Category Archives: tomatoes

Harvest For the Future

samples selected for seed saving

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It seems wise – and maybe genetically prudent – that I should use the best samples from my harvest for saving seed. I try to find the most robust plant and its fruits for this task. The tomatoes that seem to resist cracking and disease and yet taste the best are selected. The least alien-shaped green peppers with the best taste are my “targets” for seed saving. Other qualifiers for my future harvests include:

• samples with the best color
• early fruits
• large fruits but not gigantic samples
• best taste trumps most other considerations

This is the first time in my gardening season that I think seriously about the next year. It’s just part of the cycle of the gardener’s life.

Anyone needing some information on saving seeds would do well to visit Seed Savers Exchange.

As a result of some friends on the Seed Savers Forum I am revising this post to add some information that I had forgotten and, in some cases, just didn’t know.

Dreyadin from the SSE Forum reminded me that it’s important to make an effort to keep the characteristics of a strain true to type. In other words, it would be counter productive to pick atypical samples such as those that may be very large, oddly-shaped, or extremely early or late. You more than likely originally picked seeds that produce fruits you like. There’s no reason to try to change them.

He further says, “Just keeping an eye out that you are selecting from healthy plants also is a factor.. in a situation where the plant may be effected one year, and if you have limited recourse.. there are a few methods to help try to decontaminate the seed.. but the result is usually a serious decrease in percentage of viable seeds left over.” Also, ” (It’s) always good to make sure you really clean equipment between batches just in case. Better safe than sorry.”

Finally, Dreyadin brings up a point that my photo seems to contradict. He says, “Just in the case of some peppers you use at the green stage.. you want those to fully ripen before collecting seed from them.” The photo does not completely represent vegetables selected for seed saving. My pole beans and green peppers are way too green for this purpose. Also, the two smaller yellow crook-neck squash are for eating while the larger almost-a-gourd one has mature seeds. I just thought the pole beans looked nicer in the photo than the brown ones I have been using for seed saving.

I use a fermentation process to rid my tomato seeds of pathogens. Dreyadin points to some more drastic means of doing this. He says, “The other methods to try to get rid of some of the more harsh pathogens are hot water treatment… bleach treatment.. and TSP (trisodium phosphate) treatment to name a few. They are all harsh.. the hot water one is the least toxic.. but regardless.. big loss in viability. Those are used in attempts to try to get rid of some of the diseases that get past the gel.. but Tobacco Mosiac Virus.. yer pretty much screwed as it gets right into the embryo.”

Again, thanks Dreyadin.

The revision also begs an additional photo…

Kentucky Wonder pole beans ready for saving

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Picked Ten Minutes Ago

These might be good with olive oil & garlic… maybe on the grill – Do you have any recipes?

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First Blush

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The first hint of color came on just one of my cherry roma tomatoes this morning. I’ve been waiting since March 11 for this. Also, I had no idea that these plants were so large – just about seven feet tall so far. It’s those healthy SSE seeds, I guess.

Close inspection of the photo will show an aphid enjoying the view too. Is that drool coming out of his mouth? His buddy is in the next photo.

cherry roma tomato with a little color


aphid on tomato plant

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The Urban Garden

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With today’s post I want to introduce some gardens other than my own.
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Two of my “city kids” have gardens. Andy is in Pilsen in Chicago and Jesse is in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. They both have very limited space for growing vegetables but that doesn’t seem to stop them from rather ambitious plantings.

Andy says, “It’s really amazing just how much you can grow if you have enough room and decide to devote enough space for plants. I’ll be totally set with tomatoes for the summer with three plants. Oh wait, actually four plants.”

In addition to the tomatoes Andy is growing:

    • habañero and jalapeño plants from seeds Jesse gave him from last year’s plants

    • herbs: thyme and basil

    • a two-year old strawberry plant that hasn’t yet produced any fruit

    • mustard greens

    • a forget-me-not plant

It’s important to note that all of Andy’s plants are inside his second-floor apartment in front of his large north-facing windows.

