The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Behind the scenes at Seed Savers Exchange

Tomato seeds processed in two different waysI didn't contact Seed Savers Exchange about my potentially bad tomato seeds because I wasn't 100% sure the problem was their fault.  But one of their employee's --- Tom Wahlberg --- stumbled across my post and emailed me in concern.  He told me that, "like we state on each packet, we really do mean Satisfaction Guaranteed, and have credited your account for these two packets."

While the refund was appreciated, I was more intrigued to hear about how Seed Savers Exchange grows, processes, and tests seeds.  Wahlberg explained:

We had both of these varieties grown on contract, one Conventional (Amish Paste) and one Organic (Martino's Roma).  The Organic tomatoes will have been processed via fermentation technique, and will tend to retain more of the fruit's organic matter than the Conventional.

Hundreds of tomatoesDepending on the length of time of fermentation it is possible the Organic would have a higher level of fungal activity, but also would retain more of the normal fuzzy exterior which could also be what you are seeing.  The Conventional by contrast will have been processed via acid extraction, which is not a seed treatment, but rather a method commercial growers use to break down the gelatinous membrane around the seed without the delay inherent with the fermentation process.  That would also explain the difference in the shade between the two varieties.

As for germination, we utilize Midwest Seed Services for independent analysis, and the most recent results are as follows:

Date of test
Amish Paste --- Conventional
Amish Paste --- Conventional
Martino's Roma --- Organic
96% OG259-381

Tomato transplantsWahlberg  went on to tell me that Seed Savers Exchange has started hundreds of Amish Paste plants in the greenhouse this year (some of which you can see in this and the previous photo).  "In light of your observations, we will also start a flat of the Martino's for evaluation."

He finished by telling me:

I'll let you know what we find out with the Martino's flat we are planting.  Sometimes there definitely is a problem with seed quality, but we hope through our own safeguards (field inspections, trial plots, testing, etc) to have that be our problem, not the customer's.

I thought I should set the record straight, and will let you know what Wahlberg finds out about the Martino's Roma seeds.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Thanks for the update on the tomato seeds.

The insights into the saving and testing methods at SSE are valuable. I didn't know that commercial growers used an acid extraction process.

Comment by RDG Wed May 16 09:26:33 2012
That is a great warranty. Do you have a link to their website?
Comment by Cindy Wed May 16 11:09:56 2012

RDG --- I found the seed processing techniques interesting too, which is why I made the followup post. :-)

Cindy --- Seed Savers Exchange is

Comment by anna Wed May 16 13:17:15 2012

With both in-house growing tests and independant germination testing, it seems to me that Seed Savers has good quality control.

What you should ask them is to check the germination rates on the batches of seeds you used. I'm assuming the batch numbers are printed on the packages.

This is also a good example of why alost everything that is produced commercially has a batch or serial number; so one can backtrace quality issues.

Comment by Roland_Smith Thu May 17 04:36:38 2012

Roland --- I would have run a germination test of my own, but I'd used up all the seeds in the worst offender's packet (and composted the packet, so I didn't have the batch number, etc.) However, the employee I emailed with had my order in front of him, and I'm assuming he sent me the germination test data for the specific batch numbers I ordered from.

I'm very impressed with their growing tests and germination control too!

Comment by anna Thu May 17 07:49:11 2012

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