Photo credit: Idaho Statesman
Seeds, seeds and seeds
Use saved seeds, and learn
Do you save seeds your plantings produce? I used to save large quantities of tomato seeds, and still save some of extraordinary tomatoes. I bought some watchmakers parts cases from Lee Valley years ago, aluminum cases that hold small glass-topped aluminum canisters for storage of seeds.
One very good reason for you to save seeds is to experience what happened to me recently. I found some very old (about 20 years old) tomato seeds stored in one of those canisters, and wanted to re-grow that variety, so I planted several seeds, confident that they had passed their usual prime. Tomato seeds have an estimated viability of about four years.
My old seeds did germinate, even though they had been stored at room temperature. When I reported that to garden friends online, one fellow said he’d found self-saved seeds usually kept viability longer than commercial seeds.
The variety I wanted to re-grow was called Early Large Red. Prior to the Civil War, it was the most-grown tomato in America. One source says it produces ripe tomatoes in 70 days after transplant, and that would make it an “early” tomato. In my experience, it ripened in the middle of the season. I suspect other growers in other parts of the country found it was not an early tomato either, because Southern Exposure Seed Exchange referred to it as “Large Red,” but related the same history of its pre-Civil War popularity.
I bought seeds from Southern Exposure two years ago (forgetting my own seeds), and most of the plants from those seeds produced very small tomatoes, showing they’d crossed with cherry tomatoes or even smaller varieties. There are smaller varieties of tomato, some called “currant,” the tiniest called “spoon” tomatoes. Some of those wilder tomatoes have protruding anthers that emit pollen, cross-pollinating all over the patch. Modern tomatoes take care of pollination inside their own blossoms, but a persistent bee can foil that.