Saving tomato seed

As summer draws to a close, seed saving for next Spring takes on a new urgency, as the coming of the rains will mean seed rotting, going mouldy on the plant or being eaten by birds, mice or insects.

Among the easiest seeds to save are tomato seeds because they’re pretty tough little survivors, and nature has endowed them with their own anti-bacterial sheathing in the form of a jelly (tomato pulp) around the seeds themselves. Witness the way only tomatoes and pumpkins seem to survive the high temperatures of the compost heap…

Pick tomatoes at any time for seed saving, although some folk like to select the strongest fruit from early in the growing season. Wait for the tomatoes to be a little over-ripe and squashy - just past the point of eating – before picking for seed.

Like all things to do with kitchen gardens, only the simplest of tools are needed to save tomato seeds, and can be found in any kitchen.

First, slice the tomato in half or quarters, and scoop the seed out with a tea-spoon. (You can also just squeeze out the pulp if the tomatoes are really squashy). This odd-shaped palm-sized yellow tomato is called ‘Banana Legs’, and as you can see, does not have a great deal of seed; this is not uncommon among tomato varieties, so you will have to ‘dig for it!’


Put the pulp and seed into a glass jar and stand out of the sun in a warm place for a few days; this allows the jelly to begin fermenting, which kills off bacterial diseases common to tomatoes. (Notice the gas bubbles in the photo?)


Once this foam forms all over the seed pulp, scrape it off with a spoon and add water to the jar, giving it a good shake to free the seed, then wash the whole lot in a fine sieve held under the tap to clear away the last of the gel. Then simply leave the seed on a plate out of the sun for a few days to dry, then scrape into seed packets. (Some folk like to spread their seed onto paper to dry, then just tear the paper up into little bits around the seed, then plant the lot later on.)

This year I planted a whole variety of tomatoes from all over the place, so I am collecting ‘bulk seed’ of both yellow and red and cherry and table tomatoes, all mixed together. Normally, if I had some special breeds, I would keep them separate, as I have done with these ‘Des’s Delicious’ seeds saved from a single tomato collected at the Rare Fruit Society.


As tomatoes are mostly self-pollinating, there is little inter-breeding when growing mixed varieties. So I will grow this mixture onwards until I have some sturdy survivors of both red and yellow cherry and table types, full of flavour, and well-suited to this particular garden.

Flowers from a kitchen garden

It’s just not true that kitchen gardeners are dull unromantic chaps with few resources for courting the cook; we too can supply a bouquet of flowers, though the scents are a little unusual…


Here in this one small late Summer posy you see tansy, barley, cinnamon and sweet basil, society garlic, French sorrel (dock), wormwood, parsley seeds, fennel seed, rocket and rapa flowers, lemon grass and red Russian kale.


I am sure this can be heard in many places where gardeners discover 'the one that got away'!

You know what I am talking about. Yes, it's the zucchini. Just when you thought you had the plants all under control and there was no rogue zucchini growing unbeknownst to you. Up pops the monster. Suddenly it's there. Out of nowhere.
So, it was only a matter of time that it finally happened to me. This is a Maltese zucchini which you pick when it is a manageable size (ie, when it is SMALL and does not feed a family of 4-6!). It weighed 1.5kg. The zucchinis in front are Romanesco and Ronde de Nice (the little round one).

That's okay, though. This particular variety is not seedy when that big (a bugger when you try to save seeds, though!) and still very tasty and tender.

I had been meaning to make another batch of zucchini chutney, so I was happy.
I used an eggplant chutney recipe from Charmaine Solomon, which I adapted slightly. I'd love to put up the recipe, but there might be copyright issues. Sorry.

Food For Free

Well sort of, as everything comes at a small cost. The cost of blackberry picking being a small amount of pain and suffering and that little thorn that is lodged in your thumb for weeks after.This year in the Adelaide Hills the blackberries have gone berserk, can only put it down to the good winter rains, surely it wasn't due to the early November heat wave followed by more rain, followed by late December heat wave, followed by January heat wave, followed by more high temperatures in February. But whatever the reason there is an abundance of large juicy fruit this year and like all things in the Hills this year they are about 3 weeks early, but the season will be longer than usual with many berries still ripening and even some flowers still to be seen. Let's hope that the next round of hot weather does not dry them up.

