16 August, 2019

Getting Viable Seeds from Tomatoes


When tomatoes left the Americas for Europe, the pollinators were not imported with them. Tomatoes adapted by becoming inbred, that is, self-pollinating – a process we see continue in that older varieties of tomatoes are more likely to expose the inner parts of the flower while still fertile, whereas the more modern hybrids are more unlikely to expose the inner flower until after they have self-pollinated.

Joseph Lofthouse, a self-described “food shaman,” has set about to change that and allow tomatoes to cross in order to increase the wild genetics and support their genetic intelligence for dealing with insects, soil, climate and other environmental changes.

A few years ago, Lofthouse, crossed a domestic tomato to a wild relative. He intends to select for 100% out-crossing and hoping for huge flowers like the ancestors (note that tomatoes were first grown in France not to eat, but for the flowers!).

Black Krim Tomato - this is not a good variety for coastal
gardens - they need temps above 80͒° over all 24 hours!

Tomatoes as we know them in our gardens, are mostly self-pollinating. Each flower has both male and female parts and self-pollinate in the flower before the flower opens. Some of the older varieties, while being mostly self-pollinated, still expose the inner flower with its pollinating parts, to bee activity and will cross. Almost all the modern tomatoes will not do this which gives rise to the idea that tomatoes do not cross.

This is important only if you are saving seeds. If you merely want to eat tomatoes, it doesn't matter. But to save seeds, and not be surprised by what fruits you get, this is important.

Tomato plants that do expose the pistil and the stamens before you figure it out, will cross pollinate via bees to whatever pollen the bee has onboard. You don't see it in the first generation, but you will on down the line.

For most of us, inspecting the flowers almost daily for any exposed sex parts should be fine. If you go through the hassle of saving seeds, this is a minor inconvenience, but important to the work. You want to be sure what you are saving is what you think you are saving!

Once you have on hand a good specimen of the tomato you want to save, imagine the top part (where it was attached to the plant) is the North Pole and the other end, the blossom end, is the South Pole, cut the tomato in half thru the Equator.

Into a small bowl, squeeze the juice and the seeds. If it is an older variety tomato, you might find the seeds rather scarce, but work to get all you can – sometimes I use the point of my knife to get out those stubborn and hidden seeds.

Insure you have enough liquid to cover the seeds – if not, add a little water so they are covered.

Use cloth or paper towels to cover the dish and place it out of the way – in an area where you don't smell it. For me, it's no biggie because I don't have a really good nose for smelling, but for sensitive types, it is not pleasant I am told. Leave this alone for a few days – in hot weather, it will be quick, on cooler days, it might take three days or so. You are waiting for a scum to form on the surface of the mixture. Once this has begun, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Pour the mixture into a sieve, or a meshed strainer to thoroughly wash the goop that covers the seeds and lay them out on a surface to dry out of the sun. I use paper towels or sometimes, newsprint.

Once they are dry, really dry, put them in a protective container, with detailed info on what they are and the date, one on the inside and one on the outside. Believe me, this doubling up is really necessary – I have seeds all over from my early days that I have no idea what they are because of missing labels! All this work should not be for ought!

Store in a cool, dark and dry place until ready to plant again, or return them to the Seed Library to be shared next summer!

david


30 July, 2019

This Saturday: Growing Food in Southern California!

Outstanding in his field.
Gardenmaster David King 
Yup, it's the first Saturday of the month, which means 10 to noon, David King offers his monthly 2 hour class, Growing Food In Southern California - that's the real title, but most of us call it What To Do And When To Do It because that is the crux of the class. 

We have several different approaches this Saturday, mainly revolving around doing things that don't require a lot of effort when the thermometer is up towards the top of the gauge. A general workshop on sowing seeds of different sizes and a list of what you can plant now and strategies to help them survive. 

All this and some free seeds (some real gems too!) and your questions answered! Still only $20 at the gate - enter at the little pedestrian gate on Walgrove that says "Enter." We are clever that way!  

See you there! 

david  

24 July, 2019

Grow Your Own Plants From Seed


Starting your own plants from seed is often treated as a mysterious and bedazzling craft that is up there in the same stratosphere as wizard work. It's not. It does require a little learning and more patience and attention, but other than that it's pretty simple and straight forward.