Andy says, “I’ve been using Terracycle plant food, which is the worm crap fertilizer and it has worked pretty well. I also like how they recycle old plastic pop bottles for the packaging. I guess one thing about container gardening is that you have to keep up with watering because the dirt in containers dries out very quickly.”

Andy's Chicago garden

Jesse also has an amazing garden in a very small space. I asked him last evening if he could send me a photo. He answered this way,

    i saw your message and directly went and shot a photo of my tomato plants. there was supposed to be a storm tonight and this was just as the rain started coming down. those are in my bedroom window. they are growing strong, but they have not fruited yet. many brown leaves. perhaps i am not watering enough? i have a feeling this is it. nothing i have is in the ground and i think the water runs out quickly. it is also possibly very crowded. i have five large plants in my window. in my other bedroom/office/darkroom window i have my squashes and one other tomato plant. they are doing similar. the squashes have been fruiting slightly, but they have fallen off when they do :(. i will keep at it.

Jesse also notes that container plants need to be watered more often than ground plantings. I would also add that tomato plants are self-pollinating. That is, they don’t need insects to pollinate. They DO, however, need wind or something to make this happen. With indoor tomato and pepper plants you may need to tap the flowers gently to get them to pollinate. Some people use an electric toothbrush to make this happen! Since Jesse’s are on an outside window cage he should be fine. I do wonder a little about Andy’s north light for tomatoes! And… wait a minute… Did Jesse actually say that he has squash plants in his window?

Jesse's Brooklyn garden as the rain begins to fall

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Tomato Blight is Here!

Is this tomato blight?

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There is a disturbing article out of Rodale, the publishers of Organic Gardening, that tomato blight has been confirmed in several states. For tomato growers, both farmers and home gardeners, this is no small thing. This is the same disease that caused the mid-19th century Irish potato famine.

I suggest that you read Rodale’s article and do exactly what they say if you find symptoms of tomato blight in your own garden.

I am not sure that the photos taken in my garden this afternoon pictured here show evidence of tomato blight. I will research it further. In the mean time you might want to take a look at the Rodale article and then take a look at your tomato plants.

An Update Today…
I’ve come across a pretty good video for those wishing to identify late blight. This piece filmed last year for the University of Wisconsin – Madison is helpful in not only the description of late blight but also has information as to how to destroy the plants. Not all options given are organic but information for organic growers is offered. -Bill

Is this tomato blight?

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Brushing My Tomatoes’ Teeth

Brandywine (Sudduth's Strain) tomato


There are a lot of stages of growth in a garden. Waiting for seeds to germinate, seeing the first “true” leaves, and finding the first squash blossom are landmarks I look forward to each year. Probably my favorite is finding the first tomato.

I have been reading recently on the Seed Savers Exchange forum that the Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain) variety has some, well… difficulties. Half of my tomatoes are – you guessed it – Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain). Posters have been using words like “temperamental” and “difficult” regarding this variety. One even called it “legendarily temperamental.” One poster suggested using an electric toothbrush a couple of times a day to vibrate the flower clusters. This is “to allow the pollen to fall from the anthers onto the stigma.”

So I’m to brush my tomato plants’ “teeth” two times a day, huh. Gosh, I hope they don’t need flossing. It is actually nice to know that there are ways to pollinate plants when ideal weather conditions or lack of bees cause fruit to not set. This situation could certainly be encountered by both greenhouse and high-rise patio gardeners. Although tomatoes are essentially self pollinating, some varieties may need a little help. I really recommend the knowledgeable people on the Seed Savers and Organic Gardening forums

I’m happy to report that my tomato plants seem to have produced tomatoes without the toothbrush routine. This weekend I came upon first tomatoes of each of the three varieties I grew.

As usual, I’d welcome any stories about your gardens.

** an update from one of my Seed Savers forum friends regarding the tomato pictured above – “…as is very typical with Brandywine Sudduth’s and other varieties of that era, you can see that that’s 2 merged blossoms. You’ve got a double! That could produce a VERY large tomato.”

