If you grow your tomatoes from seed, it’s economical and very rewarding to save seeds from your favourites for future growing seasons. There are different schools of thought about the best way to go about doing this, and I thought I’d try one of the methods that I hadn’t yet attempted. In previous years, I popped out the seeds, allowed them to dry out, then saved them. Many people do this, and have no problems. Mine germinated alright, but they might have been a bit slower than usual. Hard to say, since my memory ain’t what it used to be.
Regardless, I figured I should at least try the fermentation method, since those who promote it say that the seed coats of tomatoes are covered with germination inhibitors and you’re doing the seeds a favour by removing them before drying. This should give a higher germination rate as well as a speedier germination.
So, I squeezed the seeds into a container.
Then allowed them to sit outside, covered with a hanky, for a few days. There’s a thin layer of mold on the surface here. That’s a good sign.
This mixture was dumped into a fine-mesh strainer.
Tomato seeds were washed, and the chunky fleshy bits were taken out or forced through the strainer.
Then the seeds were placed on a plate to dry.
And now they’re dry and fuzzy, ready for next year. These are seeds from the Silvery Fir Tree tomatoes. I’m happy with this variety. They are great container tomatoes with pretty feathery foliage, and are ready before any other slicing tomato. The cherry tomatoes beat them, of course, but that’s to be expected. I’m looking forward to growing them again next year.
The next step is to do a quick germination test – put them on wet paper towels until they germinate, see how many out of 10 actually sprout. I think I’ll wait until I have a few varieties saved up, and test them all at once.
Last week, it was time to take the mesh covers off of my selected tomato plants. As you can see in the photo, many plants were becoming cramped under the light fabric. I felt it was important to cover them, though, in order to prevent any accidental cross-pollination of the tomatoes I wanted to save for seed.
In reading more about tomato plants and saving their seeds, I discovered that the idea of tomatoes cross-pollinating is controversial. Or has been, at least. People’s experiences vary, depending on the type of tomatoes they grow. Basically, the likelihood of crossing has to do with the length of the style. The style is the female part of the plant: it accepts the pollen. If it’s long and extends out past the male parts of the same flower, then it’s more likely to be cross-pollinated. If it’s shorter than the male anthers, it’s not very likely that any pollen other than its own will do the job.
In order to determine whether your tomatoes are more or less likely to cross-pollinate, you’ll need a magnifying glass to investigate the physical properties of the flowers. Or, you could do as I did and just cover the plants to be sure. Or, grow only one kind of heirloom or open pollinated tomato. <gasp!>
I noticed last week that tomatoes were forming under the covers, so I took off the mesh and marked the tomatoes that were formed so I would know later which ones to save the seeds from.
I am so looking forward to harvesting these seeds. Almost as much as I’m looking forward to trying all 22 varieties of tomato in my garden!!!
When the time comes, you can expect another post about the various methods of saving tomato seeds – there’s some wonderful controversy about that, too.
Tomatoes were not always as well-loved as they are today; for a time they were considered poison. They were grown as a conversation piece in a garden, but not for eating. Oh the waste!! What a fantastic fruit. I’ve been reading The Tomato Handbook by Jennifer Bennett, so much of the information in this post can be attributed to her. Historical information, that sort of thing.
I learned that the Latin scientific name, Lycopersicon esculentum, can be translated literally as ‘wolf peach edible’. Apples were called wolf peaches in the time when they were thought to be poisonous, because they are in the same family as deadly nightshade and other poisonous plants. One of these is called monkshood, which they sometimes called wolfsbane because it was so deadly it killed even the strongest and most vilified predator they knew. So that’s where the ‘wolf’ handle came from. It’s pretty obvious that the shape would give it the ‘peach’ portion of the name. And ‘edible’ is to reassure people that tomatoes are, in fact, not going to kill them. Contrary to everything they had been taught.
And the name ‘love apples’? Well, apparently tomatoes were thought to be an aphrodisiac. Hm…. well, I do have a hubby who cooks a mean pasta sauce… but is it the tomatoes that turn me on, or the fact that he’s cooking supper? Hard to tell. Jury’s still out on that one.
So, what about the useful information for today’s gardens?
Well, there are some basic qualities you should be aware of when you’re picking out love apples for your edible garden.