A seed wants to grow – it's not like you are trying to get your teenager to clean up their room – a seed really wants to grow and fulfill its mission in life. All you need to do is to provide the right conditions, and keep providing the right conditions, until the plant is definitely on its way. And, of course, at that point, you are keeping it alive in the garden. You see, it's not that much different.

Choosing your own seed allows you not only to choose varieties your local nursery isn't carrying, but allows you to choose multiple varieties that extend the length of your harvest or the breadthy of your harvest. It allows you to be organic from the very first drop of water the seed imbibes all the way to placing it before your family and friends at the dinner table.

All you need is some good seed catalogs and a little self-restraint (don't buy hundreds of dollars worth of seed at once – a little here, a little there would be much more realistic!); a potting medium (garden soil is NOT a potting medium for any plant and especially seedlings!); a place to make a mess and a bright area that gets enough sun (or light of some kind) to sprout seeds.

Long before you begin, go on some websites of seed purveyors and obtain a current catalog - get as many catalogs as you feel comfortable having and peruse them to your heart's content. What do you want to grow? What qualities do you admire in a tomato or a squash? Choose only a few the first time out. Tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, peas and other common vegetables are the best for learning. Order single packets!  Here's where I like Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine; they have a good selection of seed, but each package is packed with fewer seeds and sells for less – for most home gardeners, this is a godsend! I want to grow several varieties of tomatoes and don't need but a few plants of each, Pinetree makes that more possible and don't require an expenditure similar to a down payment on a home.

In reading the catalogs, you are looking for traits that suit your needs – I like to grow paste tomatoes, early tomatoes, and a couple of cherry tomatoes. I look all through my catalogs and compare maturity dates and size and descriptions of productivity to find the best finalists from which I will whittle down to my nine 'gotta haves' for this year.

The easiest way to do this is to place your seedlings in a bright spot that won't be too cold and is protected from critters of all kinds. This can be a simple table under a shade tree near your back patio, on the back patio, or, if all else fails, in a spare room in the house with fluorescent lights and a timer. I have done them all - including starting some plants in a professional greenhouse. It's still the same formula with slightly different tweaks. 

For containers, I typically recycle six-packs, four inchers (sometimes called quarts) and one gallon nursery pots. I also have some small terra cotta pots I use, but the plastic ones are (sadly) a lot easier. I fill these up with potting soil – if I can't find a brand as smooth as I want, then I sift out the big pieces and make a finer mix that way. Fill the chosen pot almost all the way full with the potting mixture and press down firmly. You will want to end up with a container in which the potting soil is below the outside edge of the pot – when you water, you want standing water on the top that remains there until it sinks in; a fully topped off pot would allow the water to run off without wetting the soil.

This will lead you to the next step nicely and smoothly – there is little chance you will ever learn to save seed if you don't grow your own plants from seed. I think this is essential to really becoming a gardener. In fact, most gardeners, who think they are good, will sheepishly confess when they don't feel competent growing from seed; like they know they haven't quite lived up to their own standard of being a 'good gardener'. It takes some learning to grow from seed, but it's not impossible or difficult – any more so than any other part of gardening. And once you learn to do it, you will be proud of your skill level and the plethora of choice you now have.

In the near past, some plants were grown in diseased greenhouses and the entire tomato crop in the east was affected. Don't import insects and disease into your garden - start from seed and have a good harvest! 

david

14 July, 2019

Seed Saving Considerations


As I prepare to give a seed saving lecture this afternoon, here are some considerations many of us have not thought about in our seed saving quests. Following this one page, there are several other posts related to seed saving for reference to all. If you get the chance to attend a seed saving course at some time, take it! I was amazed at all a person can learn. This is an area of human endeavor that has been around for more time than we know and it has been a foundation for civilizations for centuries! This simple act of saving a seed, has been intregal to the lives of all who came before us, and let us not fool ourselves, our technology can cause us more harm than good when used in ways that fail to acknowledge what has come before. Seed saving is soul satisfying and fun.

