Today’s vegetable gardener has hundreds of different heirloom tomato varieties to choose from, anything from Brandywine to Mortgage Lifter. Some tomato growers have kept particular tomato seeds in their families for several generations. If you are interested in starting the trend of keeping an heirloom tomato variety in your family, you must be able to save the seeds so they can be passed down to your children. Saving tomato seeds is not very difficult, but there are some steps to follow to ensure they are properly saved and stored.
Saving seeds works well for heirloom tomatoes, but not so much for hybrid varieties like ‘Early Girl‘ or ‘Better Boy‘. Hybrid varieties are created by breeding two different tomato plants in order for it to have the characteristics of the two parents. The seeds from the offspring plants will not grow true to the parent. In other words, the offspring of a hybrid tomato will have the characteristics of one of the parent plants, but not both.
On the other hand, heirlooms will grow to become exactly like the parent plant.
Here’s how to save heirloom tomato seeds:
- First, pick a tomato that is ripe and ready to eat. Cut the tomato right down the middle, and squeeze the juice, pulp, and seeds into a glass. If you look closely at a tomato seed you will notice there is a gel-like coating that surrounds each seed. This coating protects the seed while it is inside the fruit. The coating will need to be removed for storage. Don’t waste that used tomato, it can still be used in salsa or tomato sauces.
- To remove the coating we will need to ferment the seeds. In nature, the tomatoes ripen then fall off the plant. It will lay on the ground and begin to rot. This rotting is what removes the gel coating from the seeds. We need to duplicate this process, but in a faster method. In order to accomplish this, fill the glass containing the seeds with water and let it sit for two or three days.
- A film of mold may begin to set in on top of the seeds and water mixture. This is a good thing – the fermentation of the seeds is complete at this point. Do not let the seeds sit much longer, they could start germinating.
- Take a fork and scoop the mold off the top of the water. This is not necessary but will aid the rinsing process. At this time, the good seeds will be at the bottom of the glass. The seeds that are floating are hollow seeds and should be skimmed out and discarded. Pour the remaining good seeds into a strainer and thoroughly rinse off with room temperature water.
- Once the seed bathing is complete, they will need to be dried off. Place the seeds onto one side of a dry cloth towel, then fold the other side of the towel over the seeds. Gently pat the towel with your hand to remove any excess water from the seeds. Once this is done place the tomato seeds onto a plate (do not use a paper plate or paper towels – the seeds will stick to the paper) and spread them out. Try not to have any seeds touching, if possible. If some seeds do touch, it isn’t that big a deal, just make sure to occasionally stir the seeds around to prevent sticking.
- Do NOT place the seeds out in the sun. A cool, dry place is best for drying, like a garage or closet. Use a fan to speed the drying process if needed. The tomato seeds should be dry within a day or two.
- Once the seeds are completely dry, store them in an airtight container such as a jar or a tupperware bowl. If you have more than one type of tomato seeds, make sure you properly label the seed type so there will be no confusion next spring. Store the container in a cool, dry place and you’ll be set for next year’s planting.