Seed savers legacy

Many long time gardeners have tried to save seeds only to let them go after a year or two. There’s been a few times in years past when, for one reason or another, I’ve let varieties slip through my fingers.

The best luck I’ve had is keeping my own variety of tomato seeds for years, as I’ve written about in past blog posts. But that pales in comparison to a gardener in a nearby community who died recently. He left behind a collection of seeds that he had been saving for decades. Over 60 varieties of heritage annuals, biennials and vegetable seeds are in this treasure trove.

All of that valuable plant genetics could have been lost in a single year if not for a group of like-minded gardeners. Several of his friends got together and came up with a plan to save the work of that dedicated seed saver.

Each person took a few varieties and agreed to grow them. Then, at the end of the season, they would harvest the seeds and share them with the rest of the group. That way no one particular gardener had to take on the responsibility of growing all 60 varieties.

Many of those plant varieties were around before the gardener was born. The seeds passed into his hands for awhile, he nurtured and propagated  them. Now they are passing into new hands.

What a terrific gift to pass on to a new generation.


Grow sweet potato slips

I’ve started growing some sweet potato vines that I will use to take cuttings for planting sweet potatoes. These cuttings are more commonly known as slips.

It’s not always easy to find sweet potato slips to plant when you need them. In years past I’ve had to visit a few garden centers before finally tracking them down. Calling ahead doesn’t always seem to help either.

The best way to be sure you have sweet potatoes to plant is to grow your own. It’s really a very simple process.

I’ve seen all kinds of contraptions that people have come up with to grow sweet potato slips, most of them involve suspending a sweet potato root over water. All you really need to do is to place a sweet potato root into a container of damp potting mix  about two inches deep. Keep the container in a warm spot — 75 degrees F and be sure it stays moist. An electric heat mat will help if you don’t have a warm spot.

This sweet potato is making good growth. I'll cover the root with soil entirely at this point.
This sweet potato is making good growth. I’ll cover the root with soil entirely at this point.

After a couple of weeks, the sweet potato will begin to root and produce sprouts. Pull the new sprouts off of the sweet potato once they reach eight inches or so in length. They should have a developing root system at that stage and are ready for planting.

Using this method you can grow your own slips year after year.


Laboratory test tube tomato vs homegrown DIY tomato

The last tomato I had in storage finally started to spoil a few weeks ago. That was a very long time for a tomato to keep without using any kind of special equipment. It was one from my own heirloom strain that I have been keeping for several years now.

This was a great opportunity for me to select for another trait in my tomato line: long term storage.

The fruit looked fine on the outside but, by the time I finally opened it, it was starting to break down inside. The slippery capsules surrounding the seeds had dissolved due to fermentation setting in. A small amount of fermentation is OK when it comes to saving tomato seeds. The alcohol produced helps to preserve the seeds to some extent.

I took my time separating  the seeds from the pulp. After all, it was one gardening related project I could do even though it was snowing outside. I ended up with quite a few sound seeds.

Picking through tomato pulp doesn’t require a lot of concentration. I found my mind wandering a bit and starting thinking about an article about genetic engineering I read in a trade publication. Part of the article talked about the very first genetically engineered tomato variety to reach the market, Flavr Savr.

One thought I had was that I was selecting for genes inside my tomato to get a specific characteristic. The method I used is one that farmers have used for thousands of years. The Flavr Savr biologist’s method was so brand new that it was patented. In their laboratory, they took a short cut by moving pieces of DNA from one tomato variety to another — if you call taking 8 years and twenty million dollars a short cut. I wish I had that kind of budget.

The Flavr Savr tomato and it’s technology was eventually sold. The tomato itself has been off the market for many years.

I need to think about sowing my seeds soon.  Right now they are safely in storage waiting to be planted. I’m interested in finding out my seed germination percentage this spring. Next winter I’ll find out how well the storage trait gets passed along to this year’s generation of tomatoes.

The website Retro Report has a video about the Favr Savr. It’s interesting to watch whichever side of the GMO debate you’re on.

Hmm, I wonder if any gardener ever thought to save any seeds from that variety.


Unheated hoop house no match for record cold winter

I promised to update you on how my lettuce did through the winter. Things were going quite well, I was harvesting lettuce after the first round of the Arctic Vortex.

Even after the second round of the vortex, most of the plants were doing well. This was mainly due to the secondary, inner plastic covering I added as the temperatures got colder.

Later, I started using bubble wrap insulation at night to try to keep the plants from freezing, it worked pretty well too — for a while.

I picked plenty of lettuce even after the second round of the Arctic Vortex.
I picked plenty of lettuce even after the second round of the Arctic Vortex. The blue material is plastic bubble wrap.

Eventually, the protracted, record-breaking cold did them in. During any other winter I’m convinced I’d still be harvesting lettuce.

Now it’s time to look forward to planting early spring lettuce in there.