Saving seeds for a harvest that never ends
Even though it's almost Christmas, Marie Yeseta is still harvesting tomatoes at her plot in Altadena Community Garden. One vibrant Italian heirloom — Costoluto Genovese, an acidic late-bloomer that is good for sauces and canning — has produced about 200 tomatoes thus far, she says.
And because Yeseta is an avid seed saver, that's one tomato whose seed she will be keeping, stored someplace dry, cool and dark — no hot garages or dank shelves under sinks. It will go into a dated, annotated envelope, which then goes into a tin labeled by season.
Saving seeds is a natural extension of gardening, Yeseta says, and the best way to educate your taste buds and discover the world beyond Early Girl tomatoes and head lettuce. Best of all, it costs almost nothing to continue a particular flavor in your garden.
"I spent $3.50 for a package of squash seeds, and I'll get maybe 10 squash, and each will have more than 50 seeds," she says. She just needs to rinse them clean of fibers and lay them out in a single layer on a screen or plate to dry thoroughly for about a month. "I'll never have to buy those seeds again."
Yeseta has taught classes in seed saving at the Altadena garden. Letting plants go to flower is one essential step, especially for lettuces. Shake off the flower head into a paper bag and let the seeds dry for about two weeks, then replant if you want.
A few plots away, Margaret Jones is harvesting her Christmas beans, heirloom limas with a splash of red on the pale skin. She saves her seeds too, particularly the ones that show the most color. Before she began growing limas, she never knew she could eat them fresh, when their buttery, chestnut-like flavor is best. Now the only ones she saves are for seed, giving them away to other gardeners before the bugs get to them.
"My favorite planting time is the winter," Yeseta says. "Especially sorrel. It's a great thing to grow because you can cut it and three weeks later it comes up again. It's wonderful for soups and stews."
-- Jeff Spurrier
Spurrier's dispatches from community gardens are posted every Wednesday.
Photo, second from top: Marie Yeseta at Altadena Community Garden. Credit: Ann Summa
Photo, second from bottom: Yeseta saves her seeds in carefully labeled envelopes. Credit: Ann Summa
Photo, bottom: Jones inspects blooms with the San Gabriel Mountains as her backdrop. Credit: Ann Summa