Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saving Tomato Seeds

If you are interested in saving the seeds from an heirloom tomato variety (non-hybrid), Jacque's method is easier than any I've tried before. Thanks Jacque! First, though, some rules about planting properly if you want to save the seeds. Jacque passes this on from the Seed Savers Exchange, and this site will become your friend if you become hooked on heirloom varieties:
"Cross-pollination between modern tomato varieties seldom occurs, except in potato leaf varieties which should be separated by the length of the garden. Do not save seeds from double fruits or from the first fruits of large-fruited varieties. Pick at least one ripe fruit from each of several plants."
What is a potato-leaf variety? Why, the leaves look similar to a potato leaf. My Cherokee Purple tomato is one such, so I would have to keep it far away from other tomatoes. If the tomato is self-pollinated, that variety can be planted closer to other tomato varieties. Check out the photo at left that I got from The Daily Green in their article about saving tomato seeds. The potato-leaf variety is on the left, with the standard kind of tomato leaf on the right.

Jacque's son passed on another hint on how far apart the tomatoes need to be planted in order to save seeds:
"You look at the flowers and if the flower is closed without the stamen sticking out the end then it will only be self-pollinated."
Now for Jacque's method of getting those seeds out of the tomato and ready to store:
  • Pick several fully ripe tomatoes (same variety) you want to grow again, choosing a fruit that has the characteristics you like. Get a small recloseable sandwich bag, and squeeze or scoop the seeds out of the tomato into the bag. You'll have juice and some pulp, but try not to get tons of pulp.
  • Close the bag and label it with the variety of tomato.
  • Let the bag sit on your counter for three or four days. After that time, you will see the seeds have separated from the pulp and you will smell a bit of of a rotten smell if you open the bag -- the pulp and juice have fermented, which is necessary to remove the gel that inhibits germination
  • Pour a little water in the bag and mix it up with the seeds and remaining pulp. (Any seeds that float are no good.) Pour off the pieces of pulp and bad seeds, being careful to keep the other seeds in the bag.
  • Repeat the last step once or twice until all you have left is seeds.
I discovered the easiest way to get these seeds out of the bag and dry them at the same time is to grab a napkin and poke it at the seeds. The seeds stick and the water is absorbed. Then, you gently rub off the seeds on a small plate and let them dry several days. I put the plate on top of the empty bag to make sure I didn't forget which variety I had.

The blog linked next has some great photos and explanation for this process, just in case you're nervous like I was the first time. They do some steps slightly differently, but that just shows you this is not rocket science and this process is flexible. Urban Veggie Gardener

When the seeds are completely dry, put them in a clean labeled bag or envelope. You're ready for next spring!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Great Tomato Taste-Off!

All those gorgeous tomatos (see photo) and what a fun activity! The contestants: six hybrid and nineteen heirloom tomatoes from all over the world, most provided by our generous JL.

Black Sea Man
Box Car Willie
Cherokee Purple
Cour di Bue
Debbie Beefsteak
Furry Yellow Hog
Great White
Jaune Flammee
Kellogg's Breakfast
Mormon World’s Earliest
Noir de Crimee
Principe Borghese
Santa Clara Canner
Yellow Pear


Early Girl
Green Zebra

We broadened our tomato horizons with all the many wonderful and exotic flavors. Who knew a tomato could remind you of a peach, have a citrusy flavor, or even have slightly smokey overtones? The judges (everyone who came to taste) considered every bite. A serious business indeed. What we discovered was that a tomato has a lot more potential than just a sauce puree or a slice on a hamburger. Think of a colored tomato sauce livening up a bland pasta dish, a gorgeous muli-colored salsa, smokey-toned tomatoes with fish, citrusy flavors with chicken... or any number of creative dishes. (Lucky me, I made a gallon and a half of that gorgeous salsa from the cut tomatoes after the event -- red base with white, yellow, red and green pieces of tomato.)

And the results of the voting are in! The top ten winners are:
  1. Furry Yellow Hog (Novelty, yellow-striped, very slightly fuzzy, with a bright citrusy flavor)
  2. Great White (Beefsteak. Large, yellowish-white and flavorful, with a creamy texture you could wrap your tongue around.) [tied with #3]
  3. Yellow Pear (small yellow pear-shaped. Sweet and perfect for salads, this produces prolifically)
  4. Green Zebra (Light green and yellow stripes, bred from four heirlooms, with a burst of tangy flavor)
  5. Cherokee Purple (dusky rose to purple colored beefsteak, close to 1 lb. Rich, deeply complex, and sweet flavor)
  6. Jaune Flammee (Orange-colored, apricot-shaped, with a sweet flavor that would be wonderful dried)
  7. Polfast (Early, red, sets fruit in cool weather) [tied with numbers 8, 9, & 10]
  8. Roma (standard red Italian paste tomato, with flavor intensified by drying or cooking)
  9. Box Car Willie (Smooth, bright-orange/red slicer)
  10. Cour di Blue (Heart-shaped with meaty flesh & few seeds, excellent for sun-drying. Deep red.)
I'm already planning to grow six of the top ten tomatoes and excited to look at the internet to find some more heirlooms to try. Other tasters will do the same. So, we're already planning to have another Great Tomato Taste-off next year. I can't wait! [Shhh, can you keep a secret? Next year the men get to come, too!]

