Tomato seeds!! I love tomato seeds; opening up a new packet, full of possibilities, and having the little buggers fall out into your palm, all round-ish and sweet and promising to produce miracles in your garden. I love tomato seedlings, too; dependably popping up in your seed starting trays and even though there’s still icy spring weather outside, you can run your hands over them and they smell like summer. And you know, you just know, summer is coming. Here’s how you can preserve that harvest for next year’s garden by learning how to save tomato seeds.
Why not hybrid seed?
One bummer thing about tomatoes – paying good money for seeds. Now, if hybrids are your thing, you’re pretty much stuck with paying for them every year if you want dependable production. Hybrids aren’t bad (don’t confuse them with GMOs or anything shady like that); you’re a hybrid, after all. To make you, God took some of your mom and some of your dad and, voila, you appeared in all your awesomeness. However, when you reproduce, your children are created, not your mom or dad. Hybrid seeds don’t produce true to their parents and so it’s a crapshoot what you’re going to get, even if they reseed themselves, as tomatoes are wont to do. Great vining but no fruit set is one example of a less than stellar hybrid mutant-child.
If, however, you’re into heirloom tomato varieties (and, oh, there’s so much to love about those flavors), then learning how to save tomato seeds can help you relieve that budget spasm that hits early spring when you place your seed orders. Don’t get me wrong, I still end up buying new tomato seeds every year because…well, quite frankly, I have an addiction problem. But it’s new varieties I’m trying out in the name of finding fantastic flavors that my family will love. It’s for the children. And I could stop any time. Really.
Steps to learn how to save tomato seeds:
So, our seed group had Dale of Delectation of Tomatoes here in Utah come over and show us how to get our hands dirty with this seed saving venture and learn how to save tomato seeds. First step? Well, he brought out some of his huge, beautiful tomatoes and started hacking into them. He carved into the center and opened one up, revealing the fat flesh inside, housing hundreds of seeds per tomato. He squished them out with his fingers and put them in a recycled yogurt container that he’d cleaned out – so far, very high tech stuff here. He said that it’s best to take seeds from several of the same variety of tomato for genetic diversity within that variety and that it’s important to pick your best performing tomatoes for seed saving. So, when you’re planting, plan to plant a few of each variety from which you want to save seed just to have a good mix.
Then, Dale looked around the outside of his tomato for any scars or squishes or cracks and carved them off, plopping them into the yogurt container with the seeds. He said that all those blemishes have the bacteria you want for fermenting your tomato seeds, a necessary step in successfully saving them. (Tomatoes have a gel sac around their seeds that is meant to protect the seed until the next season when it’s time for them to germinate. In nature, that gel would be broken down and the inherent growth inhibitors would dissipate after the tomato had sat and decomposed through the winter; fermenting in the yogurt container just mimics that process.) Then, he squished all the liquid from the tomato and his cutting board into the container, added enough water to cover the seeds and added a lid (just so that smell the coming fermentation process didn’t escape – not pleasant). Then, very important step here, he LABELED the container and attached a future seed envelope to the lid so that all the information for that tomato variety was right there, taped to the container. Labeling, so important. Something at which I usually stink.
Then, he told us to put our seeds somewhere warmish and safe on a counter or shelf and give them a swoosh every day and check them to watch for signs of mold. Once your seeds have developed a nasty, gloppy mold at the top that covers the width of the container (this takes around a week but it really depends on how warm it is in your house) , you can transfer the contents of your container into a small bucket and add some water. Let it sit for a minute or two to settle down and then dump off the top, yucky water, adding clean water again when you’re done. Let them sit to settle again and then swish the seeds and dump off more gunk; repeat until your water is clear. Healthy, viable seeds will sink; the useless ones will float to the top where you can just skim them off and dump them. If you ferment your seeds too long, they’ll start to germinate in the container (not that I would know that from personal experience, of course), so make sure you keep checking and process them as soon as they’re done. Drying them doesn’t have to be complicated – a plate and a place with good air circulation will do. A caution to people with kids or cats or both, put the drying seeds somewhere that curious fingers and feckless paws can’t find them.
Once they’re dry, pop them into your prepared envelopes and put them into your tomato seed file. Oh, yeah, you’ll get so good at this because it’s easy and kind of cool (molding on purpose, you gotta admit there’s something cool about that) and saves you money that you’ll need to find a good place to store all those saved seeds. We use file boxes with hanging folders for each plant family and the many random delineations I’ve come up with like “bean-ish” and “Zen garden” (my herbs). How do you keep your seeds safe and stored?
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