Tools of the trade

Blackberry pickers are inventive people. Below are some devices we are using to get to the best berries. Step ladder for a little more height, long sturdy wire with hook at the end to bring forth that laden branch that is just out of reach, long ladder to plunge into the patch, passionate berry picker then climbs on and picks around themselves and contends with a chook wanting to join in. Also good picking buckets preferably with string attached to tie around one's neck giving the picker 2 hands free to pick and fend off those nasty branches that insist on attaching themselves to you. It is also a good idea to have containers ready to empty your buckets into and they definately need lids, otherwise the chooks will think all your hard work was for their benefit. There is only one rule in our blackberry patch - if you fall in, you must pick all the good ones around you before being rescued.

What to do with all these berries?

We and friends have picked about 30kg in the past 3 weeks, with enough jam in the pantry from previous seasons, this year we decided to freeze the very best berries for topping up breakfast fruit bowls and putting into muffins, trifles and ice cream throughout the coming year. We have 4.5kg for this purpose and think that should do. We freeze them on trays then put into containers so they do not stick together giving you the option of taking just a handful at a time. With the rest we have decided to try our hand at some wine, we have 9kg so far in the freezer to make plum and blackberry wine (I have been told that it can taste like a good shiraz), the plums are still ripening and we should end up with about 10 kg but we wish we had more. We have also made 2 batches of blackberry wine.

Blackberry Wine Recipe (taken from Home made country wines by Dorothy Wise)
2.72 kgs of blackberries
1 lemon
4.55 litres of boiling water
1.81 kgs of sugar

Wash blackberries, peel lemon thinly and put both into a large bowl. Pour over the boiling water. Cover and let this stand for 3 days, stirring daily. Strain through muslin on to the sugar and stir well. Add the lemon juice and previously activated yeast. Leave for 24 hours in a warm place, then pour into the fermentation jar and insert an airlock. Leave to ferment to a finish. Syphon off and bottle.I have now started picking the good ones for my parents who love to make blackberry pies all year, and our blackberry picking friends new and old will be back for more over the next few weeks.

Throughout blackberry season there are always some city folk picking on the roadsides around the hills. I haven't seen any this year yet, but they have been spotted by a berry friend this week. A word of warning to the roadside pickers beware of blackberries that have been sprayed. If they have been sprayed awhile ago they will have dead foliage so easy to spot. If they have only been sprayed recently they may still look lush and have tempting berries but they will have a kerosene type smell and taste about them so avoid at all costs.

I feel like I have been picking blackberries for most of my life but never tire of the abundance that can be had from your own patch that does not require very much work during the year (we give ours a cut back every few years just to keep it under control). In my late teens my father kept a very nice controlled patch that was always abundant. If he ever saw people picking on the roadside (where the plants had been sprayed) he invited them in to pick ours. I will never forget the sight of the 3 nuns in full white habits picking our berries.

How to pickle cucumbers

Growing cucumbers:
Cucumber plants are easy to grow provided you can keep their roots cool and moist in rich soil throughout the summer months.
Grow them on a galvanised frame running east-west so that their leaves are exposed to plenty of sunshine throughout the day. I buy galvanised square mesh panels (with 100 mm x 100 mm squares) that are 2.4 m long and 1.2 m high down at the local hardware store, and put several of these end-to-end to make a 'cucumber wall' about 5 m long. The fence is supported by 1.65 m  steel star-droppers, as it will come under severe pressure under windy conditions, especially when covered in a 'cucumber sail'.
Plant about 100 seeds along this fence, on both sides if you like. (There's no point fiddling about with one cucumber plant if you want regular production over a month or so, cucumber salads throughout that period, and enough left over for bottling). Again, you need well-composted rich soil high in organic matter to pull this off, and under-mulch drippers right along the fence and seed line so that you can water without wetting the foliage. Use straw as a mulch once the directly-sown seeds are up during Spring; mulch will keep the soil cool and prevent run-off and high evaporative losses until the plants themselves can shade the soil.

Once the seeds reach the 'tendril' stage, tie their growing tips loosly to the frame to encourage them to hook-on, rather than sprawl on the ground. Slower seedlings will climb the sturdier ones, so not much tying is required with cucumbers, compared to tomatoes for example.

Cucumbers are insect-pollinated, so native flies and honey-bees should be encouraged in the garden with flowering herbs such as borage, basil and mint to get the maximum productivity from the flowers that are set by the cucumber plants.

