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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.

Our volunteers are awesome. We recently sat down with 16-year volunteer (and 2008 Volunteer of the Year) Sam Darin, pictured above, is famous for both his tool-sharpening skills (stop by for summer tool talk in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden on Thursdays, May through October) and his tomato-growing expertise.

tomato cages009

Three heirloom tomato beds held 19 different varieties in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden this year. With harvest complete, the beds await their leaf mulch “blanket” for the winter.

We asked a timely question:  How does a Master Gardener (Sam was Illinois’ Master Gardener of the Year in 2010) put a vegetable garden to bed for the winter? His approach is so straightforward that even first-year gardeners can follow his lead:

1. After removing spent vegetables plants, pick up all leaves and fruit from the beds, clearing them of debris that might harbor diseases or pests.

2. AFTER the first hard frost, add a 4-6” layer of chopped leaf mulch to cover the beds for the winter. (Rake dry fall leaves and store them in a garbage can; use a mower or weed whacker to chop them.)

Mortgage Lifter

One of Sam Darin’s favorite tomato varieties, ‘Mortgage Lifter’ can weigh in at over a pound apiece.

3. Beyond the bed, continue to water shrubs and trees until frost. Late fall is usually quite dry, so it’s helpful to give larger plants a good drink before winter sets in.

As Sam says, “That’s about it.” Thanks, Sam, and see you at the Garden next spring!