The Q&A Archives: tomato seeds for next season

Question: I bought an Heirlom Tomato Plant this spring and would like to save the seeds to grow for next spring. How do I preserve the seeds and when do I start the growing the seeds?

Answer: Normally when you save seeds from other plants, you simply let the plant dry and collect the seeds. Not so with the tomato. Tomato seeds are encapsulated by a moist and sticky, gelatin-like casing that contains germination inhibitors. These germination inhibitors prevent the seed from sprouting inside the tomato. In nature, when the fruit falls off the vine, it hits the ground, rots and ferments. This is the way nature gets rid of the germination inhibitors to release the seed to sprout another plant. We can mimic the same process and save our favorite tomato seeds for future plantings, and it's fairly easy.

Start by picking one of your favorite tomatoes. Slice it in half and spoon out the seeds. Place your seeds in a bowl and add a few tablespoons of water and mix it around.

Cover your bowl with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in the top to let the air circulate, this helps get the fermentation process going.

Place your bowl in a warm spot; I use the top of my refrigerator, as it's out of the way.

It takes about 4 or 5 days for the fermentation to eat away the seed casings. Everyday, peel back the plastic wrap and stir the mixture of seeds and water. Reseal the bowl and stick it back above the fridge!

The liquid will begin to darken and start to emit an odor. A filmy layer on the surface of liquid, where the impurities will rise to, will form. The fermentation process, in addition to removing the gel casing, will help kill any possible diseases the former tomato may have been harboring.

When the seeds are nice and fermented, spoon out the film and dump the seeds in a fine kitchen sieve.

Rinse the seeds well with cool water. I use my finger to move the seeds around inside the sieve to make sure I'm cleaning off the seeds really well.

When done, empty the seeds onto a paper plate, coffee filter, parchment paper, wax paper, or something similar and spread them out so there is space in between them.

Put the seeds in a safe place for a few days of drying. Mix up & flip the seeds once a day so all sides are exposed to air to aid in the drying process.

After a week of drying, test to see if the tomato seeds are ready for storage. Test the seeds by putting them on a new paper plate and see if they slide around freely, if they do, they are dry.

Store them either in paper envelopes or in a bottle with a lid. The main thing to be concerned with when storing is keeping them dry. If your seeds get even exposed to the slightest bit of moisture, you risk mildew and rot ruining your seeds.

Label you seeds and store them in a cool, dark place until next spring. I usually start my tomato seeds indoors about 8 weeks before I want to plant them outside.

Best wishes with your tomatoes!

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