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Properly Isolate Heirloom Tomatoes for Seed Saving

By CommonCents
June 3, 2016

There are many strategies for isolating heirloom varieties if you plan to save seeds for the future. Some people use distance alone. Others use bagging or other barriers to isolate a branch or whole plant to gather seeds. I use a different method. I clone the plant from a cutting, isolate the clone indoors in a sunny window, and grow the clone to produce seeds to save for future years.

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Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
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Weedwhacker
Jun 2, 2016 6:30 PM CST
Eric, I'm quite intrigued by your idea -- how long does it take for your "clone plant" to produce fruit? And don't those plants get awfully big growing in front of the window? I'm also wondering if they would get enough hours of daylight during the winter months up here in the north -- although it might work if I started earlier in the season, rather than later.
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Name: Vickie
Elberfeld, Indiana, USA (Zone 6b)
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blue23rose
Jun 2, 2016 7:31 PM CST
Very cool idea, Eric!
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
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RickCorey
Jun 2, 2016 7:48 PM CST
Have you ever checked to see how "pure" your outdoor production plants stay? I've seen estimates ranging from less than 0.5% to over 15% cross pollination, depending on variety and aggressiveness of insect pollinators.

What you're doing indoors sounds like it would keep the strain 100% pure forever, except for selection pressure favoring the traits of whatever individuals you choose to bring indoors. And I would call that "desirable selection" rather than "genetic drift".

I assume that you don't have many or any die off indoors or refuse to fruit, which would cause an "indoors" selection pressure.

I think the idea of staggering seed harvests is great. Gene banks do that, too.
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Thanks for the article!
Name: Caroline Scott
Calgary (Zone 4a)
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CarolineScott
Jun 2, 2016 9:26 PM CST
Mine probably are not as pure as what you are getting, but I simply bag the blossom cluster as it is forming. Then once it sets fruit, I mark the cluster with coloured ribbon, remove the bag, and let it form the ripe fruit. Then I save the seeds from one of the tomatoes.
Name: Christine
North East Texas (Zone 7b)
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wildflowers
Jun 3, 2016 6:32 AM CST
Eric, this is very interesting. Thank you for sharing your method for saving heirloom seeds. Thumbs up
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Name: Terri
virginia (Zone 7a)
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dragonfly53
Jun 3, 2016 10:49 AM CST
CarolineScott said:Mine probably are not as pure as what you are getting, but I simply bag the blossom cluster as it is forming. Then once it sets fruit, I mark the cluster with coloured ribbon, remove the bag, and let it form the ripe fruit. Then I save the seeds from one of the tomatoes.


Caroline, do you pollinate the flowers by hand when you bag them in order to get the fruit?
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Name: Critter (Jill)
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critterologist
Jun 4, 2016 6:49 AM CST
A good shake should be all it takes for self-pollination. When people say tomatoes are pollinated by wind, I think it's more the mechanics of wind movement... other than cherry varieties, my understanding is that most tomato blossoms are built such that the pollen mostly stays within the flower... they don't tend to be "promiscuous pollinators."

Saving open-pollinated seed works for my purposes. I've only had 1 plant grow out that wasn't true to type, and that was a Stupice with extra-large fruits (that would be a good thing, but seeds from that plant just grew out like "normal" Stupice).

Thanks for sharing your experience and technique! It's interesting to note that tomato cuttings will fruit inside, whether or not I try that for the main purpose of saving seeds (although of course I would save seeds from any tomatoes grown like that!) .

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