Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tomato Seed Saving

Tomato harvest is in high gear. Even the longest season open pollinated heirloom plants are ready. The words open pollinated, means you can save seeds from these varieties. (If a tomato is a hybrid, typically designated by F1. Then if you saved the seed it would not come true to the original plant, but would revert back to the traits of the parents. This is a complicated topic and one for another post.)

Saving seed from an OP variety of tomato is relatively easy, but why would you want to? One reason is to preserve an older variety. Another would be to select for traits favorable to your local climate and needs. If you are selling commercially like we are, maybe cosmetics and flavor are important. If you are just cutting the tomatoes up for canning, then maybe juiciness, flavor, or color is key.

OP varieties I like are Brandywine and Pruden's Purple, but there are hundreds of other varieties in each category of slicers, Roma's or cherry tomatoes. Assuming you have chosen the variety you want, if you haven't grown any this year you can go down to the local farmer's market and get a wide variety there. Select several tomatoes for seed from different plants if you can to keep the genetic base as wide as possible. Tomatoes are typically self fertile so having fruit from several plants is not critical like it would be from a corn population (again a topic for another post).

So here we go, how to save seeds.

First cut the tomatoes through the equator and squeeze the pulp, which contains the seeds, into a disposable Styrofoam or plastic cup. A 16 to 32 oz size should be fine. You can use the rest of the tomato to eat. Ferment the pulp for 7 to10 days, it will get moldy and slimy and stinky so don't do this in the house or even the garage. A snap on lid is helpful to keep fruit flies out of the fermented mix.

The fermentation will break down the gel sack around the seed and the viable seeds will drop to the bottom of the cup. Carefully rinse off the fermented goo and the viable seeds should remain in the bottom of the cup. Do this outside in the yard with the hose on very low as this is a smelly process.

The good seed can now be dried at room temperature and saved for next year. I usually dry the seeds on wax paper so they don't stick like they would to a paper towel.

Mark your seeds well so you can remember what variety and what year they came from. You can get little seed packets or zip lock bags for this. Keep seeds in a dry and cool place out of the direct sun light.

Seed saving is pretty cool and relatively easy. Everyone should try it at least once. It is a great project for children. (Can you say science project?)

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