The Q&A Archives: Saving Seeds

Question: What is the best way to save heirloom tomato seeds? I have heard to soak the tomato seeds in water and the good ones will float, but when is the BEST time to take the seeds from the veggie/fruit? Is there a way to know what the plant looks like (like the carrot that I saw on a gardening show on PBS) when it is ready to go to seed?

Answer: The key to growing quality heirloom tomatoes is to save the seed from the most perfect, ripe tomatoes on your plant. I usually choose the last tomatoes of the season for seed saving, allowing them to fully mature on the vine. When the skin yields to a small amount of pressure, the tomato is dead-ripe and should be harvested. You can squeeze the seeds out of the fruit, or cut it open and scoop out the seeds. (That way you can eat the rest!) Then take a teaspoon, collect 10-12 seeds on the tip and dump them on a plain index card. Smear them around so the seeds are separated and leave the card in an airy place to dry. The tissue and juice that cling to the seeds will help glue them to the index cards. When they are thoroughly dry, seal the cards in a plastic baggie or screw-top jar, and store in a cool, dark location. Next spring, when you're ready to plant, you can gently peel the seeds off the cards. Be sure to write the name of the tomato on each card so you'll know what you're planting the following year!

Carrots are biennial, meaning they will develop a storage root the first year and produce seeds the following year. To grow and save carrot seeds, plant your seeds in the spring and allow the plants to remain in the ground over the winter. The following spring the carrots will develop flowering stalks. If the flowers are pollinated by insects, seeds will form. You can harvest the seeds at the end of the growing season by clipping the stalk of the plant, holding it upside down over a bowl, and rubbing the seeds off. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark location until the following spring.

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