By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
The other day my dad and I were talking about the time he saw the best tomato plants in town.
He used to work for the Board of Health in Louisville, Kentucky and used to inspect the sewage treatment plants.
In the plants there was an area where they would place the sludge or solids that do not dissolve in the sanitation process.
In this sludge, tomato seeds and corn kernels remained and were remnants of what the human body will not digest. Through this nutrient rich sludge, tomato plants would grow abound but the fruits of these plants could not be consumed.
From this discussion we bounced to the direct ways, we in the past, have saved our tomato seeds. In the past few years, I have taken the lazy gardener’s approach and just thrown my seeds in a pot of soil. Every year I get good germination of tomatoes but have no idea what they are. In the past, I have also used this approach for peppers seeds and have had the same success. While I know I should not plant these nightshade plants in the same location and soil year after year, old habits die-hard.
My dad and I then walked down memory lane and started discussing how my great- grandmother used to save seeds. She was a Master Gardener who received her training through the school of hard gardening. This woman collected plant material as a child and carried it with her across the prairie on her way to Kentucky.
Many of these plants survived and until the day she died she could give complete histories of each plant. These histories included when she got it, where she got it, and if it was given as a gift who gave it to her. While she never knew the scientific name of these plants, the botanical history of her garden was just as valuable.
My Granny Franklin’s method of tomato seed saving was simple. She would just pick her tomatoes in the morning. She would then bring them into the kitchen and select those tomatoes that were going to be canned that day. The remaining were sorted into those that were going to be part of the evening meal and those that were going to be seeded only. Those that were going to be canned were processed.
Those going for the evening meal were placed in the fridge or stored in the root cellar and the others were gutted. Their innards were squeezed onto a paper plate and placed in the room where the pies were cooled. Here they would remain until the seeds were completely dried. Once dried, she would roll up the paper plate and store away until next year.
Through this process, she never labeled her seeds but could tell you in some form or fashion what they were by just a glance.
As time went on and a stroke took hold, my great-grandmother’s gardening secrets disappeared along with her garden. While I have saved seeds the way she did for so many years, I now tend to lean toward a cleaner approach to this process, which begins the same as my great-grandmother’s.
The beginning of this process is the selection. I look for plants that have done well first and then from these plants I then select tomato that will surrender its offspring. I then wash the tomato. This is a step that I do and truly believe in it. This single step simply removes any pests or disease off the fruit. After the fruit has dried, I then cut it in half and squeeze the entrails out of the tomato into a glass not plastic container.
During this process, I only do one tomato per glass. Once the entrails are in the glass, I then place two to three inches of water inside the glass and cover with cheesecloth. I label the glass with the name of the variety and place in an out of the way location for at least three days.
After this time period, a white mold should have formed on the surface of the water. Once this happens, remove the mold and any seeds that have floated to the surface with a spoon. Pour the remaining liquid through a fine-mesh strainer and rinse well. Dump the seeds onto a labeled paper plate or paper towel and let dry completely.
Once completely dry, place the seeds in a container and store in a cool, dry place.
So until we blog again, save money, save time, save your own seeds for next year’s gardening time.