Friday, July 3, 2009

Gardening Basics: Harvesting and Seed Saving

A Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato from last year's garden

Know When To Harvest

Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting crops at peak quality. Seed packets and catalogs will give you the approximate number of days to maturity (e.g., a late-season tomato will produce ripe fruit in about 85 days), but it's best to rely on observation of color and texture. The Cherokee Purple tomato pictured above may not look ripe to someone who's seen only red grocery store tomatoes, but this variety is supposed to have purplish-green "shoulders" at maturity. The giveaway was its texture (yielding slightly to finger pressure when squeezed).

Here is a general guide to harvesting times for different crops:

Harvesting Vegetables

Seed Saving

As mentioned in an earlier post, you'll need to prevent cross-pollination (transfer of pollen between flowers of different varieties) in order to harvest stable, viable seed for next year's garden.

This is a subject I'm just beginning to learn, so the best I can do is to provide links:

Preventing Cross-Pollination of Tomatoes

A Discussion Thread on Cross-Pollination

Another Discussion Thread (focused on peppers, which are self-pollinating and usually at low risk of cross-pollination)

Note: The easiest way to minimize cross-pollination is growing only one variety of each type of vegetable in your garden (100% Danvers Half-Long carrots, 100% Roma tomatoes, 100% Texas Grano onions, etc.) However, there is still the possibility that insects or wind might carry pollen from a neighbor's vegetable garden.

Assuming cross-pollination has been averted, here are links to seed saving practices for different kinds of vegetables:

Basic Seed Saving Practices for 27 Common Vegetables

Video by Clifton Middleton on How to Save Tomato Seeds (Middleton concludes with a rousing libertarian message about self-sufficiency and freedom!)

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