Once seeds are on your radar to save for the coming year it would do you well to plan ahead to ensure you are doing the best you can. More specifically, that means to make sure the varieties you want to save from don’t cross pollinate with other varieties of the same crop. There are many books and Internet sources available that will help you with that and you will find some of the things to keep in mind at Homeplace Earth.
Saving seeds can be as broad and as limiting an activity as you make it to be. I know people who are really exact in their methods with the notion to keep the line of seeds they are saving pure. Others plant out their crops with a more relaxed attitude, paying some attention to isolation distances to keep things from crossing; but it isn’t the end of the world for them if it does. Actually, you can develop your own varieties that way—unique to you and to your place. If you are saving seeds only for yourself, whatever works for you is okay. If you are saving seeds to share with others, you need to make your methods clear so there are no surprises. Some people receiving your seeds may be up for an adventure and some may not.
Seed savers have the power to change a crop just by the criteria they use to choose which plants to save from. You could choose to save from certain plants because of earliness or lateness of harvest, size, color, shape, taste, etc. I was familiar with all of those things, but not so familiar with someone choosing to save from a plant because of the number of seeds produced.
If you grow paste tomatoes you probably know that they often have fewer seeds than other tomatoes. That is an advantage if you don’t want to deal with seeds in your tomato sauce. When I can tomato sauce the seeds get strained out in the process with a Foley Food Mill or a Victoria Strainer. When I dry tomatoes, however, the seeds are still there when I put the dried pieces in the jars in the pantry. Tomatoes that are easy for me to put in my solar dryers are Principe Borghese. Although the seed catalog states 78 days to maturity for this variety, it is my experience that the harvest starts in about 60 days from transplanting and continues at a fast pace for a month. By that time my other tomato varieties are producing well and I dry those, but am comforted by the amount I was able to put up already with Principe Borghese. As you can see in the top photo, this variety has a lot of seeds.
I was moved to try Long Tom tomatoes because it is a meaty tomato, good for drying, and the catalog named the grower—it was my friend Barbara. Long Tom takes much longer to start producing (85-90 days), but has very few seeds, which is an advantage when using dried tomatoes for sauce. Of course, if seeds are your harvest to sell to a catalog, it would take a lot more Long Tom tomatoes to make your quota of seeds than it would a tomato like Principe Borghese. I’m glad I only need to save a small amount of Long Tom seeds to plant back each year. I ran into Barbara at a farm field day and took the opportunity to tell her that I was growing Long Tom for drying and liked the fact that it had few seeds. She responded that, since she has to have enough to sell, she had been selecting for more seeds per tomato. I had a good laugh about that. I can see her point as a seed grower, but was happy that I could control the criteria used to save the seeds at my place.
The first week in May I’ll be meeting up with serious seed savers and sharers at the First International Seed Library Forum in Tucson, Arizona. No doubt, there will be a lot of seed stories to share. Seed saving and sharing has become quite popular and seed libraries are opening all over the U.S. and beyond. If you haven’t been saving seeds, I invite you to begin this adventure in your garden this year.
Cindy Conner is the author of Seed Libraries and Grow a Sustainable Diet and has produced DVDs about garden planning and managing cover crops with hand tools. Learn more about what she is up to at Homeplace Earth.