She’s quite the lady. Strong and productive, even when adversity strikes. Also, she has one of the biggest hearts around. Miss Lucy is her name. Well, it’s not her real name, but since the man who introduced her to me calls her Miss Lucy, I do the same. Although she is a relative newcomer to my garden, Miss Lucy, a tall vining heirloom tomato, produces abundant, beautiful fruit and she seems to thrive when her neighbors wither in drought or drown in heavy rains.
Through the patchwork quilt serendipity that connects heirloom seed savers, I exchanged emails with Arty Schronce, an agricultural specialist in Georgia, who saw a story I wrote about growing black peanuts. Arty’s father, Gordon Schronce, who lives in Iron Station, NC, grows black peanuts and supplies seed to companies, including the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Mr. Schronce and I corresponded and I was thrilled when he sent some special heirloom seeds to me. Along with white cucumbers, seed for a pink oxheart tomato was tucked in the package. Mr. Schronce said he received the seed from an elderly woman, Miss Lucy, who grew these lovely tomatoes for many years. In honor of her, Mr. Schronce called the tomato the “Miss Lucy.”
A tall plant, Miss Lucy usually outgrows six-foot cages. Abundant fruit sets on her strong limbs and ripe tomatoes often weigh more than a pound. Smooth pink skin and richly colored, juicy flesh are trademarks of Miss Lucy. With few seeds for the size of her fruit, Miss Lucy is an excellent slicing tomato and a sandwich made from her fruit is the ultimate summer treat. Because she consistently produces in a variety of growing conditions and because she is delicious, I select a few of Miss Lucy’s most perfect specimens and harvest seeds to save for future planting.
Although there are many methods for saving tomato seed, I find the following to be most successful for me. If you have a favorite heirloom tomato in your summer garden, harvest some seeds to grow next year. With that first taste of next-generation fruit, you will happily welcome back a friend.
1. Select perfectly ripe, even overripe, heirloom tomatoes. (Hybrids, such as Sungold, will not produce the same fruit, so they are not desirable for seed saving.) Choose fruit with best-specimen characteristics and avoid any with large cracks, signs of blight or blossom end rot or other undesirable traits.
2. Use a sharp knife to make an incision in the fruit or tear it apart with your fingers, to avoid damaging seeds.
3. Squeeze the flesh surrounding seed pockets and allow seeds to fall into a glass container.
4. Add enough water to cover the seeds by about an inch.
5. Agitate the contents with a spoon or your finger
6. Place the seeds, in the glass with water, out of direct sunlight for a day or two, agitating the contents a few times. (Note: sunlight triggers germination, so it is always best to keep seeds out of bright light until you are ready to plant.)
7. Pour water and seeds into the bowl of a fine mesh sieve. Rinse seeds completely, removing any particles of fruit.
8. Place seeds on a glass plate with a small amount of water.