Cherry Roma tomato

Red Brandywine tomato

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My Spring Break is Over

my grandson's cousin enjoys some baby carrots

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I made an obvious decision to forgo writing about and photographing my garden so far this year. It was a nice break that actually allowed me to enjoy getting my patch of green off and running without the encumbrances of camera and computer. Gardening is a messy business and I recall last year finding sudden inspiration while having muck up to my elbows. Dashing to the camera or computer in such a state required significant clean up which somewhat interrupted the flow of both the gardening AND the inspiration. This year when inspiration came I simply said, “Eh…” and returned to pulling weeds in the rain.

A friend on Facebook asked me “What do you have in your garden?” That’s my reason for returning to this.

I am experimenting with new varieties of mostly heirloom vegetables. This year I have purchased nearly all my seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, an organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage. With any luck this year’s garden will contain:

Kentucky Wonder Pole Beans from SSE – This is a wonderful old standby that I grew in my first garden in 1973. It’s the only bean I’ve ever grown. For next year I have my eyes on some Rattlesnake Snap beans. I don’t think I can resist “dark green pods that are streaked with purple – very fine flavor.” I like the name too.

Wisconsin Lakes Pepper from SSE – I’ve always grown California Wonder peppers but wanted an heirloom variety with seeds I can save for next year.

Jalapeño Peppers from Burpee – just one plant in a bucket from last year’s left over seeds

Summer Crookneck Squash from SSE – I love the nutty flavor.

Burpee’s Fordhook Zuccini – I used some leftover seeds from last year.

Sweet Dumpling Winter Squash – I got these seeds from my son who grew them in Brooklyn.

Purple Top White Globe Turnip from SSE – I’ll plant a fall crop of these too.

Scarlet Nantes Carrot from SSE – I’ve finally discovered that the secret to growing carrots is deeply-tilled ground.

Cherry Roma Tomato from SSE – These are replacing my Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes from the last two years. We’ll see…

Red Brandywine Tomato from SSE – These are replacing my Better Boy Hybrids from Burpee. Those were pretty good but I want to save my seeds for next year and I can’t do that with hybrids.

Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain) Tomato from SSE -another experiment in flavor and seed saving

Calabrese Broccoli from SSE – I was looking for larger heads this year which I didn’t get from the DeCicco variety I grew last year.

Giant Noble Spinach from American Seed – These are left-over seeds from last year. My twenty-month old grandson likes this!

Lettuce a variety of nine lettuces including a Gourmet Blend from Burpee, Black-Seeded Simpson, Burpee Bibb, and Roman Emperor (romaine)

Mary Washington and Jersey Giant Asparagus from crowns I purchased at Home Depot

Please feel free to leave comments, questions, useful information or idle chat below. Maybe you can tell me what’s in your garden. There is more to come. I promise.

And thanks for asking, Mark.

Also posted in experiments, Jesse's Brooklyn garden, lettuce, seeds, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Jesse’s Brooklyn Garden Begins!

I think I’m more excited about Jesse’s garden this year than my own. I’m always curious as to not only what he will plant but how he will plant it. He has very little space in his urban setting but it doesn’t stop him from thinking big.

Large cities are notorious for their dismissive views on recycling programs. I know this is true for Chicago and Jesse tells me that it is the same in NYC. Our “city” kids – one in Chicago, one in San Francisco and Jesse in NY have always found ways to recycle and be a little more responsible about these things than their respective cities generally care about. (One exception would be San Francisco.) Jesse likes to find recycled containers for his garden.

This past weekend Jesse spent some time assembling his garden. Using compostable egg crates rather than peat pots as containers for planting his seeds he was able to re-use what would have gone directly into the garbage. I’ve warned him that these can work well but need some holes in the bottom to aid root growth before transplanting. The egg-crate planters were placed into Jesse’s darkroom trays (yes, he’s a photographer too) to hold water for bottom watering and for ease of moving them around. The photos below show his seeds before they were pushed into the seed-starting mix.

