Dunton Family Farm News

What's Happening Around the Farm as well as a Soapbox for head farmer, Mike Dunton

Harvest in a Hurry

As nearly everyone around the United States will attest, it has been a very odd year weatherwise.  The week before last I was lamenting the early arrival of cool, wet, Fall weather and then this week we were setting record high temperatures.  But judging from the forecasts, it looks like our hot days are now behind us and wet weather is returning.

This creates many challenges when attempting to harvest the seeds that you all are counting on for your gardens next spring (and that we count on to support our continued seed variety preservation work).  The optimist in me is thankful that we are looking at impending periods of showers and not freezing temps.  We can put on rain and mud gear and continue our work . . . it is just not very fun.

All of this aside, we have all hands busily doing the harvest dance.  John is out in the field picking and documenting, the main part of the crew is squeezing tomatoes into containers to ferment, and I am trying to keep up with the washing, drying, and preparing the seeds for storage in preparation of germination testing and getting them ready for packaging.  And that is jut the tomato seed harvest.  Everything else is being picked and hauled into buildings and put on screens to finish drying.  It is always an exciting time bustling with activity.

A group of my immediate family members and cousins working on harvesting tomato seeds.

A group of my immediate family members and cousins working on harvesting tomato seeds.

I have posted several more harvest related photos on our Facebook page - Click Here. Folks at most other seed companies probably will find it funny how we do everything by hand.  Yes it is expensive and laborious.  But it is the only way that I can come up with to maintain our quality standards and maintain so many diverse varieties.  If folks think it is silly that we toil manually, I look at it this way, I do not have to pay for a health club membership and I think of the product we produce as something akin to a craft beer or a limited edition,, reserve or boutique wine. :)   Small batches, all by hand.

My break is over, the sun is finally breaking through the clouds, and it is time to get back out and wash tomato seeds for several more hours!


posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Tomato Seed Harvest Crunch Time

This summer was a close repeat to the one that we had last year – cool, wet weather into the first part of July and then mild temperatures all summer.  Unlike the rest of the country, we had very few hot days.  Now we are trying to harvest everything all at once before either freezing temps or devastating rains zap us..

The result of these weather patterns is that the “early season” tomato varieties have been ripening in late August while the “mid and late season” varieties are ripening late in September and into October.  Rain is not threatening – we actually have not had a drop since July and none is forecast in the near future – but the nights have been dipping into the low 30s for the past three days.  The cold temps have been a season-ender for the vining crops, the corn and legumes are drying down nicely, and solanace family are all showing some degree of damage.

This means that we are running a big crew (for us anyway) trying to bring in all of the tomato seed that we can before a “real” freeze or rain hits and turns everything to mush.  I thought that I would share a short pictorial of the tomato seed harvest process with you all.

John Picking Tomatoes

John Picking Tomatoes

Harvesting tomato seeds obviously begins with picking the fruit.  Only fully vine ripened tomatoes are processed for seed.  Although we spend a lot of time with the plants throughout the growing season, we use this opportunity to document the flavor, textures, interesting characteristics, weights, sizes, and take photographs.  Once that is done, the buckets of tomatoes are given to the crew for processing.

Squeezing  Tomatoes

The Crew in our Early Fall Ritual of Squeezing Tomatoes

As you can see in the photo, this October here on the farm has been really nice.  It has started light frosting overnight, but has been in the mid to high 70s during the day so we are able to do this messy work comfortably outside for a change.  This is a photo of the crew squeezing tomatoes that John picked.  During this seed removal stage, the crew only works with one variety and then cleans everything up before moving on to a new variety.

Cleaning Up Between Varieties

Cleaning Up Between Varieties

Since the primary purpose of our work is preserving old varieties, accuracy is a key part of our mission.  Starting with proven seed, our grow outs are carefully monitored throughout the season and compared to the historical record for the particular variety as well as to our past grow out data.  Neat, tidy and following procedure is critical during the seed saving stage.

