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Master in training: 60 tomato plants later ...

September 8, 2010 |  6:52 am


One of the perks of the master gardener class I joined and blogged about was access to lots of free plants in various stages of development. Not knowing any better, I planted just about every tomato seed, plug or seedling that came my way. I was late in my staking and pruning, but thanks to June gloom that continued into August, I caught up, not really noticing I had about 60 tomato plants in various stages of development.

Then, suddenly, summer happened.

Tomatos-cannedIn the last month I’ve gone from selectively picking to harvesting as best I can, first with a child’s beach bucket and now with a tarp. It’s unrelenting — 8 pounds of about-to-fall fruit calling out to me every day. I eat some and can others, but I’m also putting the best of the best tomatoes aside, mindful of seeds for next year. I'm also starting a list of what worked and what didn't.

The Italian Red Pears, grown from Franchi seeds, were my first mail-order success. They also blossomed and fruited last despite placement in the hottest part of the front row, coming to maturity slowly in this summer we’ve had. They were well preceded by heirloom Black Zebras, seedlings that I got in class. The fruit were a beautiful striated green-black, as big as fists, and charmingly misshapen. They were delicious sliced thin, raw on crispy bread, a bed of basil and a top sprinkling of Cotija cheese. (Salt, pepper or vinegar were optional because the tomato’s acid-sweet blend is strong enough on its own.) The Zebras were full of seeds, and even though the plants only produced a couple of fruit per stem, they were worth the real estate. My third big save were Mortgage Lifter heirlooms I got from a friend. They’re another plus-size producer, sweeter and not as complex in flavor as the Zebras but more productive.

Different gardeners have different methods for saving seed. Keep reading for mine ...

I removed as much of the pulp around the seeds as possible, then left them in a glass of water, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm spot. I punched a hole in the top of the plastic for air.

Fermentation must take place. Every night give the goopy mixture a stir, and replace the plastic. A scum will develop after a few days, and the viable seeds will sink. Rinse these seeds off using a fine sieve, making sure no strands of goo remain.

Put these clean seeds on waxed paper to dry for a few more days. Err on the side of caution if you’re not sure whether your seeds are dry. When you're certain they're dry, store them in the dark in dry containers — paper envelopes, plastic vials, glass jars. Include a few packets of silica gel.

Some gardeners simply rinse off their seeds and lay them out on paper towels. They put the dry seeds in successive plastic bags and throw them in the freezer.
These gardeners swear the process works.

-- Jeff Spurrier

Photo credits: Jeff Spurrier