Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tomatoes for Next Year: Saving Seeds

About a week and a half ago I started the process of saving some of my heirloom tomato seeds.  Make sure they are heirlooms or open-pollinated, because hybrids won't work.  After choosing a healthy beautiful specimen of each type, I extracted the seeds.  Picking a large, healthy tomatoes with qualities you like is important.  The seeds will replicate the characteristics of the parent tomato when they grow into a plant.

After cutting the tomato in half around its middle, or its 'equator', you can scoop out some seeds and put them into a cup or other container.  Then you cover them with 2-3 inches of water.

This is what my seeds looked like after they sat for 4-5 days. I labeled each cup so that I would remember which seeds were which.  You might wonder why you can't just take the seeds out of the tomato and dry them out.  I learned that you have to complete a 'fermentation' process to dissolve the gel coating that is around the seeds.  Unless this gel coating is removed, the seeds are not likely to germinate the next year when you plant them. A rotting tomato on the ground is implementing the process on its own.  We replicate it indoors so that we can plant the seeds when and where we want them in the spring.

The plastic wrap over the top (with holes poked in it) helps the liquid ferment faster.  You might even want to set the cups in a warm area to speed the process along. It gets very stinky!  But don't worry...that means you're doing it right. Take off the covering and stir it once a day until it is done (usually 4-5 days).

When it is time to get them out, pour the seeds and their stinky juices through a strainer of some kind.  The strainer has to have really little holes so you don't lose your seeds down the drain. Make sure to get rid of any remaining gel.  I didn't see any gel left on my seeds.  Then I dumped the seeds out onto a paper plate.  You could also use a coffee filter or paper towel.  I spread out the seeds and marked each plate with the name of the seed. 

When the seeds are all dried, a few days later, you can store them for next year.  I put those little silicone gel packets in with my seeds to keep them from mildewing over the winter.

These are a few of the varieties I saved this year.  Of course, my new favorite, Purple Cherokee.  The one on the left is more ripe.  The picture doesn't even do justice to the beautiful deep purple color it becomes.  You'll have to excuse my pictures.  I forgot to take pictures until after I had already chopped my tomatoes open and removed their seeds.  So I had to take pictures of the less ripe versions. 

These are the beautiful speckled romans.  I have heard some people say that it doesn't have a unique flavor and doesn't produce well, but I got quite a few of these on my plants.  When they are fully ripe, they look fantastic sliced on a plate.  And of course, they are a wonderful sauce tomato.  Imagine a really long fat roma trying to look like a hot pepper.

This is my unknown, unnamed yellow tomato.  I could NOT find it in my garden journal.  So I have no idea what it is, but it turns almost orange when it is fully ripe.  My guess would be Nebraska Wedding tomato.  A pretty tomato with nice solid color. Most of these didn't crack too bad...nor did the Purple Cherokee. 

I think this might be Early Cascade. It is a volunteer I found growing in my garden in April (in IOWA), that's what a weird winter we had. I found a card in the garden from the previous owner that said Early Cascade, so I'm guessing this is one.  Not spectacular as far as tomatoes go, but a decent producer.  Not always very big, either, but cherry red and dependable.  It won't win any awards in my book.

I also saved La Romas, but forgot to take a picture of those.  These are the beautiful black cherry tomatoes.  They make a wicked pretty jar of diced tomatoes. They have a fresh, acid-y taste, and their color fades from green to almost black in places.  I will be saving seeds from these in my 2nd round.

I have to thank all my twitter friends who gave me advice on this subject, including all the tweeps at #gardenchat.  Also, Colleen Vanderlinden wrote a wonderful step by step guide that I consulted before embarking on this project.  You can check it out here

I have saved seeds before, but this is my first year saving seeds from tomatoes.  I look forward to seeing if the seeds germinate and make delicious tomatoes next year in this mom's garden!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Unnamed Tomato

Okay, I am confused.  I have two tomatoes here, and I am sure that ONE of them is Mr. Stripey.  At first, I thought it was the one on the left.  A beautiful tomato in itself....very firm, large, little cracking, nice orange color.  However, today I found the tomato on the right.  While it is still a little green...I think it is the actual Mr. Stripey.  Let's examine evidence piece #2.

When I flip them over, I believe the 2nd one has the telltale 'stripes' of Mr. Stripey.  Which is fine, it is also a beautiful hefty tomato.  But this leaves me with a problem.

What is the first tomato?  My friend @erynia from twitter gave me many plants, but I don't think this is one she gave me.  I also bought a few random tomato plants at the greenhouse, which is where I think this one came from.  What is it then?  I would be very grateful for help identifying it, because it is a very nice-tasting one.  Is it orange enough to be Nebraska Wedding Tomato?  I can't remember if I picked one of those up or not.  May seems so long ago.  Maybe I wrote it in my garden journal.

These are black cherry tomatoes....I just think they are lovely. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

Iowa State Fair: Visit #1

When we went to the fair was 96 degrees.  If that doesn't sound bad enough for you...the heat index was like 110!  But we are HARD CORE we went anyways. I took the little camera, which needs to be replaced, so bear with me on the slightly fuzzy photos at times, but there was no way I was dragging the big clunky one around. First of all, I love to take pics in the master gardener garden area.  I am SO doing this either this year or next.  I will probably have to wait til next year.  It is so cute.  And those are plastic pots, so this could be done very cheaply. 

