Friday, July 25, 2014

Eggplant Love: Saving Seeds

My favorite eggplant is Rosita. It's gorgeous. I'll show you pictures when my fruit that are currently swelling and coloring are harvested. But despite how special it is and how well it grows in my yard's climate, some years, it's nearly impossible to find commercial sources of seed for it. That's just one of the many reasons it's important for me to save my own seed.

My friend Loretta at Spade and Seeds gave me a Thai Long Green eggplant seedling this year, now growing in the same bed as my Rositas. It's a nice eggplant, too: productive, pretty, and mild. The seedling she gave me blossomed well before my Rositas, the only other eggplant variety in my yard (or on the block, for that matter), so I knew the first fruit it set was isolated and would produce true-to-type seed. I decided to save seed from that fruit to give to her as a thank you for the seedling.

So, I let it grow. And grow. And then it became firm and turned from its lovely soft green to a vibrant gold. The mature fruit means that the seed is now mature as well.

Once I picked it, I brought it inside my shed to work. Though you could do it this way, it'd likely be very tedious to dissect an eggplant, using tweezers to dig out every small seed. So, I tried to be more efficient. Using a box grater, I grated the bottom third of the fruit into a large bowl. Grating the flesh loosens it up enough for the flesh to separate from the seeds. Checking to make sure I had grated all the flesh that held seeds, I poked around in the flesh above the bottom third of the fruit, but the only seeds to be found were in the bottom.

I added some water the bowl to help separate the flesh and the seeds even more. The flesh floats in water, while healthy seeds sink, so the two fall away from each other. Here, my summer intern is holding the bowl up to the shed's ceiling so you can see how the seeds have settled on the bottom of the bowl.

We used our bare hands and scooped up most of the floating flesh. Some still remained, so I added water, swirled the mixture together, and while swirling, carefully poured off the water and the floating flesh. That left us with almost-clean seeds.

After another couple swirl-and-pours, the seeds were completely free of residual flesh.

We plopped the seeds on a labeled sheet of parchment paper (the seeds won't stick to it as they dry). 

When they're completely dry, I'll package them up and give them to Loretta. She'll be able to grow quite a few children of her gift to me next year. Later this summer, I'll repeat the process for an isolated Rosita fruit. Never will I be unable to find seed for my favorite eggplant.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tomato Love: Saving Seeds

When you find a tomato variety you just have to grow again because it is so delicious, or when you find an individual tomato plant that stands out above its sisters in health and productivity, you can save seeds to keep this plant's true-to-type children in your garden for years to come.

Here's how you do it:

Early in the season, when the flower buds are strong but not yet blooming, place a poly "wedding favor bag" around a flower bunch prevent any cross pollination. If a flower sets fruit inside the bag—remember, tomatoes are perfect flowers and can fertilize themselves—remove the bag and place a twist tie or similar on the stem. That is the fruit you'll save seeds from, as you know it will be pure, without any crossing with any other variety.

Once the fruit ripens to dead-, soft-, almost-exploding-all-over-itself-ripe, remove it from the plant and bring it somewhere you can work. Cut the fruit open and slip the pockets of seed and gel into a small bowl or mug, scooping out as many seeds as you can. Feel free to slurp up any remaining tongues of flesh you have left over after scooping out seeds.

Add a splash of water to the small bowl of seeds and gel so you have at least a quarter cup of liquid. Set the bowl somewhere warm but not in the sun—in an unused part of your kitchen (yeah, right), or perhaps in a shed or shady, protected place. Let the bowl set and grow mold. Depending on the temperature and time of year, that floating layer of mold can take anywhere from a day to three. If it's hot, like it is here in the summers, add water if it looks like the bowl is drying out before mold forms. Why the heck do you need to do this? Each seed in a fresh tomato sits in a tiny purse of its own gel that contains a hormone preventing the tomato from germinating inside the warm, wet fruit while it's still on the plant. However, after falling to the ground, a tomato rots, and that rotting process frees the seed from it's protective pillow, allowing it to germinate when the weather, moisture, and warmth are right. When we save seeds ourselves, we've got to emulate the rotting process by using very ripe fruit, collecting seed, and letting it mold over.

Once a thin layer of mold forms over the surface of the tomato-seed liquid, add a little more water to make it easier to work with, then carefully pour off most of the liquid. You'll have a collection of healthy seeds on the bottom of the bowl, where they've sunk. Add some more water to the bowl and swirl it around, then dump the contents of the bowl into a small, fine mesh strainer. Rinse the seeds under running water, agitating the seeds as necessary to free any clinging clumps of flesh. After the seeds are free of debris and drained, gently dump them on a piece of parchment paper.

Use pencil to label the variety name on the parchment paper, and place the paper somewhere inside your house to dry. A couple times a day, stir and break apart any clumps of seeds that form. The seeds are like velcro, and they'll want to stick to each other.

If you live somewhere warm and dry, like we do, the seeds will be thoroughly dry in a week or ten days; somewhere else, you may need to wait longer for the seeds to completely dry.

Once dry, place them in a labeled container that works for you (small sealing ziplock bags, little snapping boxes screws come in, tiny jars), and place that container somewhere even-temperatured and dark, where the seeds can survive with decent viability for seven years.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gone Missing

I'm here.

I'm having a busy, exciting, delicious summer.

I'll be back soon.