The air has begun to cool to a crisp and the leaves have begun to golden to a crunch. Fall marks the end of harvest, and farmers must prepare for the winter by saving seeds and planting cover crops.
While the coming winter lends to harsh growing conditions, saving seeds in the fall from this year’s crops is an important and helpful way to continue the life cycle on a farm. Collected viable seeds will be planted and grown in the next growing season. When farmers save and cultivate their own, homegrown seeds, they also perpetuate diversity and variation amongst the same fruits and vegetables that exist! Over time, farmers can select for qualities and save seeds from the healthiest looking and tastiest plant. These plants that sprout from the chosen seeds will eventually adapt to thrive in the particular climate and growing conditions of the farm. An added bonus to saving their own seeds is that farmers can save money and do not need to buy new seeds each season.
In City Growers’ learning bed at the Brooklyn Grange, some of our favorite things to grow that students like are black cherry tomatoes, lemon basil, ground cherries and sunflowers. In some of our workshops, we’ve asked kids to help us continue the growing cycle by learning to save our seeds for next year. (See below for an example of how to save your own tomato seeds!)
Another important ritual farmers do to prepare for the winter is plant cover crops, which are grown to maintain the soil’s health rather than for harvest. The benefits of planting cover crops, such as oats and clover, are especially realized on the rooftops at the Grange, where exposure to varying weather conditions is inevitable. Cover crops help to maintain soil quality by mitigating the impact of erosion from cool winds, and preventing fall rains from leeching the soil totally of nutrients. Instead, these plants allow the soil to retain moisture, which also offsets runoff. Some plants even supply the soil with nutrients that plants need. The roots of clover and other legumes host a good kind of bacteria that fixes nitrogen in the atmosphere and enriches the soil when the plant dies. In the winter, the cover crops will also help keep the soil from freezing!
As fall deepens with winter creeping, the soil upkeep is left in the hands of, or shall we say roots of the cover crops. Farmers will have to wait several months before the conditions are suitable to plant the seeds they have saved!
STEPS for Saving Your Own Tomato Seeds
Things you’ll need: heirloom tomatoes from your garden or farmers’ market, knife, spoon, jar, a paper plate or flat sheet/baking pan with paper towel
Cut open your tomato with a knife and scoop out goops of seeds with a spoon.
In a jar, put your seeds and several tablespoons of water and cover for fermentation.
After roughly 5-7 days, or once the gel originally surrounding the tomato seeds have separated, look for the seeds that have sunk. Scoop away the goop and water, until you have the remaining seeds.
Spread the seeds out on your paper plate, or paper towel and leave your seeds in a safe place to completely dry for several days. Turn seeds over, to make sure all sides are evenly dry.
Once the seeds are dry, store in an airtight container, or in the freezer. Don’t forget to label your seeds!