In addition to saving seeds for your own use, for useful seed saving it was better to choose one or two crops that you would focus on entirely for seed saving and swapping. Doing this allows you to develop a seed over time that suits a particular soil and climate, and, accurately observe its characteristics and needs. For that seed or those seeds, keep detailed accounts of as much information about everything observed or known about them. :
  • color
  • odor
  • size
  • soil
  • water
  • sun
  • cultivation and harvesting time
  • variations in the seed
  • where you planted it
  • scientific name (as the colloquial name of it may vary)
  • popular names
  • uses
  • origin (where it came from)
  • date of seed preparation, etc.
As you prepare the seed for saving, you would then make detailed notes about these seeds.

Seeds without accurate information become nearly useless

Receiving seeds without knowing anything about them other than their variety renders the seed almost useless for planting. Although it may be fun, in terms of productivity it is akin to starting from zero.

Tips for saving seeds

  • Select and keep the best plant for collecting seeds, don´t eat it.
  • Clean the seed as dirt will encourage bacteria or fungus to grow and this will rot the seed.
  • Keep them clean and dry.
  • Paper bags are better than plastic bags.
  • Put the paper bags then in clean, dry jars with lids.
  • Maintain in a cool and dark place, if you can.
  • Create a place for saving and organizing your seeds.
It is better to have a small quantity of seeds to save and exchange for which you have an abundance of information than to take on too much to manage information.


A Plant Isolation Distance Chart


Please note, these distances have been formulated for rural environments – no one has data applicable to urban growing, but the suspicion, and the experience of most SLOLA members, indicate that the distances will vary from these, and sometimes by quite a bit. In the final analysis, one needs to learn one's own growing situation and note air flow and insect activity. These charts also do not account for 'organic' methods which almost invariably means more insects interacting with the plants and create further variances from the figures below.

Plant
Isolation Distance

(Ashworth)*
Isolation Distance

(USDA)
Pollinator
Amaranth
¼ to 2 miles 1
wind, insects
Arugula
½ mile (2640')
660 feet 7
insects
Basil
150 feet
insects
Bean, Common
0 to 1 mile 4
0 5, 4
self 2
Bean, Fava
0 to 1 mile 4
0 5, 4
self 2
Bean, Lima
0 to 1 mile 4
0 5, 7, 4
self 2
Bean, Tepary
0 to 1 mile 4
0 5, 7, 4
self 2
Beet
5 miles
wind
Broccoli
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Broomcorn
660 feet 7
self 2
Brussels Sprouts
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Cabbage
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Cantaloupe
½ mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Carrot
½ mile
insects
Cauliflower
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Celery
1 mile
insects
Chinese Cabbage
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Chinese Mustard
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Chives
1 mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Collards
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Cilantro
½ mile
insects
Corn
2 miles
660 feet
wind
Cotton
¼ mile 6
self, insects
Cowpea
0 to 1 mile 2
0
self 2
Cucumber
½ mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Dill
1 mile
insects
Eggplant
50 feet
self 2
Fennel
½ mile
insects
Garlic
1 mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Garlic Chives
1 mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Gourds
½ mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Kale
½ mile
660 feet 7
insects
Lamb's Quarters
5 miles
wind
Lettuce
25 feet
self 2
Melon, Honeydew
½ mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Melon, Musk
½ mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Mustard
½ mile
660 feet
insects
Okra
1 mile
825 feet
self, insects
Onion
1 mile
¼ mile
insects
Parsley
1 mile
insects
Pea
50 feet
0 2
self 2
Pepper
500 feet
30 feet
self, insects
Potato
30 feet 3
30 feet 3
self, insects 3
Pumpkin
½ mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Radish
½ mile
660 feet 7
insects
Sorghum
660 feet
self 2
Spinach
5 miles
wind
Squash
½ mile
¼ mile 7
insects
Sunflower
½ to 3 miles
½ mile
insects
Swiss Chard
5 miles
wind
Tomatillo
0 4
30 feet 7
self 2
Tomato
0 4
30 feet
self 2
Turnip
1 mile
660 feet 7
insects
Watermelon
½ mile
¼ mile
insect

Footnotes:

  1. Green amaranths may need only ¼ mile, grain amaranths up to 2 miles.
  2. Potatoes are not commonly reproduced from seed.
  3. See note on tomatoes and beans in the article on Saving Seeds True-to-Type.
  4. "Distance adequate to prevent mechanical mixture is necessary".
  5. Isolation distances for cotton vary from 100' between similar varieties, to ¼ mile between 'upland' and 'Egyptian' types ('foundation' or 'preservation' grade).
  6. Extrapolated from similar species.

