I love saving the seeds of heirloom plants.
In fact, it’s one of my favorite things! I could sing the praises of heirloom seeds all day long, folks. All. Day. Long.
How about their flavor? And variety? And the fact that they make us, their growers, self-reliant? We don’t have to depend on stores!
Then there’s the guaranteed non-GMO thing. And, of course, the stories behind heirloom seeds. (Here’s a story you’ll like: the story behind my family’s heirloom green beans.)
But back to saving seeds! You purchase the seeds once and then, because of the beauty of God’s design, you can save the seeds to plant year after year to feed your family. Didn’t I mention that heirloom seeds are awesome? They’re the ultimate in frugality (and preparedness).
Let’s talk about how to save tomato seeds, which are an excellent place to start if you’ve never done it before (or even if you have).
A Few Basics
Keep in mind, you can only save seeds from heirloom plants. Hybrid varieties will usually not grow and if they do, they won’t produce the same type of plant, if at all. For more info on this grab a free copy of my eBook: Heirloom Gardening Guide-Plant to Save Money.
Tomato seeds are excellent candidates for seed saving because, like beans, they’re a self-pollinated plant. Simply put, they don’t cross pollinate with other tomato species, so you can have 3 different varieties of tomatoes planted together and they won’t inner breed.
I always save more seed than I think I’ll need — in case I have to replant, or if the germination rate is low.
Learning how to save tomato seeds is a tad bit different than saving bean seed (you can learn how to save bean seed here). It requires a fermenting process.
Here’s how to save tomato seeds, step-by-step.
1. Select the plant.
Select the plant whose seeds you want to save. Choose one that’s free from disease and also a high producer.
2. Let a tomato get overripe.
Let a tomato on that plant get almost overripe. (You don’t want to save seed from an unripe tomato as the seeds will be little and unlikely to sprout.)
3. Scoop out the seeds.
Cut the tomato in half lengthwise. With your fingers or a spoon, scoop out the seeds along with the gelatinous membrane that surrounds them. Put them in a clean glass jar. I use a Fido jar without the rubber seal so I can close it, but a bit of air can still get inside. You can also use cheese cloth on top of a Mason jar or plastic wrap with holes poked in it.
4. Ferment the seeds.
Let the seeds sit for out for 3 to 5 days. Once every 24 hours, stir the seeds then put the lid back. If you see scum develop, you’re on the right track.
Be warned: the fermenting process can smell (another reason the Fido jar works well). You may want to set it in the garage.
During the fermentation, the seeds will separate from the germination-inhibiting gel surrounding them, as well as reduce the spread of any seed-borne diseases. The end result is that you’ll increase their germination rate the following spring and more likely get new tomato plants out of them. This process mimics nature; the seeds would either be eaten and passed through an animal or fall to the ground and rot.
5. Rinse and drain the healthy seeds.
When you begin to see the seeds separate from the gel and mold forms on top, place the seeds in a bowl of water. The healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. Rinse these seeds, removing any remaining gel or debris. Place the healthy seeds in a fine mesh sieve and let them drain. Then blot them dry with a clean cloth towel.
6. Dry out the seeds fully.
Place the seeds on a glass dish or plate, with a space between each seed so they’re not touching. Let them dry in a warm area out of direct sunlight for several days.
If the seeds have fermented too long and begin to sprout as they dry out, either plant them or throw them out. Either way, they’re no longer viable for seed saving at this point.
Seeds get damaged if they get hotter than 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so keep them out of the sun or hot areas of your home. If you experience high humidity, turn a fan blowing on low just over the seeds.
Throughout this time, check them regularly for any signs of mold or mildew. Also, especially in the beginning when they’re pretty wet, flip them over once or twice a day.
7. Save and store.
When fully dry, put them in a clean dry glass jar or envelope and store in a cool, dry, dark place until next planting season.
Be sure to label your jar or envelope with the particular variety of tomato — this comes in handy especially if you’re saving a few different types of tomato seed.
Do you know how to save heirloom tomato seeds? What varieties do you save?
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