1. Hybrid vs. Open Pollinated
If you grow open pollinated tomato plants, you will be able to save the seeds and rest assured that you will get daughter plants that are like their parent. The tomato will breed with itself to produce the same kind of tomato. If you grow a hybrid, though, you will likely not get the same type of daughter plant from the seeds you may collect from the fruit. This is because a hybrid is a cross between two specific kinds of tomato in order to produce a tomato with exacting qualities. The genetics are a jumble, so you don’t know what you’ll get when you plant the seeds. There are many good qualities to recommend hybrid tomatoes. AND being hybrid does NOT mean the tomato is GMO. You can make your own hybrid with two varieties in your backyard if you want. However, if you want reliable seeds for saving you’ll want to make sure you’re growing open pollinated tomatoes.
2. Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Generally speaking, indeterminate tomatoes grow on the large, gangly plants that keep producing tomatoes a few at a time all throughout the summer until frost kills them. They need to be staked, and sometimes pruned. They are used in greenhouse production because they can be strung on twine and grow to 20 feet tall, and keep producing tomatoes. Determinate tomato plants tend to be small and bushy and compact. They flower and produce all their fruit at once, and then they’re done. They don’t need pruning; in fact, you should not prune them because they need all their leaves for energy production. What type you get will depend on how much room you have in your garden, and how you want your plants to grow. Do you want to stake them? Do you want them to ripen all at once? That’s a great quality in a paste tomato used for preserving sauce, but maybe not so much for a salad tomato. Or, maybe you want both. Totally up to you. There are lots of good varieties on both sides.
3. Disease resistance
If you’re looking through catalogues you’ll often see letters in the descriptions of tomato plants, that stand for various diseases that those tomatoes have bred resistance to. This is another useful thing to consider, especially if you have a part-shade garden. Most diseases can grab hold more easily when tomatoes are grown in more damp conditions. So, if you have a less-than-ideal garden situation, consider the tomatoes with more letters after their name.
4. Days to Maturity
You might want to grow a few different kinds of tomatoes, but you don’t want them all ripe at once. Take a look at the days to maturity, and choose varieties that have longer and shorter seasons so it spreads out the harvest a bit.
Best of luck with your tomatoes! Do you have any favourite varieties already? Have you found some new ones this year that you’re going to try? I’d love to hear about them, and it would be great to share with other readers too. Thanks!
I’ve put together a 5-minute video for anyone who would like a little help getting started in the world of indoor seed starting:
It’s my first attempt at a how-to video, maybe a little rough around the edges, but hopefully it will convey the information you might be looking for.
And there’s more to come!
I did my best.
Because I know that it can be very overwhelming to choose between too many different kinds.
I thought I’d let you know about a few that I’m excited about this year.
Here they are:
1. Silvery Fir Tree
This one will replace the ‘Patio’ variety I was planning to grow. According to Seed Savers Exchange, it’s compact, and grows well in hanging baskets or on patios. And it has pretty foliage, always a plus for those growing in small spaces and trying to also be decorative at the same time! I’ll be using this one in my patio pots, such as the ‘Grow Your Own Salsa’ pot, which will also have a pepper plant and some bunching onions. They’ll be available as seedlings, too, for those who want to fill their own pots.
This one replaces ‘Golden Queen’, a yellow slicing tomato. This plant is indeterminate, which means it will not stop growing until it gets too cold. So, think large sprawling plant that will probably need to be staked. Quite the opposite of the tomato above. It’s an heirloom variety, and the seeds are organic. And if that’s not enough to convince you, yellow tomatoes also have less acid than the red varieties, so tend to be easier on the digestive systems of those who are sensitive to tomatoes due to high acid levels. They’re not as good for canning, for this reason, but they taste so good you won’t have enough left to can anyway!
Another new one for me, Elfin has been chosen for a patio-growing cherry tomato lover that I know. Generally I find Tiny Tim plants to be so…. tiny. But regular cherry tomato plants tend to be indeterminate, which means HUGE plants. Huge plants mean HUGE roots, which don’t do well in containers.
After a bit of searching, I found these ones. They are determinate, which means they can handle living in pots, but tend to be a fairly well-sized plant and produce lots of cherry tomatoes. I’m really looking forward to growing them, and I hope the little cherry tomato lover will enjoy them too.