The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to save tomato seeds

Saving tomato seeds

I've touched on saving tomato seeds before, but realized I'd never made a real post on the topic.  Since I like to save tomato seeds as early as possible in the year to make it less likely Squeeze out tomato seedsthat fungi will hitchhike into next year's garden via seed packets, I thought now would be a good time to remind you all to get out there and save some seeds!

I wrote in great depth about hybridization issues in Weekend Homesteader: September, so I won't repeat that information here.  The short version is: tomato-leaf tomatoes very seldom cross-pollinate, but currant tomatoes and potato-leaf tomatoes do cross-pollinate with plants within the same group.  So, if your garden contains ten varieties of tomato-leaf tomatoes, one potato-leaf tomato, and one currant tomato, you can save seeds from all of them without getting unintentional hybrids.

Fermenting tomato seeds

Inbreeding depression (a fancy name for the effect you see if you marry your brother) is much less of a problem in tomatoes than in other plants, but I do try to pluck at least two fruits from different plants in each variety to keep genetic diversity as high as possible.  Then I head back to the kitchen to squeeze the guts out of each tomato, setting the flesh aside to be turned into soup or sauce.

Rinse tomato seedsTomatoes and cucumbers are relatively unique because the seeds are enclosed in gelatinous sacs that need to be fermented away before the seed can sprout.  The process is a bit smelly, but is otherwise very easy.  Just add about an inch or two of water to each small container of tomato seeds, then set it aside for a week or so.  Soon, you'll see mold forming on top of or in the liquid, and the whole thing will start to stink.  (Mark was thrilled that I was able to ferment my tomato seeds on the porch this year rather than on top of the fridge.)  That's your sign that your tomato seeds are ready to process and dry.

Drying tomato seeds

The simplest way to separate seeds from moldy water is to add some more water, stir with a spoon, let the tomato seeds settle back to the bottom of the container, then pour off the foul liquid.  I fill the container back up with water two or three times to rinse off the seeds, then they're ready to dry.  If processed correctly, the seeds will look pale and fuzzy within twenty-four hours, at which point you can put them in packets for next year's garden.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Where do you store the tomato seeds?
Comment by Shannon Fri Aug 10 10:34:43 2012
Shannon --- I'm pretty low tech. I store my seeds in this plastic box. I suspect that if I had a cool garage to keep them in, they might last a bit longer, but they still generally last more than one year.
Comment by anna Fri Aug 10 13:42:19 2012
I keep my tomato seeds in zip bags labeled on varieties and all the bags are in a cardboard box. As my house has a cellar with a cooler and relatively constant temperature I keep my seeds in there and they last for 5-6 years.
Comment by Seminte de Rosii Wed Oct 11 05:16:02 2017

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