This post gives an overview of How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds. It covers how to harvest, clean, and properly store your tomato seeds.
Why Collect Seeds
I do not save all of my seeds, but when I find a really good variety of heirloom vegetable, I will save those seeds. I will especially save them from extra-large fruit or from plants that survive a drought better than others. These traits are usually carried over from and enhanced from one generation to the next.
Tomato Seed Saving is Different
The tomato seeds cannot just be laid out on a paper towel, dried, and planted next year like a lot of seeds can. Tomato seeds need to have all of the pulp removed, which is difficult. But the process outlined below will help you be a pro at harvesting the best heirloom tomato seeds you have.
Milk the Tomato
To collect tomato seeds you need to get them out of the fruit. The easiest thing to do is to quarter or half the tomato and then “milk” the seeds out of the tomato into a bowl. Just rub the meat of the tomato in between your fingers and push the seeds down toward the bowl.
The Fermenting Process
After the seeds and juice are in the bowl, cover and label the concoction and set it aside. Do NOT add water. Just leave the seeds in the tomato juice. It will all ferment together, which will help remove some of the anti-germination defenses that the tomato seeds have on them.
Each day remove the lid to the concoction and stir. Then replace the lid and let it sit for another day. After 3 to 5 days proceed to the “clean up” step. By the way, the concoction will begin to stink after a few days. This is normal and is one of the reasons you cover the container that the seeds are in. This will keep bugs out and minimize the amount of stink that you have to endure. The concoction will also get mold on top of it. Again, this is normal and will be washed off in the next step.
Clean Up Step
After 3 to 5 days, you are ready to clean the seeds up. Add water to the mixture. You want to add at least four to five times the amount of water than the amount of the original tomato juice. In almost all cases the viable seeds will sink to the bottom of water. Use a spoon to stir the seeds. Let them settle and then pour the water and diluted tomato juice out, being careful not to dump the seeds out. Repeat this step several times.
Dry the Seeds
Once the seeds are clean, dump as much water out as you can without dumping the seeds out. Then put the seeds on a paper towel. Let them dry overnight and then loosen and separate the seeds. Let the seeds dry for at least two weeks, up to a month before bagging for long term storage.
Label the Container
I store my seeds in plastic zip lock sandwich bags. Make sure you label your bag with the variety and when you put the seeds in. Tomato seeds done with this method can last for up to six years.
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Please watch the Tomato Seed Saving video.
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