Thursday, September 13, 2012

Saving Tomato Seeds...Natures Version

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Last year I shared what I had learned about saving tomato seeds, a relatively easy yet technical process.  By selecting your favorite tomatoes based on flavor, size, shape, disease resistance, etc, you can continue to regrow and pass them on from season to season.  This year I witnessed the natural process without plucking a tomato off the vine.  To simplify the steps involved in saving tomato seeds,...

one must scoop out and strain the seeds into a clean container and let them ferment in water until a mold forms on the surface.  Clean, dry and store. 



While removing a large portion of our summer tomato plants to make way for fall lettuces and arugula I notice a bright green row of baby tomato plants forming parallel to the sections we were removing.  To many this is not be such a surprise because this is what tomatoes do, but having not witnessed this before I was blown away.  I had gotten so wrapped up in the concept of a person, a farmer saving the tomato seeds, I never got around to figuring out how we learned how to do this.  I completely forgot that tomatoes had figured out their own reproduction way before we ever knew we could even eat this beautiful, swollen fruit.

It is fascinating to witness how tomatoes can spread and proliferate far distances.  In most farm systems, tomatoes are trained up a trellis which allows for easier picking, pruning and more efficient spacing to prevent diseases and pest buildup.  Although we are always trying to maximize growth and fruit production of tomatoes, if left on their own these plants will manage to produce and reproduce, they have for centuries.  If we didn't hold them upright, they would crawl prostrate along the earth and spread seeds across great fields.  



With a little detective work I realized that nature was doing exactly what it taught us to do.


The mature tomatoes ripen and fall to the ground, eventually crack, ferment and turn moldy right out of their own skin.  These seeds dry in the heat of the sun and with the step of a human foot or some other force of nature, they reseed themselves into the ground.  At this point the cycle begins again.


All the evidence is there, dropped ripe tomatos, dry skins, moldy seeds and most importantly, these perfect rows of tiny tomato plants flourishing right under their parent plants.


With daily watering of the main plants, eventually some of these seeds began to grow all without the intentional touch of a single human being.




Seeing this happen right before my eyes was unexpected, but why?  Wouldn't this have to be expected?  This skill the tomato has developed is the reason why we know what a tomato is at all, it's been able to survive century upon century because of it's resilience and clever reproductivity.  Humans eventually domesticated this down in South America, but it was the indigenous people of the area that studied nature and learned over time to understand and replicate this process.  Once again I find myself laughing out how unnatural the act of farming can be, an attempt at controlling this wild, fruitful planet.  As farmers, as people who eat food, we are merely observers of nature.  We are not in control, we must learn these "tomato dances" and as we once knew and are again coming to realize, the best farm is the one that most closely replicates nature.


1 comment:


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