One of the goals for this season was to save my own heirloom tomato seeds in order to save on my seed bill next season. Heirloom tomato seeds rack up the biggest percentage of the cost of seeds because I like to have a lot of variety, not just for planting in my own garden but for the seedling sale I do in early Fall.
The steps to saving tomato seeds are pretty simple. It’s important to choose the best fruit on the vine, making sure to collect the ones showing the most perfect characteristics of that particular variety. Saving seeds from a few different fruit, ideally from various plants and various harvest days will insure well rounded genetics. Essentially you are trying to collect an “average”.
Wait for all of the fruit to be very ripe before dissecting to allow for fully matured seeds. Every variety has a slightly different interior structure, but after going through a few you’ll get the hang of it. Basically every tomato has 4 pockets of seeds, some are smaller than others, some are tightly fitted against the skin and some are hollow. Carefully cutting each fruit open, use your finders to slide the seeds off of the pulp into a clean jar. Each seed is coated in a jelly like material, making them slippery and easy to collect. The jars are labeled and filled with spring water which will help dissolve the jelly, leaving the seed clean for proper storage. You’ll want to stir the contents a few times to help separate the jelly from the seeds. Soaking the jelly coated seeds in water has other benefits if left to ferment for a few days. The fermentation in the jar is mimicking the natural fermentation that occurs on the vine when fruit mature and rot before splattering to the ground. The effect of fermentation on the seeds isn’t completely understood. All we know is what happens in nature and that usually there is a reason for it. Looking at how things occur naturally and applying as much of it to our management of natural systems is likely to help us achieve better results, even if we aren’t sure why.
During fermentation a moldy skin may form on the surface of the water. When you are ready to dry the seeds, pull the mold off and toss it in the compost. The seeds will have sunk to the bottom of the jar, so you’ll be able to drain most of the liquid directly into the sink. The dregs holding the seeds should be poured onto a paper towel, where the seeds will remain until completely dry. They can later be brushes off the towel into a paper envelope and stored in a cool dry place, labeled with the variety and the date for future reference.