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Here is an FYI to the post below. A friend tells me the herbal course I took 15 years ago, when I first started tiptoeing (ever so cautiously) into using herbs, is temporarily being offered right now, online, for the same price I paid back then -- only $100 (regularly $495). It's called the Family Herbalist Course, and it's run by the School of Natural Healing in Springville, Utah.

First, is a link describing the course. Family Herbalist Course
Second, is a link where you may (if you are interested) register at the cheaper price (scroll down to Level 100 -- Family Herbalist): http://online.snh.cc/Register.html

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Self-Reliance in Cold and Flu Season

I just had a driveway conversation with a neighbor, and he mentioned how upset one of his granddaughters was about a recent doctor's visit with her children. At a $25 deductible for each child , plus $40 medicine, plus the huge insurance fees they already pay regularly -- it was discouraging. You feel pretty helpless, because your kids are sick and your only alternative is a doctor's visit and all the money that comes with that. There is no choice. You're stuck. My own personal experience was much the same before I learned some of the basics about integrative medicine in a series of local classes.

I'm going to tell you the way our family has managed to have our two youngest children never take an antibiotic and our two oldest sons only take antibiotics once each in 15 years, which my daughter discovered in one of her college classes, is a rare thing, indeed. I look at using herbs and other alternatives as one of the most important things we do in our family to be self-reliant. My first thought now is always, "What can I do at home to fix or improve this health issue?" Be assured that we do get sick, just like everyone else, but how we respond is a bit different now than when I was in that young mother's shoes I mentioned. If you're having money problems or just want to learn to be more self-reliant, you might be interested.

At first sign of a sniffle, my youngest daughter now goes to the cupboard and takes a capsule of echinacea, some vitamin C, and an herbal respiratory medicine I buy in the health food store -- usually one of Dr. Christopher's formulas, such as Resp-Free or Sinus Plus. She takes these three times a day, and I have her increase by a capsule or two if she feels things are not getting better. (Echinacea is an immune system enhancer, and you can buy it even in local grocery stores.) When the kids were young, we gave them these things (or children's versions for the same purpose) in a liquid form -- of course, we followed the directions on the packages.

If she keeps getting sicker and it looks like she might be getting an infection (sore throat, etc.), my daughter chops up a bud of raw garlic, puts it in a spoon and swallows it with water -- never when she is going to be around people, for obvious reasons. Garlic is not social! When the kids were younger, we'd put the minced garlic in some honey and they'd eat it.

I know, I know. Raw garlic seems extreme and more than a bit "weird". I thought so, too. My cheap genes won me over, plus it actually worked, which surprised me. Consider the cost of a bud of garlic versus a capsule of a prescription medicine or even standard over-the-counter medicines. Consider, also, the peace of mind of always having on hand just what you need for most of those respiratory illnesses and not having to take sick children to the doctor or to wait, but instead to be able to act at the first sign of a cold or flu. We take the raw garlic three to four times a day (similar to an antibiotic dose). I don't know the ins and outs, but I understand that garlic has antibiotic properties. Again, no raw garlic if we have to be around people outside the family. :) We'll sneak in the garlic in the afternoon and evening on those days or take some chlorophyll, which is a natural deodorizer (also available at the health food stores).

Yes, you will see my daughter cough or sneeze and have a runny nose, just like everyone else -- ask the kind sister who supplied a handful of tissues to my daughter on Sunday. The herbs, however, allow her body to overcome the virus without getting the secondary infections and with none of the side-affects of standard medicine. The virus runs its course (usually in a few days) and it's done -- no doctor's visit and no expensive prescription. If we realize quickly enough that we are getting sick and take those herbs I mentioned three times in a day, then we usually do not get sick. If we wait even an hour after we first feel the signs of a cold, then we do get sick, but we use the herbs. I hasten to add that if I feel prompted to go right to the doctor, that's where we head.