Once your 'cucumber wall' comes into production in summer, you can expect a bucketful of cucumbers every few days. This can be stressfull if you are not prepared, and especially as peak harvest is approaching, with peaches and zucchinis (for example) all ripening around this time. Cucumbers are a great gift, and as it is Chinese New Year around this time, you can spread them around and receive other produce in return. Neverthless, the cook needs to be in standby!
Here's her recipe for dealing with the flood of both cucumbers, zucchinis and beans...
Pickling cucumbers, zucchinis and (blanched) beans
Choose those cucumbers with hard skins for bottling. The smooth dark-green Lebanese cucumbers (top, below) are too soft, and should be eaten fresh. Pickling cucumbers are normally a bit spiky. The white one (Richmond Green Apple?) are also worth bottling. This lot grew from nowhere in just three days: -
Scrub the cucumbers and cut lengthwise into chunky strips.
Put garlic, peppercorns and dill, mustard, coriander and fennel seeds into the bottom of the pre-sterilized jars (sterilize jars by pouring boiling water into them and allowing them to cool down).
Stand the cucumber slices upright in the jar and pour brine in to cover them, leaving a space below the jar's lid above the cucumber slices of about 25 mm. Brine is made using about 6 tablespoons full of sea-salt in 1.8 litres of water - dissolve the salt in a small amount of hot water than pour that into cold water. Let the brine cool to ambient temperature before using it to bottle cucumbers. Add about one-quarter of a cup of whey (drained off natural yogurt, for example, that has been allowed to stand).
Cover the cucumbers with a fresh young grapevine leaf, and weigh all that down with some glass marbles (available by the bag from toy shops) to keep the cucumbers submersed.
Close up the jars and let stand at ambient temperature for a week in a shady spot to allow fermentation to begin, then store in the cellar or cool dark room.
The same method works for beans, but the beans must first be cut into small lengths and blanched in hot water. We are still eating excellent beans that were preserved last year by this method.

Adelaide Kitchen Gardeners

Down here in the south of the great southern continent of Australia, we have a climate that folk in Europe pay money to visit; warm sunny summers and cool rainy winters. This allows us to grow and eat our own edible stuff all year round from our own 'backyards'.
Here on the Adelaide Plains we are bounded by the sea to the west, then you can travel east for about 20 kms over arable land before reaching the Adelaide Hills to the east. This gives us a whole range of climates that provide us with cool weather berries, pome and soft fruits through to hotter areas where we can grow sub-tropical fruits such as mangoes, bananas and pineapples. Vegetable varieties that we can grow here number in the hundreds, from the traditional fare of potatoes, peas and tomatoes through to a whole new range of Asian vegetables such as tasoi, mitsuna and pak choy.
The really lucky gardeners among us have partners who love to cook. There is nothing more joyful to a tired gardener at the end of a long day's work than to see the cook happily browsing through the garden in search of fresh produce for the shared evening meal. There is nothing more joyful to a cook than to find the ingredients of a meal on her doorstep - in her 'kitchen garden' - at the peak of freshness and unpolluted by chemicals, wrappings and preservatives, and all without the hassle of driving through traffic to the supermarket.
Produce from one season can easily be stored for another by bottling, pickling and freezing. Food travels only meters from garden to plate, with all the freshness and nutrition locked in. Nothing is lost at the end of the meal either; many of us have chickens, worm farms or compost heaps to return nourishment to the soil or to provide fresh eggs.
Increasingly, our Australian houses sport solar hot water heaters and solar panels for generating power locally. Rainwater tanks have collected rainwater from our roofs for over one hundred years for drinking and cooking, thanks to the clean air over Adelaide. Farmers markets are springing up again on the hills and plains, allowing Adelaidians to purchase fruit, vegetables, herbs and honey from local growers directly.
In recent years, seed companies have sprung up that have resurrected many of the old heritage non-hybrid open-pollinated seed varieties best suited or likely to adapt to local growing conditions. The seed-savers among us 'grow on' these seeds and swap them, along with cutting and other plant material, with fellow gardeners, thus preserving our seed heritage.
Many modern folk in Adelaide also live in small apartments or townhouses, surrounded by paving and concrete, eat out at our many restaurannts, and drive to the local gym to 'keep fit'. Not everyone can or wants to thrust their hands into rich dark crumbly soil or cook food slowly in the old ways...
Yes, kitchen gardeners and their cooks spend much more time at home in the kitchen or the garden. But they are blessed with the sun on their backs, the wind and rain in their hair, good food on their tables and warm friendships with other down-to-earth like-minded folk, sharing a sense of being close to  Mother Nature.
This blog records our journey and experiences.