Fermenting Tomato Seeds

Fermenting Tomato Seeds

Those of you that have read my thoughts on the subject of repurposing or have watched the videos know that I am a big fan of keeping useful “trash” out of the the garbage stream and even out of the recycling bin.  If you can find a new use for an old item, it is just plain smart.

So in that vein, we have our friends and family save their plastic salsa, sour cream, and humus containers for us and use them for fermenting the tomato seed harvest.  (FYI – The containers last four or five years but the lids only only about three)  I have found that the perfect place on our farm for fermentation is in our potting shed.  If the temperatures are just right, the seeds are ready to be washed in three days.

Washed Seeds

Washed Seeds

Aren’t they pretty?  :)   This happens to be a nice batch of ‘Millet’s Dakota‘ seed.

Tomato Seeds Drying

Tomato Seeds Drying

Folks have different methods for drying.  My way of doing it is to place the wet seeds, about a cup of them, onto a paper coffee filter, gently wring out as much water as possible without tearing the filter, and then spread the ball of seeds out and allow them to dry.  As a rule, I let them start the drying process in the potting shed that first day and move them into the barn that evening where I have fans going.  And to prevent any possible disasters from happening, I keep different varieties far away from each other.  All of the seeds in the above picture is the same variety.  After about week, the clumps of seeds can be crumbled and screened to remove and small seeds and dust.  And that is the process in a nutshell.

If you are interested in more detail about how to save your own tomato seeds, click here.  And as always, thank you for supporting our seed variety preservation work.  We could not do this without you!

posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Quick End of Summer / Beginning of Fall Update – Ground Cherries

It has again been some time since my last blog post.  I often think about cool and interesting things to tell you about but it is usually when I am working out in the field or up to my elbows in fermenting tomato seed sludge.  I can’t wait until we there is a direct brain to blog interface available.  Until then, I suppose this will have to do.

Let’s see . . . what’s new?!?!  Well, once our summer finally arrived (about July 5th ;) ), it ended up being one of the driest ones in years.  Our installation of drip irrigation really paid off.  With minimal effort, we kept everything in the field watered as needed and things have done very well.  Although it was dry, the temperatures were very mild.  This made it pleasant to work out in but has affected maturation on things like peppers, eggplants and tomatoes.  If the weather holds out for a few more weeks, we should be fine but this is always the “nail biting” time of the year when an early frost can end up . . . well you get the idea.  I don’t want to jinx it.  :)

We have been busy harvesting peas, beans, cardoon, tomatoes, and ground cherries.  If all goes well and germination tests prove positive, we should have a lot of those popular and currently out-of-stock varieties available once again for the 2013 gardening season.

And speaking of ground cherries . . . I spent several hours yesterday and today processing five gallon buckets of ‘New Hanover‘ and ‘Cossack Pineapple‘ ground cherries that Melanie picked and de-husked (thank you Melanie).  While fresh in my mind, I thought that I would share some seed saving tips.  Basically I use a process very similar to the tomato process outlined by clicking here, with a couple of differences.Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherry

Start with the ripest fruit (they drop from the plant when ready) that are a nice golden color.  Then, as mentioned, they are removed from the husk.  This is a tedious, manual process so if you have any tips, I would love to hear them.  Then, instead of cutting and squeezing, I cheat and use an old Good-Will acquired, cheap, blender and using the pulse function, break the fruit up into a slurry.  Don’t go overboard here or you might start damaging seeds.  I pour the fruit-smoothie looking (and smelling) contents into a five gallon bucket stopping when half full (more on why in a sec), cover so fruit flies don’t find it, and place somewhere warm (I use a greenhouse or the potting shed).

