If you’ve grown a bunch of ripe, juicy tomatoes this summer, and want to enjoy the same varieties next summer, you can save the seeds from those tomatoes yourself. Saving your own seeds means you don’t have to go to the trouble (or expense) of buying them, plus it’s an easy and fun task that will make you appreciate your tomatoes all the more. If you’d like to know how, read on.
The first thing to know is that seed can be saved only from open-pollinated (OP) tomato varieties. Heirlooms are always open pollinated. The seed of hybrid varieties – indicated by an F1 in the variety description – won’t come true, meaning that if you save and plant that seed, the tomatoes you get might not look or taste anything like the ones the seed came from.
The tomatoes you want to save seed from should be fully ripe and as close to perfect – free from holes, cracks, disease or pests – as possible. The idea is that best tomatoes now will yield the best tomatoes later.
As you’ve probably noticed, each tomato seed is covered by a gelatinous goo. It’s there to keep the seed from sprouting under less than ideal conditions, such as inside the tomato. If left around the seed when stored, it can cause the seed to mold or create conditions for disease.
So the standard way to save tomato seeds is to get rid of the goo. This is done by letting the seeds sit in water and ferment for a couple of days to ensure the gel is dissolved. Then you can take the seeds out of the water and rinse and dry them with less concern about introducing mold or disease.
Saving the Seeds
Remove the seeds. Do one variety at a time and be sure to label which one it is when it comes time to store the seeds. Cut the tomato in half at its widest point (if it were the Earth, you’d be cutting through the Equator). Scoop out the seeds into a clean jar or bowl big enough to hold a cup of water. Include any pulp, but no need to squeeze the tomato like a lemon. The gel and pulp are what will ferment.
Add water. Add up to a cup of water, enough so that the seeds will eventually be able to sink to the bottom and the gel float to the top. Cover with a paper towel or cheesecloth and put the container aside for two to four days to allow fermentation to take place. It’s not going to smell good, so put it somewhere where you won’t forget about it, but won’t be able to smell it much, either. Keep at room temperature.
Check the mixture every day. Peek under the paper towel. The surface of the water should be starting to become moldy. When it begins to bubble, it’s ready. The good seeds should be at the bottom of the container, and the bad seeds and mucky stuff at the surface. Don’t let it keep fermenting at this point because the seeds can start to germinate.
Clean the seeds. Scoop out the mold and as much of the mucky pulp as possible, then dump the seeds into a strainer. Rinse them under running water. If any pulp or mold remain on the seeds, try to get it off. Get them as clean as you can.
Dry them. Spread the seeds onto a ceramic, glass, or paper plate, and put it in a warm, dry place. Don’t use paper towels, seeds will stick to them. Move the seeds around once in awhile so they don’t clump and can dry thoroughly. This should take about a week. Seeds are fully dry when they feel papery and crack when folded in half.
Label and store. Put the seeds in envelopes or canning jars and keep in a cool, dry place until next spring. Don’t forget to put the variety name and date on whatever you store them in. Properly dried seeds should be usable for up to six years.
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