I'm sorry to see the vegetable garden coming to an end.
Oh, sure, there are still the late season peas and beans, carrots and new plantings of spinach and garlic to winter over. There are still the end of the season chores to do, such as clean and store empty containers, sharpen and oil garden tools, prepare beds for early spring sowing of cool weather plants.
But let's face it. By now, much of what we nursed along, not to mention kept weeded and watered through the heavy heat of summer, is now looking pretty tired. Some of us may be tired too.
"I'm ready for winter," my husband said a few days ago.
He's tired, too, of mowing and trimming, of hauling hoses, building and rebuilding garden beds, and pretty much all outdoor maintenance.
We still have about a month, three weeks at the very least, of active growing season. There are watermelon and pumpkins in the garden not ready to give it up just yet. There are tomatoes on the vines and the one crookneck squash plant is still producing more than we can handle.
In anticipation of cooler, not to mention downright cold, weather on its way, I've been thinking of saving seeds, putting food by for winter and bulb planting.
That's how it is in late August / early September. There is still more work ahead.
The height of every summer backyard garden isn't the onions or garlic, or even the mountains of zucchini and rows of green beans. It is the first ripe tomato. And this season, I had the pleasure of meeting avid tomato growers who not only let me in on their secrets, but allowed me to share them.
So this was the year I saved my own tomato seeds. In years past, I've always either bought plants or started my own seeds from packets I've purchased from my favorite catalogs. Now with the advice of experienced seed savers, only time will tell if my first attempt is successful.
Just like any other plant, a tomato's job is to reproduce in one way or another and nature provides for whatever is needed to accomplish that feat. Tomato seeds are encased in a gelatinous matter that protects them. In order for the seeds to become viable, that gelatinous matter must ferment. Here's how it's done:
- Scoop the seeds out of your favorite heirloom tomato with your clean fingers or a spoon. Don't attempt this with a hybrid, which is a first year cross between two varieties. You will almost never get the same plant you started with.
- Put the gelatin-encased seeds in a small container or jar and add a small bit of water. Cover with plastic wrap to keep out the gnats but do poke a small hole in the top to allow some air to get inside.
- Put the jar on a windowsill or on top of the refrigerator where it's warm and wait at least four to five days for the fermentation process to take place. You'll know when the seeds start dropping to the bottom of the jar and there is a slight scum on top of the mixture.
- When it looks ready, use a spoon to scoop away the scum and pour the mixture into a fine sieve. Rinse the seeds well several times. Spread them on a ceramic or other fine surfaced plate and allow them to dry completely. You also can use wax paper, but if you use paper towels, napkins or paper plates, you might become frustrated when the seeds stick.
- Once completely dry, store the seeds in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for the winter. I store my leftover seeds in the refrigerator.
Some important things to note include; the seeds must be completely dry. Any moisture will penetrate the seeds and cause them to rot.
The seeds from one batch of heirlooms are now drying in my kitchen, high up on top of a china cabinet, on a plate. When they are completely dry, they will go into an envelope and into the glass jar I keep in the refrigerator with all the other seeds I didn't use this season.