I love these colors! The purple, red, and yellow are so bold!  I always like to get ideas when I am here.

I don't know these people, I'll admit, but they are so cute.  It was late afternoon and I caught them having a little break.  I personally don't know how they could lean on each other at those temperatures.  My guy and I are usually pretty snuggly...but we could not stand to hardly touch because we were sweating so bad.

My son enjoyed the firetruck simulation.  All the stuff inside the truck works, or seems to work, and he can hear scanner traffic inside the headphones. Below...this is me attempting to feed this deer-like creature in the petting zoo. You can see through the progression of photos my reaction to how slimy this creatures tongue was...The last one is kind of blurry but you can see my face, I think.

This is a really horrible cellphone pic I took of me and my guy.  We were really, really sweaty, and I actually was unsure about including it.

Finally, more pics of beautiful mass plantings at the fair. You might notice if you read my blog regularly that they have a lot of the same plants that I do...or maybe I have a lot of the same plants they do.  I shop at the master gardener sale every year, and that is the same stock they use for the fairgrounds garden.

Look! Castor bean plants that are staked up and not leaning painfully to one side.  Sigh.  I am going to have to buy a metal pole driver thing and stake mine up.  None of my regular stakes are strong enough.

Stay tuned for more posts on the fair...I plan on going three more times! Do you visit the fair in your state?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - Cool Stuff at the Botanical Center

(This is the same cactus, blooming back in January.  I never noticed the sign before)

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Wind Blows in Iowa

This is one of my gorgeous castor bean plants before Sunday night.

This is my castor bean plant AFTER Sunday night.  We had a heck of a storm.  I didn't realize the winds were blowing so hard until the next morning.  What I did notice was the extreme lightning show.  It went all night without a break.  When I got up this morning and looked out the window I saw destruction.  All the castor bean plants were flat on the ground. 

Luckily, they weren't snapped off...just horizontal.  I was really worried because they were so beautiful and most of them are 8-9 feet tall.  I had to leave really early (630 AM), to pick up my son, do errands all day, and then church meetings.  So, I didn't have time to try and stake them up, plus everything was soaking wet anyways.  I just hoped it wouldn't be too late by the time I got home, even if there was enough daylight left to do anything.

However, I didn't realize how heavy a castor bean plant a human being.  I could barely hold up the plants.  It was like trying to prop up a body with a dowel rod.  So I start looking around for what I have that is really heavy.  I had to get creative with a brass headboard.

This one got a stepladder.  Hopefully, the root system is strong enough that after a day or two I can take away the propping devices.  I think they can be saved, thank goodness. 

On the other hand, there was no hope for my tippy pot planter.  It was smashed and broken on the patio.

You can see the wind blew the planter over, and it completely BENT the rebar.  And to top it all off, the whole mess landed on my favorite coleus and broke half of it off.

I even had hibiscus branches snapped off at the base, and one of my cosmos that was about ready to bloom.  I was really hacked off, to say the least.  Mother nature can be really frustrating sometimes...

Have you had storm damage in your garden this summer?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Our Day at Blank Park Zoo

The zoo in Des Moines is not a super big one, but it is a very nice zoo.  Today, we did and saw about everything it had to offer. I got my son an adventure pass...a punch card that enabled him to do all the extras that I am usually too cheap to pay for...I mean, too frugal. His first adventure was feeding the giraffe.  He was VERY uncertain about this.  I had to push him a little to hand the lettuce over.  I guess any animal that can lick the bridge of its own nose is a little intimidating. 

On the way out of Africa, we saw a very HAPPY looking ostrich. I guess it was hot, and it was panting through its mouth...but it looked like it was smiling a big, dumb smile...

Now this guy I found in the petting zoo area.  He is quite the looker.  A face only a mother could love, and maybe not even then.  My son absolutely refused to feed this one, and I don't blame him.  I put the snacks on the rail and backed away quickly. 

The baby goats, however, were another story. My son couldn't resist sharing some treats with this little guy.

The koi are always a favorite.  He loves to dump a bunch of food in and get them to pile up in a feeding frenzy.  He giggled half the time he was feeding them.

Next stop, the camel ride.  These camels were rather soft and nice smelling, for, well, camels.  We kept petting the baby that was tied nearby.  My son wanted to do it again, but at 5 dollars a pop, I don't think so.

We took time to cool off under the elephant fountain.  Motion activated, of course.

However, I think our favorite for the day was the budgie house.  Budgies are little parakeets, and they are simply delightful.  You walk into a large bird cage, and you are given a stick with suet and seeds on the end.  When you hold up the stick, the birds come and land on you, to get their treat.  My son had as many as 3 birds on him at one time; I even got 2 or 3 to land on me, and I didn't even have a stick!  They were beautiful little things, so delicate and pretty. 

One of them had quite the love affair with my bracelet for about 5 minutes, before he decided it wasn't going to go anywhere. 

Sorry for the low video quality...this is from my cell phone.  Have you had any adventures this summer?
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