What I've told you above has saved our family loads of money. The herbs do cost something, but you can usually get them a lot cheaper than the store price you usually see. You can 1) watch for them to be on sale locally and stock up, or 2) go to a website and order. (Be sure to check out the shipping charges and makes sure the site is secured for a credit card. Usually, even with shipping, it's cheaper online.)

As the debate about the health care system rolls on, I have become more and more aware that no matter what is decided, for both the health of my family and the finances of my family, I need to learn more that will keep us out of the doctors' offices more often, beyond eating fresh veggies and exercising. It's just realizing that, yes, you do have a choice, after all, and you are not stuck. I have decided to learn more and be more proactive (aka "self-reliant") in helping my own family.

Thank heavens for doctors when we need them! I just hope that if I learn more, I won't need them as often. I've proven to myself over 15 years that I actually can do a great deal, in ordinary illness, to help my family. The results speak for themselves.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The BYU Solar Cooker

Steven E. Jones, a BYU Physics professor, invented a homemade solar cooker that actually works, as compared to all the box-style cookers for which we've seen patterns over the years. This solar cooker was tested by the Benson Institute. Some problems with other homemade versions were overcome by the BYU Solar Oven.

It looks easy to make, with cardboard and aluminum foil. Here is a link to the article on FourWinds10.com, including great photos like the one at left : How to Make and Use The BYU Solar Cooker/Cooler

I love how this professor set out to conquer a problem that made the lives, especially of women, so much easier in developing countries (many women use much of their day gathering fuel to cook their family meal). I also love that he and BYU did not attempt to make money, but instead did their best to give this information free of charge.

I think the BYU solar oven would be a great emergency item to have on hand. Even if you don't need to cook food, pasteurizing water alone would be worth having this oven. Moreover, this same funnel,used a bit differently, works to cool foods during the night.

March 2013 Update:  updated information and modifications on this funnel are found at The Save-Heat Cooker and Update on the BYU Solar Funnel Cooker/Cooler    Having lived in high-altitude Bolivia, where I DID try to cook dry beans without a pressure cooker (never got done), this modification sounds great. Most of the Bolivians I knew used pressure cookers when cooking dry beans.  My two bits:  perhaps a smaller version of a Wonder Oven thermal cooker would work instead of the drilled polystyrene box -- after all, how many of us average folk know how to "mold" our own polystyrene box to fit our jars? The concept is the same, but I don't know if the Wonder Oven would hold the heat quite as well.

Here are two Youtube videos with Dr. Jones showing how to make his solar funnel: 
First Video
Second Video 

Last, here is a paper from one of Dr. Jones' former students, with all the graphs you could want to show how this works. (Note:  this is a downloadable file, so don't think you're being spammed.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Long Live Our Geraniums!

Pioneer women found ways to bring some beauty with them into the wilderness, as evidenced by the flowers still growing around homesteads now long gone. Not far from my home is just such a place with no building evident, but perenial flowers to mark the spot a family once lived. Even in a hand-to-mouth existence, natural beauty made a difference and was a refining element in the lives of those women and their families.

We're not all that different from those women in our desire for flowers, though much of our floral beauty these days is found in pots near our front door. Pots, whose crowning beauty is most often one or more geraniums -- those gorgeous blooms that cost you an arm and a leg every single year.

Mourning the loss of my geraniums after an early cold snap last fall, I decided to find out if there is a way to preserve the plants for another year. I found a wonderful video produced by Garden Gate Magazine about how to overwinter geraniums in boxes in the house. Watch the videos linked below and learn how to do it. If you start with the first video, the rest of the videos will cycle through without having to click on each individual video.

Overwintering Geraniums

Listening to the video, I think you can do this even after the first freeze.

Addendum April 2010: It's now April of the next spring, after I followed the procedure in the video. I realized the video did not tell me where to put the repotted geraniums -- in sun? in dark? I went looking for more info and found another website that lists several different options for wintering geraniums. I like options, so here it it is. I especially like step 7, that shows how to rehydrate the roots, but I have not tried it myself yet. Still, though, nothing in that site that tells me what to do with the plants after repotting them in the spring. I did find the answer, though, on the Iowa State University Extension website, in an article appropriately named "Overwintering Geraniums, linked here. Quoting the article:
Place potted plants in a sunny window to initiate new growth. It often takes several weeks for plants to initiate growth after dormant storage.
Addendum  October 2012: Here is a Youtube video with an alternate method of saving geraniums by  doing cuttings and putting them in potting soil. This method is also supposed to work well with ivy geraniums as well as the other types. This way will be more work, as you will have to water them over the winter and keep them in the light, but you can also have more geraniums next summer than you did this summer.  Below is the link:

Great Gardens - Making New Geraniums