Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sunday Gardening News! Tomatoes pt. 2 April 17, 2011

This week we'll talk more about tomatoes and the difference between hybrid, heirloom and GMOs.
We'll start with heirlooms.

Heirloom tomatoes, (or peppers or other plants) are called Heirlooms because they are usually older varieties that have been around for a long time. They are vegetables that have developed over many years by gardeners that have saved seed from plants year after year, each year picking the plants with the best traits. Larger harvest, disease or insect resistance, flavor, color, or many other things that a gardener might select for. Eventually seed was refined to a stable plant that would reliably produce similar results year after year.
When you go to save seed from your tomatoes, provided of course they are not hybrids, you want to select for desired traits just like gardeners and farmers have for centuries. You will pick for color, size of fruits, perhaps one plant among many seemed to have fewer or no insects, or one plant did not get a disease when others did. you would then want to pick and save especially from that plant.
heirlooms are plants that you can save seed from.

Hybrids are like mules. A cross between a mare or female horse and a male donkey produces an animal that it long lived, stronger, more sure footed but, it cannot breed. This is true of most hybrid plants as well.
you may save seed from your hybrid Early Girl tomato but, if they produce, they will not produce Early Girl tomatoes but rather some ancestor. Oftentimes a less desirable tomato.
So, hybrids aren't bad. they can often provide you with more yield and disease or insect resistance but you cannot save seed from them and get the same plant next year.
you can, if you like to experiment, grow the parents of Early Girl tomatoes and manually cross them. Tomatoes are self fertile and by the time the little tomato begins to appear they have already been pollinated. If you are interested in learning about cross pollinating tomato and other plants, an excellent book is

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving
by Carol Deppe.

I highly recommend this book for people who want to learn more about plant breeding and seed saving.

GMOs are something else entirely. They NEVER occurr naturally. It would be like crossing a horse with an alligator. you have to go into the gene and take a bit of material out and replace it with something from some other speicies alltogether.
It is not something we can do at home. LOL
The problem with GMOs is that they are organisms that have been invented solely for a profit motive. No one knows what may be the ultimate outcome of pollen from these plants getting into the wild and infecting native plants.
No one knows the long term effects they will have on human beings either.
You are what you eat I think is a good way to sum it up.

At any rate, that is the difference between the three types of seeds. If you want to save seed, pick an heirloom plant that you like and that grows well in your location.
I love Black Russian Cherry tomatoes and have saved seed from them for several years now. ( The picture above has one in it, it's the dark smaller tomato in front. Super tasty! )
So, when I want to save seed, I usually will pick several tomatoes from different plants that I think are nice, and slice them in half and squeeze the pulp with the seeds into a little glass and add room temp water to a couple inches over the pulp. I cover it then with foil or you could use plastic wrap or barring those things just set a little dish on top. The lady in the video below uses coffee filters which work well also. You just want something to keep bugs and things from getting inside.
Set your container in a a safe place and in a few days you will see little bubbles on the surface and scum as well. you can then drain off the water and add fresh to it. Swish it around and you'll see the good seed will sink to the bottom of the container. Drain the water and rinse again. I use a tea strainer to pour the mixture into and let water run over it. Once the seed is nice and cleaned turn it onto a paper towel and let dry.
you'll want the seed to get good and dry. Sometimes I put mine in an open window where the air will blow over it. It will stay there for days usually. Once dry I put mine in paper envelopes and label them.
For a good source of heirloom seeds, the best place to start is oftentimes your own family! Perhaps you have  a grandparent that gardens and they have saved a special vegetable or fruit for years. If that is the case then consider yourself a lucky person! You can try asking older gardening neighbors and friends as well.
One other source is your local farmer's market. Ask what kind of tomato or pepper they have and if it is an heirloom. you can buy the fruits to eat and save seed at the same time! A twofer!
I have gotten seed for Habaneros that way. About 5 years ago now, I found some large yellow cherry tomatoes growing in the corner of a yard of an empty house. I grabbed some and have been growing them ever since. I call them Gold Sunball tomatoes. LOL
I started saving Hickman beans over 30 years ago but when I moved, my seed was lost. I was devastated! They can't be bought anywhere and my first seed came from an old man on Seed Saver's. Then someone on the old forum said she had some and kindly shared with me! That was several years ago and now I have over a half a pound of good seed! I don't remember what member shared with me now, it was someone in Canada, but every year I think of you and thank you for your generosity.
I have gotten seed for Habaneros that way.
You can buy the seed easily on ebay. There are many small farmers and gardeners that that offer seed that they have saved. Some people buy in large quantities and sell small packets as well. I've bought from sellers on ebay for years and have had very good results.
You can try Seed Saver's Exchange for new and interesting varieties and many seed catalogs now offer heirlooms for you to try as well.
Be sure if you buy tomatoes or peppers, that you buy and save from several fruits so that you get a good variety from different plants.
I usually start my tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse about mid Feb. that's  a bit early, but come Feb. I'm pretty hard up for some dirt contact! By the first of May, I have nice big plants ready to set out though and that's part of the fun!
Here is a good video showing how to save tomato seeds. This youtuber has some other great homesteading videos as well.

I may try something new this year, I'm thinking of direct sowing some tomato seed and seeing how fast they come on. Could be interesting and will keep you posted.
At any rate, don't be afraid to try new things. Gardening is not farming, it's not a profit driven drudgery, it is a joy and a labor of love. Approach it like play and you will never tire of it.
Take care and happy gardening!
your friend,


  1. as i dont usually save seed (except such as pumpkin / squash) i dont have much to add...but in tennessee, you should have no trouble direct seeding tomatoes, as i usually have dozens of productive volunteers grow where they grew the previous year, here in ohio...

  2. I think you're right rj. You know, I've never know of anybody that grew tomatoes like that but I don't see any reason why it wouldn't work.
    I'll keep you posted on my tomato experiment! LOL
    Just came in from helping the neighbor set out another bunch of onions and some tomato plants and a few peppers. Fingers crossed that we don't get a freak snow storm in the next couple weeks too. LOL that would be bad.

  3. Thanks for the post mate you have written it very well.