Jesse also used recycled bits of cardboard to label his delicata, heirloom tomato, habañeros, sweet dumpling winter squash and pumpkin seeds. He has no idea what variety of tomatoes they are. They were labeled “heirloom tomatoes” at a local market and he described them as “delicious.” I like his adventuresome spirit.

As you can see below, Jesse is proactively recycling. He bought eggs so he’d have the crates which necessitated his having to find a (recycled) container for the eggs! And of course, those are old film containers holding his seeds. Atta boy, Jesse.

I’m sure we’ll hear from Jesse occasionally about his garden’s progress. I’d love to hear from others who are experimenting with “urban planting.”

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seeds on seed-starting mix


seeds and seed containers


recycled garden


eggs new home

Also posted in experiments, Jesse's Brooklyn garden, planting, pumpkins, seeds, urban gardens

Planting Time?

Planting time can sneak up on you. If you simply look out the window and wait until you see robins pulling up worms and see some daffodils to plant your garden you can miss a lot of the fun – and cost savings – of planting inside.

It’s not at all early to begin planting, depending on where you are and what you are planting. Indoor planting can begin right now for things like peppers which are slow to get started. Tomatoes could be planted at the same time but usually a little later. I like to plant some marigolds so they’re almost ready to bloom when I put them in the ground.

I’ve come upon a pretty handy and quite reliable source that serves as a good reminder of what to plant when. This is the 2010 Best Planting Dates for Seeds from the Old Farmer’s Almanac. All you need to do is to fill in your town or zip code and information based on average last frost date is there for most things you might wish to plant. There is even a separate date listed as “Moon-favorable Dates.” Having lived on the ocean I am aware of the power of the moon to change tides so I guess it could have some effect on plants. I haven’t paid much attention to this myself.

So what are you planting? Just shoot me a comment (below) and let me know. Should I experiment with comparing “Moon-favorable Dates” plantings with regular dates?
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Just a little update on this post…
“Pogo,” one of the knowledgeable people on the Organic Gardening forum reacted wisely to my mention of the Best Planting Dates for Seeds information. She said, “…All these predictors are based on probability. Generally it isn’t a date, but a range with a certain probability of freezing or not. I like this map (from NOAA) because it gives the probability of both frost (32) and freeze (28). How far you push the dates just depends on how much risk you want to take.”

Even in a very small area that date can be different depending on if you are on the north side of a mountain or the south side; if you are right on the shore or on a nearby rise overlooking that same spot. The date for a valley can be different than the date for the adjoining two rises.

Your own records for YOUR location are the best yet not perfect when it comes to determining the date of the last frost for you.

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“Huge Pumpkins up to 70″ Around!”

My seeds from Seed Savers Exchange

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Last year’s successes have emboldened me enough to expand the garden. For the first time I’ve saved some seeds from last year to plant this year. Jesse brought some seeds from Brooklyn at Christmas that I’m anxious to plant and today I got some pumpkin seeds that will give me “huge pumpkins, up to 70″ around!”

I’ve taken a different approach to seed selection. Last year I picked up seeds on sale from Ace and Home Depot. This year I’ve done that again but I’ve also investigated some of the seed companies that specialize in heirloom and rare varieties. I have also taken a look at some of the companies that sell primarily to commercial producers. Those companies that maintain their own test lots and labs and trial grounds and whose germination rates exceed federal standards are the places I want to shop for seeds. Although there are others, I’ve taken a close look at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Territorial Seed Company, Stokes Seeds Ltd. and Parks Seed Company which has a wonderful Gardeners Handbook.

This year my favorite resource for seeds is the Seed Savers Exchange. This is a non-profit organization that saves and shares heirloom seeds. It is the largest non-governmental seed bank in the United States. They have 23 acres of certified organic preservation gardens. Their site itself contains a wealth of information on all aspects of gardening as well as seed saving and trading. Even their seed packets have instructions for seed saving . The Seed Savers Exchange is the source of the seeds photographed above.

Let me know if you’ve come upon a favorite seed source.

And yes, I know I already used this photo.

Also posted in Jesse's Brooklyn garden, planting, pumpkins, seeds, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |