Archives For heirloom tomato

An All-American Salute to Our “Founding Gardeners”

Paying tribute to promoters of the American farming tradition.

Adriana Reyneri —  July 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Our “founding gardeners”— author Andrea Wulf’s depiction of early U.S. presidents who passionately promoted farming as a means to independence — would be tickled to see the American Seed Saver bed in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. There, visitors will find varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables grown by our third president, Thomas Jefferson, in his country estate at Monticello, just outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Many of these varieties are also grown in Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden on the White House grounds.

PHOTO: tomatoes and marigolds

Grown together in a companion planting, marigolds deter pests from tomato plants in the garden.

The American Seed Saver bed also honors everyday gardeners who help safeguard the genetic diversity of plants, according to Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg, who oversees the Fruit & Vegetable Garden. “Because of the work of home gardeners and seed-saving organizations, an increasing number of heirloom varieties are now available to the public,” she said.  

Learn about saving your own seeds!

Heirloom vegetable varieties are open-pollinated plants that reproduce themselves, staying “true to their parents,” according to Hilgenberg. They’ve been handed down through generations, a practice that helps maintain the food crop gene pool for future generations.

PHOTO: Beans in flower

Flowering beans
Photo: H. Zell CC-BY-SA-3.0

PHOTO: Harvested rattlesnake beans

Harvested beans
Photo: centeroftheweb.ecrater.com

The Abraham Lincoln tomato (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Abraham Lincoln’) was planted in our American Seed Saver bed as a tribute to our 16th president, who established the United States Department of Agriculture more than 150 years ago. The big, sweet, and juicy tomato is a good slicer and also makes great ketchup. “What could be more American than that?” Hilgenberg said. “Other cultures dry their tomatoes or make paste. We’re going to put them on our burgers.”

Visitors to the American Seed Saver bed can also see the rattlesnake bean (Phaseolus vulgaris), said to originate from the Cherokee people. The variety is also known as the preacher bean because its abundant yield of purple-streaked green pods gives cause for thanks and praise. The nearby Painted Lady bean (Phaseolus vulgaris ‘Painted Lady’), native to Mexico, was popular in England by the 1850s and a favorite in America by the early 1880s.

The sweet and spicy Alma Paprika pepper (Capsicum annuum ‘Alma Paprika’), of Hungarian origin, can be dried and ground into paprika and is cited in one of the earliest American cookbooks, according to Hilgenberg. In the American Seed Saver bed, the plant also serves as a symbol of America as a melting pot of cultures and traditions. “We’re such a nation of immigrants and now we have gardens with plants from all over the world,” Hilgenberg said. “We’ve made them our own.”


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

As farmers’ markets wind down, many of us want to preserve the bounty of this year for the next. Why not save save seeds from your last tomatoes so you can grow them yourself next year?

1)    Make sure to save the seeds from an open-pollinated or heirloom tomato. These seeds will reliably reproduce the “parent plant.”

2)    Choose a ripe, disease-free tomato; one past being edible is best.

Heirloom Tomato Weekend_RJC8698

3)    Cut the tomato ‘around the equator’ and squeeze out the seeds and ‘goo’ in to a strainer over the kitchen sink. Run cold water over and use your fingers to try and separate the ‘goo’ from the seed.

Heirloom Tomato Weekend_RJC8715

4)    Knock the strainer on a paper plate lined with a coffee filter, dislodging the seeds from the strainer.

5)    Label the filter with the tomato variety and let dry which could take up to three weeks. The top of the refrigerator is a great place for this.

tomato seeds in envelope_RJC6138at

6)    When dry, scrape the seed in to an envelope labeled with the variety and the date for storage. If the seeds stick to the coffee filter, simply fold the whole thing up and store in the envelope. The filter itself can be planted; it will disintegrate.

7)    Store your heirloom tomato seeds in a cool dry place indoors. I like to put them in my top desk drawer.

8)    Seeds have varied life expectancies. Tomato seed is viable for 4-10 years.

9)    Check back in late winter for a blog post about a simple germination test checking to see if your seed is viable.

Mark your calendars for the Second Annual Seed Swap on February 23, 2013. For more information on seed saving visit our web site.