Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saving Tomato Seeds

If you are interested in saving the seeds from an heirloom tomato variety (non-hybrid), Jacque's method is easier than any I've tried before. Thanks Jacque! First, though, some rules about planting properly if you want to save the seeds. Jacque passes this on from the Seed Savers Exchange, and this site will become your friend if you become hooked on heirloom varieties:
"Cross-pollination between modern tomato varieties seldom occurs, except in potato leaf varieties which should be separated by the length of the garden. Do not save seeds from double fruits or from the first fruits of large-fruited varieties. Pick at least one ripe fruit from each of several plants."
What is a potato-leaf variety? Why, the leaves look similar to a potato leaf. My Cherokee Purple tomato is one such, so I would have to keep it far away from other tomatoes. If the tomato is self-pollinated, that variety can be planted closer to other tomato varieties. Check out the photo at left that I got from The Daily Green in their article about saving tomato seeds. The potato-leaf variety is on the left, with the standard kind of tomato leaf on the right.

Jacque's son passed on another hint on how far apart the tomatoes need to be planted in order to save seeds:
"You look at the flowers and if the flower is closed without the stamen sticking out the end then it will only be self-pollinated."
Now for Jacque's method of getting those seeds out of the tomato and ready to store:
  • Pick several fully ripe tomatoes (same variety) you want to grow again, choosing a fruit that has the characteristics you like. Get a small recloseable sandwich bag, and squeeze or scoop the seeds out of the tomato into the bag. You'll have juice and some pulp, but try not to get tons of pulp.
  • Close the bag and label it with the variety of tomato.
  • Let the bag sit on your counter for three or four days. After that time, you will see the seeds have separated from the pulp and you will smell a bit of of a rotten smell if you open the bag -- the pulp and juice have fermented, which is necessary to remove the gel that inhibits germination
  • Pour a little water in the bag and mix it up with the seeds and remaining pulp. (Any seeds that float are no good.) Pour off the pieces of pulp and bad seeds, being careful to keep the other seeds in the bag.
  • Repeat the last step once or twice until all you have left is seeds.
I discovered the easiest way to get these seeds out of the bag and dry them at the same time is to grab a napkin and poke it at the seeds. The seeds stick and the water is absorbed. Then, you gently rub off the seeds on a small plate and let them dry several days. I put the plate on top of the empty bag to make sure I didn't forget which variety I had.

The blog linked next has some great photos and explanation for this process, just in case you're nervous like I was the first time. They do some steps slightly differently, but that just shows you this is not rocket science and this process is flexible. Urban Veggie Gardener

When the seeds are completely dry, put them in a clean labeled bag or envelope. You're ready for next spring!

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