A Short Seed Saving Bibliography

A Seed Saving Guide for Gardeners and Farmers, Organic Seed Alliance © 2010 OSA This publication is a free download from organicseedalliance.org. It is a succinct guide with few frills but a great deal of good data. A free publication that is worth paying for! Organic Seed Alliance is a non-profit relying on contributions to fight the invasion of hybrids and GMO seeds in our lives. I suggest throwing a donation their way as they deserve it.

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving , Deppe, Carol © 2000 Chelsea Green This is the most exhaustive and thorough book on the process of seed saving. Written with loving appreciation of seeds like no other book I've ever read, Carol Deppe is at once an authority on seeds and plant breeding and a knowledgeable gardener whose books I snatch up and devour as fast as possible. If you have interest in this field, buy this book now.

Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation, Nabham, Gary Paul, © 2002 North Point Press, Though not strictly about saving seeds, this book, along with almost all of Nabham's books give one the reasons to save seeds. I respect and admire Nabham's work – he writes brilliantly and tells stories we need.


Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys © 2003, Owl Publishing Company, (My copy says 'Henry Holt.') Originally published in 1997, it is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish. It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book makes this to be the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Mother Earth News has the entire book on a CD – you can find it on their website – of course that doesn't duplicate having one's hands on the book, but you will have all the data.


The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer's Guide to Vegetable Seed Production, Navazio, John ©2012, Chelsea Green Publishing This new book was written to fill the void in the marketplace that had no definitive text for professional growers growing seeds organically for the organic seed trade. This is an up and coming market as the world turns more and more to organic produce and growers have begun to realize that seed produced by growers using non-organic methods performs best under non-organic regimens. Suddenly, there is a market for organic seeds and varieties developed to grow in organic gardens. This book is rigorous and is not light reading. Be prepared. But is also chock full of data you will want to know sooner or later.

Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine, Nabhan, Gary Paul © 2008 Shearwater Not a seed saving book, but Nikolay Vavilov's research into the seeds of our foods is fascinating reading and helps ground a reader in the history of seed collecting and the reasons why we want to save seeds from the wilds.

A Seed Saving Glossary

Here are a few words that are used a lot in seed saving and their definitions. This is a good resource for a seed saver, whether just starting out or needing to refresh one's memory. 



