saving tomato seeds is outlined below, in case you’d like to try it out at home. 

It is a very cool thing that is extremely easy to do on your own or with kids.  I have absolutely no green thumb or special talent, so you have my promise that saving tomato seeds will make you feel like a total Earth Mama (or Papa, or the earthy equivalent in whatever gender you happen to find yourself…)!

Just don’t try saving seeds from supermarket tomatoes, even if you love them.  Chances are, they were grown in a greenhouse, or South America, or somewhere else that features conditions you absolutely will not be able to reproduce in your backyard to make those particular tomatoes happy. 

The beauty of saving seeds from tomatoes you’ve grown yourself is that you know that they will thrive in your environment, and theoretically, you can even improve the gene stock from year to year by selecting seeds from the most robust, happiest tomato plants in your own native growing environment.

This particular variety are amazing tomatoes, and I’m so happy to have more seeds to start with next year – although I do have a few left over from last year already.

These tomatoes start producing rather early in the season, they are sweet, savoury and absolutely delicious.  They also continue producing well into the fall, even through several frosts that have killed the other tomato plants (though the fruit does not really taste yummy after frost, they are still red and pretty).  The downside is that they are incorrigible suckerers.  You need to pinch back these plants relentlessly or they will grow a million side-shoots instead of tomatoes. 

It may be tempting to leave the shoots, because they will bear fruit also eventually…but don’t!  They steal energy from the main plant!  You will maybe get more fruits, but you’ll have to wait longer and they will be smaller.   I know this for a fact because Early Tiny Cherry plants that I didn’t pinch this summer started putting out tomatoes that were mere centimetres big.  Tiny, indeed!  (too tiny for my liking - blah)

Oh – despite the “Tiny” name, the plants grow HUGE.  This has easily been my biggest tomato plant two summers in a row.  I plan to use them again next year to vine up the trellis in the backyard because they grow so well, but you do have to pinch back the vines to encourage them to produce more fruit.

For such a giant prolific plant, by the way, these are some of the tiniest tomato seeds I have ever seen.  My thumb is in this picture for contrast.  They’re like teensy, weensy triangles.

Here’s my easy, foolproof way of saving tomato seeds:

  • Collect squishy tomato guts and add a bit of tap water in a clean baby food jar.  (like in this picture from two weeks ago)
  • Use masking tape to identify, on the jar, the name of the tomato you’re saving!
  • Leave it a couple of weeks to get good and moldy.  The mold is just on top of the water; it won’t hurt the seeds!
  • Drain off as much water as possible without losing any seeds.
  • Run cool tap water into the jar and stir the seeds up.
  • Wait a few seconds for the seeds to settle to the bottom, drain and repeat.
  • Once the water runs fairly clear, drain off as much water as possible.
  • Fold up a piece of clean newsprint on a plate. 
  • WRITE the name of the tomato you’re saving on the newsprint, or if you’re feeling lazy, just transfer the piece of tape from the jar
  • Pour the seeds and whatever small amount of water is left onto the newsprint.  Use a spoon to get out as many seeds as you can.
  • With the back of a spoon, spread the  seeds as flat as possible on the paper.
  • After a few hours, when newsprint appears dry, spread the seeds out gently with a spoon.  You may need to pry them apart a little; it’s okay if some are a bit clumpy.
  • Leave to dry on newsprint for a week or more, spreading and stirring whenever you remember – maybe twice a day – to encourage quicker, more even drying.
  • I tend to forget about the seeds at this point… when I remember, it’s usually weeks later, and then I just pour off the seeds into a paper envelope OR baggie.  Your call; there are advantages to both. 
  • Store with your other seeds.
  • Curl up in your hollow tree and dream of spring.

Many people recommend using paper towel for drying seeds – don’t!  Wet paper towel sticks to everything and could make it hard to get your seeds off when they’re dry.

I am especially happy about this little exercise because I was too crazed by the end of summer to save any other tomato seeds… so this is it for this year.  Last year, I saved a whole bunch from the heirloom tomatoes we grew at our local Children’s Garden.  Maybe next year! 

Meanwhile, I still have lots of tomato seeds from previous years, and they do keep well for three years or more, so I’m not worried at all about running out of varieties to plant.

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