Summer is winding down and so is my vegetable garden. The tomato plants are looking particularly sad at present–their once lush vines sporting a permanent wilt and yellow pallor that signals their productive days are behind them.
I have harvested most of the fruit and processed the bounty into sauce so that my family can enjoy the taste of summer even in the dead of winter. But this year, in addition to preserving the tomatoes, I went a step further. I saved their seeds!
Usually I buy my tomato starts, but early in the season a friend gifted me some unusual heirloom plants she grew from seed. Not only are the tomatoes delicious, but they are rare varieties I have not seen at farmers’ market. It occurred to me I could save money and perpetuate these antique varieties if I harvested their seeds to grow my own starts next year.
Saving tomato seeds is amazingly easy. You can preserve seeds from your own homegrown fruit or buy interesting varieties at your local farmers’ market and save seeds from those. The sky is the limit!
Follow these simple steps and you’ll be on your way to growing your own tomato starts next year.
THINGS YOU’LL NEED:
* ripe tomatoes (keep each variety separate)
* air-tight storage containers (glass or plastic) with lids
* a fine mesh strainer
* large paper coffee filters or paper towels
1. Cut a ripe tomato in half and squeeze the pulp and seeds into a storage container. *If saving more than one variety use separate containers for each and label them.
2. Cover with a lid and set aside on your kitchen counter.
3. Allow the contents to ferment at room temperature until a thin layer of mold appears (this takes around three to five days). Fermenting the seeds removes the gel layer that covers each seed and prevents it from germinating. Keep checking to make sure the seeds don’t germinate (swell), which makes them unusable.
Skim off the layer of mold and any seeds that are stuck to it. They will not be viable. (These seeds are from a yellow tomato–thus the lighter color).
3. Line a fine mesh strainer with a large coffee filter or paper towel. Add seeds and rinse with cool water. Pick out any non-seed solids that remain.
4. Spread the rinsed seeds on a paper coffee filter or paper towel and gently separate them. Set aside to dry at room temperature out of direct sunlight for a week.
5. Store dry seeds in labeled envelopes. I also find it helpful to take a photo of the tomato and paste it to the front of the envelope as a visual reference. *Do not store in plastic bags because seeds need to breathe.
In the early spring you’ll be ready to start your tomato plants indoors from seed. The young plants will be ready to go in the ground after the danger of frost has passed. If you have extra starts, play it forward by gifting some to friends.
Happy seed saving everyone!