This is not a comprehensive glossary, but should define most terms you will find in seed saving literature.
alternate-day caging - A technique that allows two different flowering varieties to be pollinated by insects without being cross-pollinated. Cages constructed of wood, wire, or plastic frames are covered with fine screen. One variety is covered with cages one day, allowing the other to be visited and pollinated by insects; the cages are switched each day to allow insect access to the previously caged variety.
anther - Organ where pollen is produced.
chaff - Broken pieces of dried seed capsules, stems, leaves and other debris mixed in with seeds.
characteristics - General features caused by unidentified complexes of genes including but not limited to freeze tolerance, cold tolerance, regional adaptability, winter hardiness, early maturation, and flavor.
cleaning screen - Screens with different-sized openings are used to separate seeds from chaff. The screen number denotes the number of openings that will cover a one inch line. A screen is selected with openings just large enough to let seeds drop through without the chaff or as in the case of larger seeds, a screen selected to allow the chaff to drop through without the seeds.
cross-pollination - When pollen is exchanged between different flowers from the same or different plants.
dehiscent - A seed capsule opened to discharge seeds is dehiscent. Seeds must be harvested before this process takes place and the seeds are lost. In some varieties, the seed capsules literally explode.
dioecious - A species with male flowers and female flowers on separate plants as opposed to monoecious.
dominant trait - The variation of a specific, identifiable gene that results in obserable traits. For example, tall is a dominant trait in pea plant growth. Crosses with bush varieties will usually result in tall varieties. See "trait."
F1 hybrid - The "F" in F1 hybrid stands for filial or offspring. F1 means the first generation offspring after cross-pollination. The majority of F1 hybrids are sterile or produce offspring unlike themselves. See "hybrid."
F2 hybrid – The second generation offspring and so on.
filament - Tube that supports the anther where pollen is produced.
flail - The process of fracturing or crushing seedpods in order to free the seeds. This can take the form of everything from simply rubbing broccoli pods between your hands to driving over bean vines with a car or bribing high school students to jump up and down on seeds.
flower - The part of a plant where reproduction takes place and seeds are produced.
hybrid - Varieties resulting from natural or artificial pollination between genetically distinct parents. Commercially, the parents used to produce hybrids are usually inbred for specific characteristics.
inbred – reproduction of plants using parents that are significantly similar over time. In some plants this is not a problem (tomatoes and lettuce, for example) as they have flowers with both male and female and are typically fertilized within the flower before it even opens (see 'selfing'); other plants, needing a wide variety of genetic information to remain healthy cannot last long with such a limited gene pool.
inbreeding depression - A loss of vigor because of inbreeding. Inbreeding is the result of self-pollination or pollination between two close relatives.
insect pollination - Pollen is carried from one flower to another by insects.
monoecious - A species is monoecious if it produces single plants with separate male flowers and female flowers on the same plant.
open-pollinated - Open-pollinated varieties are stable varieties resulting from the pollination between the same or genetically similar parents. Not hybrid.
ovary - The female part of a flower that contains the ovules. Fertilized ovules develop into mature seeds.
perfect flowers - Individual flowers that contain both stamens and pistils, that is to say, both male and female parts.
pistil - The female reproductive organ in a flower made up of the stigma, style, and ovary.
pollen - Equivalent of sperm in plants. Pollen grain fertilizes plant ovules.
pollination - The process of sexual fertilization in plants. The male chromosomes contained in pollen are combined with the female chromosomes contained in the ovules; pollination can be done by insects, wind, water, birds or bats. In most vegetable crops pollination is carried out by wind or insects.
recessive trait - The variation of a specific, identifiable gene that results in observable traits only if the dominant trait is not present. For example, wrinkled pea seeds result only in varieties where the dominant smooth-seed trait is missing.
rogue - The process of removing or destroying plants with unwanted characteristics or traits.
selection - The process of saving the seeds from plants that exhibit desirable characteristics and traits. To identify desirable characteristics, plant the same variety in different environmental conditions, or plant different varieties in the same environ mental conditions.
self-pollination (selfing) - When pollination takes place within a single flower, usually before it opens. Other flowers or plants are not needed. Self-pollinating flowers are called "perfect flowers" because they contain the stamens that produce pollen and the pistil that receives the pollen. Isolation distance to prevent cross-pollination is not necessary unless insects are known to invade the flowers before pollination is complete.
silique - Long, tube-like seedpod that splits in half.
stamen - A flower's male reproductive organ consisting of the filament, anther, and pollen.
stigma - The opening in the pistil through which the pollen passes to the ovary.
style - Contains the pollen tube between the stigma and the ovary through which the pollen is carried.
thresh - A term used by growers and seed savers to describe the process of separating seeds from chaff; they can be separating for grain to eat or for seeds to save, the term is ubiquitous.
trait - A specific feature traced to an identifiable gene or group of genes. Pea traits traceable to single genes include vine growth (bush or tall), seed texture (smooth or wrinkled) and disease resistance (fusarium, enation mosaic, and powdery mildew).
viable - A viable seed is one that will germinate and produce a vigorous plant. Seeds must not be harvested before they have matured enough to be viable. There is wide variation in the point of maturity at which a seed can be harvested and the time passing when the seed will still be viable. Seeds have been known to remain viable for hundreds of years, but in practice, many seeds are no longer viable even after five years.
vigor - Strong, vibrant germination and growth. A desirable characteristic.
wind pollination - When pollen is carried from one flower to another by the wind.
winnow – A seed cleaning technique still used from ancient times to clean seeds by moving air from a fan or breeze to separate heavier seeds from lighter chaff.