Unlike tomatoes, they do not need to be fermented for several days.  Although they can be immediately processed, I usually wait 24 hours.  I just have found that it is easier for me.  So, I pop the lid off of one of the half-full buckets and using a spray nozzle on the hose, fill the bucket to the brim.  Give it a minute or two and the good seeds will settle to the bottom and you can pour off the bits of skin, flesh, juice and immature or hollow seeds.  Fill the bucket with water again and repeat.  Do this as many times as it takes you to get nice, clean seed.

Some folks pour off through screens or strainers but for me, I prefer to dry them on coffee filters.  Again, this is just my preference.  The main goal, like any wet seed processing, is to get the seeds cleaned and dried as quickly as possible.  By placing small amounts into many coffee filters, I am able to get them in front of a fan in the barn and dried in no time.  I also like handling the smaller amounts when getting the big, dried clumps of seed broken up and readied for sale.

Anyway, this is what I did yesterday and today and although you probably won’t be growing out and processing several pounds of ground cherry seeds, you can scale down the process outlined above, using smaller containers for example, and save your own seeds.  If not, I know where you can get some . . .  and  I already did all the hard work for you.  :)

Both ‘New Hanover‘ and ‘Cossack Pineapple‘ are currently out of stock, but if you are interested in receiving an email when they are ready, click on the links and click the “Put Me On The Waiting List” button.

So until next time, I hope that you enjoy the fall and that your harvests are bountiful.  Thank you again for your continued support of our seed variety preservation work!  ~Mike

P.S. – If you are unfamiliar with ground cherries, click on the links above.  They really are an interesting old garden staple that seemed to fall our of favor sometime in the 20th Century.  I am not sure why.  They are sweet and tasty, easy to grow, and the reward at harvest time is well worth the effort.

I have added a couple of recipes to the the VintageVeggies.com recipe page . . . look towards the bottom under desserts.  If you have any other old family recipes, or even memories and stories, please do share them.

posted by Mike in Company News,Farm News and have No Comments

Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds

This is just a quick blog entry to answer a very common question that we are asked . . . How do I save tomato seeds?   This really is a two part question that I answer with a qualifying Q & A followed by a description of the process that I use.

Firstly you need to decide if the tomato that you have in hand is actually worth saving.  If is it just some anonymous, generic tomato from the supermarket, it is likely a hybrid and unless it was super spectacular and you have about a decade of growing seasons to stabilize its genetics, it is probably a smarter use of your time to pass on saving its seeds.  Spend two bucks for a pack of seeds for next season.

If, on the other hand, the tomato is an older variety, an open-pollinated family heirloom-type and grown in relative isolation, then definitely go for it.  Saving seeds is what we are all about and I highly encourage folks to make the practice a routine to their gardening cycle.  Remember, saving seeds = freedom!

Hopefully you noticed that I included a reference to isolation in the previous paragraph.  Although there are folks out there that will tell you that since tomatoes have “perfect flowers” and that they don’t cross, as someone with experience in this area, I can assure you that they do.

There are many reasons tomatoes can cross, and yes I will agree that the instance is relatively low, but they still cross.  It is my opinion that if you are going to save seeds, you should strive for accuracy and therefore, do all that you can to replicate varieties true-to-type.   In the case of tomatoes, try and isolate varieties from each other by 15 to 20 feet with tall and / or flowering plants in between them.

O.k. – We got all of that out of the way and you have in your possession some tomatoes that you really like and that you want to grow in a future garden.  Saving tomato seed is not super difficult, and some folks simply squeeze some seeds out onto a paper towel, dry them down, and plant seeds with bits of paper and all.  But if you want the highest quality, professional grade seed for your personal seed bank, I would recommend making the effort to perform the fermentation process that I describe in detail on our informational website at http://www.vintageveggies.com/information/seedsave_tomato.html.  I just updated it today, cleaned up some of the wording and added large photos to make the process clearer.  Good luck!

Saving Tomato Seeds

Saving Tomato Seeds

posted by Mike in Gardening Tips and have No Comments

Click for Heirloom Tomato Seed Selection Save Seeds - Victory Horticultural Library matersearch.com - online tomato resources