Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
September, 2000
Regional Report

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Saving tomato seeds.

Seed Saving Savvy

Saving your own vegetable seed has many benefits including getting the exact variety you want and saving money on purchasing new seed each year. However, you must be sure the variety is old-pollinated and not a hybrid. Hybrids won't come "true to seed" if saved and grown the following year. I thought that's all I needed to know about saving seed. Well, it turns out I also need to know the "type" of seed I'm saving.

Wet vs. Dry Seed

When seed saving, vegetables are generally broken down into wet (e.g., tomatoes, melons) and dry (e.g., beans, peppers) seeds. Dry seed is easy to save since it's already lost much of its moisture for storage. Wet seed, however, is trickier. It takes longer to dry, and the seeds can carry viruses on their surfaces. That's why a fermentation process must be done to assure "clean" seed for the next planting.

Fermented Seeds

The cleansing and fermenting process for wet seed is simple, but it takes several days and is quite stinky, so do it outdoors. Here are the steps:

1. Let fruit hang on the vine as long as you dare, to get it as ripe as possible. This assures that the seed is fully mature.

2. Mash or squeeze the fruit well in a cup of water to loosen the flesh and release the seeds. Add enough water to come within an inch, but no higher, of the top of the container you'll ferment it in. The extra space will be needed as it bubbles and burbles. Label the container or a plant stake and set the container where it'll get direct sun.

3. Each day, stir the "brew" to mix it and help it release more of the flesh from the seeds. It'll look foamy and smell awful. When the foaming stops, and the top surface looks like it has a whitish coating, the fermenting is done.

4. Pour the contents into a larger container, fill almost to the brim with water, and stir, pressing any fleshy clumps to release any remaining seeds.

5. Pour into a fine-sieve strainer and run more water through it, while you try to press everything through the holes. You should be left with only skin, seed, and perhaps some other particles. Return this residue and seed mixture to a container like the first one (or just wash the first one), add a cup of water, stir, and set it back out in the sun.

6. If it ferments more in the next day or two, repeat these last two steps. If it doesn't, dump the mixture into the strainer and rinse it well.

7. Transfer the seed to a plastic, china, or coated paper plate to dry. Don't use a napkin or other soft paper or fabric surface, as the seeds will stick as they dry. Put the plate in a room-temperature spot out of direct sun to dry. As the seeds dry, gently break apart any clumps, so each seed is by itself.

8. When seeds are thoroughly dry, usually within a week, put them into a paper seed packet. Date and label the packet, and store it in a cool, dry, dark spot. An interior closet is ideal - anywhere with little fluctuation of temperature, light, or moisture.

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