Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tomatoes for Next Year: Saving Seeds

About a week and a half ago I started the process of saving some of my heirloom tomato seeds.  Make sure they are heirlooms or open-pollinated, because hybrids won't work.  After choosing a healthy beautiful specimen of each type, I extracted the seeds.  Picking a large, healthy tomatoes with qualities you like is important.  The seeds will replicate the characteristics of the parent tomato when they grow into a plant.

After cutting the tomato in half around its middle, or its 'equator', you can scoop out some seeds and put them into a cup or other container.  Then you cover them with 2-3 inches of water.

This is what my seeds looked like after they sat for 4-5 days. I labeled each cup so that I would remember which seeds were which.  You might wonder why you can't just take the seeds out of the tomato and dry them out.  I learned that you have to complete a 'fermentation' process to dissolve the gel coating that is around the seeds.  Unless this gel coating is removed, the seeds are not likely to germinate the next year when you plant them. A rotting tomato on the ground is implementing the process on its own.  We replicate it indoors so that we can plant the seeds when and where we want them in the spring.

The plastic wrap over the top (with holes poked in it) helps the liquid ferment faster.  You might even want to set the cups in a warm area to speed the process along. It gets very stinky!  But don't worry...that means you're doing it right. Take off the covering and stir it once a day until it is done (usually 4-5 days).

When it is time to get them out, pour the seeds and their stinky juices through a strainer of some kind.  The strainer has to have really little holes so you don't lose your seeds down the drain. Make sure to get rid of any remaining gel.  I didn't see any gel left on my seeds.  Then I dumped the seeds out onto a paper plate.  You could also use a coffee filter or paper towel.  I spread out the seeds and marked each plate with the name of the seed. 

When the seeds are all dried, a few days later, you can store them for next year.  I put those little silicone gel packets in with my seeds to keep them from mildewing over the winter.

These are a few of the varieties I saved this year.  Of course, my new favorite, Purple Cherokee.  The one on the left is more ripe.  The picture doesn't even do justice to the beautiful deep purple color it becomes.  You'll have to excuse my pictures.  I forgot to take pictures until after I had already chopped my tomatoes open and removed their seeds.  So I had to take pictures of the less ripe versions. 

These are the beautiful speckled romans.  I have heard some people say that it doesn't have a unique flavor and doesn't produce well, but I got quite a few of these on my plants.  When they are fully ripe, they look fantastic sliced on a plate.  And of course, they are a wonderful sauce tomato.  Imagine a really long fat roma trying to look like a hot pepper.

This is my unknown, unnamed yellow tomato.  I could NOT find it in my garden journal.  So I have no idea what it is, but it turns almost orange when it is fully ripe.  My guess would be Nebraska Wedding tomato.  A pretty tomato with nice solid color. Most of these didn't crack too bad...nor did the Purple Cherokee. 

I think this might be Early Cascade. It is a volunteer I found growing in my garden in April (in IOWA), that's what a weird winter we had. I found a card in the garden from the previous owner that said Early Cascade, so I'm guessing this is one.  Not spectacular as far as tomatoes go, but a decent producer.  Not always very big, either, but cherry red and dependable.  It won't win any awards in my book.

I also saved La Romas, but forgot to take a picture of those.  These are the beautiful black cherry tomatoes.  They make a wicked pretty jar of diced tomatoes. They have a fresh, acid-y taste, and their color fades from green to almost black in places.  I will be saving seeds from these in my 2nd round.

I have to thank all my twitter friends who gave me advice on this subject, including all the tweeps at #gardenchat.  Also, Colleen Vanderlinden wrote a wonderful step by step guide that I consulted before embarking on this project.  You can check it out here

I have saved seeds before, but this is my first year saving seeds from tomatoes.  I look forward to seeing if the seeds germinate and make delicious tomatoes next year in this mom's garden!


  1. Great documenting this process.... I had no idea you have to let them sit in water for a while? Thanks for sharing - just in time for my canning adventure today.

    Happy Gardening - love your Tweets!

  2. Awesome! I have been doing this too! Its kinda exciting to be planning for next year!

  3. I did this way few weeks ago, but the seeds germinated right there!... warmer weather probably. ~bangchik


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