Friday, September 9, 2011

trail setters: small tomato victory at the co-op

It’s been my first year working for my local natural food co-op’s produce department, and I've been slowly testing the waters to see how many of my favorite organic farmers I could bring into the store. This year I was able to bring in a lot of Frog’s Song Farm produce (I've sold their produce at markets for six summers now), including an assortment of their heirloom potatoes and fingerlings, fresh onions and shallots, cucumbers, spinach, salad greens, turnips, beets and more. I've also recently set my foot down on bringing in non-local tomatoes as it’s prime tomato season in our area and I truly believe in the Co-op’s mission statement about supporting local producers. My coworkers and produce team have all encouraged me in my attempts to change a few things, so I’m very grateful for them. My co-op’s tomatoes are now all 100% Washington grown. Someone in the back even created a sign for me, declaring the exciting news of sporting all local tomatoes (I really appreciate that!). I brought in my parent’s Beefsteaks, Yellow Pear and Mountain Magic tomatoes (Flying Tomato Farm) and I've also brought in Tonnemaker’s romas. I’ve worked markets next to Tonnemakers for years. We also have colorful cherries, romas and red and yellow slicers coming from Five Acre Farm and Okanagon Producers and heirloom tomatoes from Millingwood. Go little Co-op! I wonder how many of the larger Co-ops or health food stores in our area can claim 100% local tomatoes in their produce section.
As the "off-season" approaches, I look forward to heading to the few year round markets (such as Ballard or Bellingham) to see what some of our farmers will have in the colder months. There's no reason why we should have to ship in produce from California or Chile when, with a little sleuth, we can find Washington farmers offering overwintered beets, carrots and potatoes, fresh cabbages, kales and brussel sprouts, microgreens, parsnips and sunchokes and more. I am really looking forward to this challenge. I want to keep the local spirit alive in our be a true outlet for farmers all year round. I am also going to see what I can grow out of my greenhouse this winter...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DIY almanac: saving tomato seeds for later planting

My husband and I have been harvesting tomatoes left and right and have been enjoying tomato inspired meals everyday- tortilla soup with big chunks of tomato, open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches with green tomato slices, little slider burgers stuffed with shredded purple carrot and onions with giant slabs of brandywine tomatoes and beet greens, classic basil and mozzerella caprese salads, scrambled tomatoes and farm fresh eggs...I might have to make tomatoes stuffed and baked with bacon, chopped onions and bread crumbs tonight. Oh baby!

Anyway, if they don't just get tossed into the cook pot, I've been trying to save as many of my tomato seeds as possible from the really nice tomatoes I harvest (any big, colorful "perfect-looking" tomatoes or tomatoes with cool features). That way, next February, I can start tomatoes from my own homegrown seeds. Saving these seeds should produce hardier plants next year and the year after since the parent plants had to acclimate to Western Washington weather conditions. My original seed packets came from California, so I'll be creating my own Washington genetic version, which should increase my yield for years to come.

This is really a big part of heirloom creation. For example, I've been saving seeds from my really, really big pink brandywine tomatoes. Next year, when I grow these plants, most of their offspring should exhibit this size, and I'll select, again for the biggest brandywines for seed storage, perpetuating this giant trait. I haven't researched tomato cross-pollination too much this year, though my tomato plants did get a little mixed up in the greenhouse, so I do have a few tomatoes that look as though they are mixed between pink brandywine and evegreen. I'll probably save some of their seeds, though since they are more of a hybrid, I'm not sure what I'll get next year with them, but that adds to the fun and the mystery. One of my goals is to create a few of my own heirlooms to pass on to the next generations of my family.

There are a few different routes one can go down in regards to the tomato seed saving process. The biggest concern for tomato seed saving is removing the enzyme that coats the outside of the seeds (the goo around the seeds). This enzyme actually prevents the seeds from germinating within the fruit, and traditionally the enzyme is removed via fermentation. The seedy goop of a tomato is scooped out and dropped in a glass and then filled with water. Usually plastic wrap is placed over the glass and the glass sits in a warm place for a few days, until the goop rotts off of the seeds. Then, when mold starts to appear, the seeds are rinsed through a fine mesh sieve and then laid out to dry.

I usually follow some of these steps, though I'm a little too impatient to wait a few days and allow something to rott on my window. My method involves most of the same steps. I'll take the goop out of my tomato and then rinse the seeds as much as I can using a fine mesh sieve, then I'll let the seeds sit in a glass of water for 24 hours. The seeds that sink are the most viable seeds, whereas the floaters are immature seeds, so I'll skim off the floaters after my 24 hour period. Then, I'll pour the seeds into my sieve once more and rinse and scrub them with a little baking soda or natural dish soap and a small brush. Usually I can buff away the remaining enzyme. I'll then set my seeds out on a piece of brown paper and let them air dry. When they're ready, they'll go into small, labeled glass jars and will be hidden away in a cool, dark cabinet for starting next winter.