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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tomato seeds - saving the best of the bunch!

I have been saving my own tomato seeds for quite a few years now, and my seeds always seem a bit hardier than those from a store.  I started my stock with quite a few different heirloom varieties, and have kept the best of the bunch.  I am sure you have gotten a tomato and just knew that it was the best tomato ever, and thought "This tomato needs to last forever!"  Well, just follow these simple instructions, and you can make that happen.

When planting your tomatoes, know that those busy little honey bees do not pollinate to your set garden pattern, but will usually dance around the flowers in a small area, going flower to flower on the same plant and then moving to the next.  Plant your garden accordingly.  I plant like varieties together, and mark the sticks with a color code, and draw up a scaled map to keep track of the exact location of each plant.  This seems like a lot of work, but it helps when harvesting the tomatoes and keeping seeds in order.  I also keep a description of each type of tomato so that when I am harvesting, I can decide which tomatoes match to the description.  Sometimes those bees get a bit crazy and you will find a tomato that looks like it is a Red Jersey Devil, but it is on your Orange Velencia plant.  This is a hybrid, and can be delicious, but I usually do not save these seeds.

One Day of Heirloom Tomatoes

When saving seeds, you want a nice ripe tomato.  Green tomatoes have immature seeds.  If you need to skin the tomato because you are making sauce or something, do not drop it in boiling water to skin it, get a tomato peeler.  These things are awesome.  They peel a tomato quicker, and with half the work of the boiling water dip.  I found some in the produce section of my grocery store for $1.99.  I bought ten, and gave them away to all my friends who grow tomatoes, and they LOVE this little gadget.  Make sure it is for tomatoes, and pick one up.

When saving seeds, it is best to get seeds from several tomatoes of the same variety, this just insures some genetic diversity.  I usually get 3-4 of the best example of a specific variety.  You can do one tomato at a time if you can not get several of the same variety at the same time, and just do this process for each tomato separately, and just mix the seeds when finished.

The fist step is to scoop out the seeds into a little bowl, fill with water, and set on a counter, away from direct sunlight, and let it ferment for a few days.
Tomato Seeds in Water

The reason you need this step, is that weird little sack around the seed.  This needs to be removed, and this process is the easiest, and least time consuming, way to do it.

Once the top of the dishes start to grow a thin, white mold on the top, they are ready.  This takes about 3 days, and this mold is the type that grows on fermenting sauerkraut, and though disgusting, is harmless to your tomato seeds.

For the next step, you will need a seed strainer and a large bowl.  Pour the slightly smelly mixture of seeds and fermented mold into the large bowl, and pour cool water to fill up the bowl.
Floating mold!

The gross stuff will stay at the top and the seeds will fall to the bottom.  Slowly pour off the top, and continue pouring until the seeds are about to slip out.  With the seeds still in the bowl, fill the bowl with a little more water, and then pour the whole bowl, seeds and all, into the seed strainer.
Seeds and Stuff in the Strainer

Fill the bowl with some more water, and with your fingers, gently stir the seeds around the strainer, using the mesh to gently remove the little sacks around the seeds.  Once this is done, pour the seeds back in the bowl, fill with water, and drain off all the floaties.  At this point, you should have some pretty clean seeds.
One Last Rinse and - Clean Seeds!

Pour all the seeds in the strainer, and bounce gently to remove as much water as possible.  Once the water is strained, smear your clean seeds on a paper towel to completely dry out.  Label the paper towel if you are doing more than one set of seeds.  Place the seeds in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight, to dry.
Market Miracles on a Paper Towel

When the seeds are completely dry, gently pop the seeds off the towel.  They should come off quite easy, but if they get a bit stuck, I use my nails to gently pop them off.  If a bit of towel stays on, no worries, it will dissolve when you plant the seed.  Place the seeds in a little bag, and make sure that you label the tomato, and a description for next year's planting.

Finished Seeds

Now I did say that I usually do not keep the hybrid seeds, but I do have one set of seeds that I have named "Casa de Celli" because this plant refuses to die.  For two years this plant grew out of bounds, on its own, by the compost pile.  It produces awesome tomatoes, and re-seeded itself, and survived through two Michigan winters, and this year, was accidentally pulled as a weed by my son.  I replanted it in my garden, thinking there was no way it was going to live, but it is now producing beautiful, tasty tomatoes.  I have no idea what variety it started as, but something with this much will to live needs to be preserved!

1 comment:

  1. This was a great article Donna! Most people (including myself) have no real idea how to save seeds.