Thursday, September 10, 2009

Savoring seeds

Here is yesterday's tomato harvest. Today I spent an hour in the garden and pulled out all the carrots (about two gallons' worth) and a couple of rutabagas. I was going to do the potatoes too, but it was really hot and muggy and I just didn't have it in me. I'll do it this weekend.

If I have time tomorrow night I will either make the black bean salsa or just can these plain. I'll pick a few of the best ones for seed-saving.

How do you save tomato seeds? I thought you'd never ask.

Take a really nice looking ripe tomato. Make sure it is an open-pollinated variety, and not a hybrid. Hybrid seeds won't breed true, and often will grow out to be an inferior plant. Cut the tomato in half.

Squeeze, or use a spoon to scoop all the seed goop into a cup. I like to use a clear-sided cup and label it with the name of the tomato.

If there's not about an inch or so of liquid/goop in the cup, add a bit of water. Cover the cup and put it in a warm spot out of the sun.

After awhile (one to five days) mold will appear on the surface of the goop. This is a good thing. This means that the goop is fermenting, and the mold is helping to break down the structural cohesion between the seeds themselves and the gel that surrounds each seed. You want this gel separated, because you want the seed to be bare and dry for storage.

When the whole surface has a nice layer of mold on it, take the cup and put in some water. Use a fork and quickly swish the water and goop and mold and seeds around. Then set the cup aside, and watch as the good seeds sink and the mold and goop and non-viable seeds float to the surface. Carefully pour off the mold and goop and the bad seeds, leaving the good seeds in the cup. Add more water, swish and pour off again. Do this until the water is completely clear, and all you have left are seeds.

Pour the contents of the cup into a wire strainer, draining the water out. Pat the bottom of the strainer with a cloth towel, soaking up as much water as you can. Carefully dump the seeds from the strainer onto a plate. Separate the clumps of seeds as best you can so they will dry faster. Put the plate in a safe place, out of the sun, to dry completely. This will take between one and three days.

Scrape the seeds off the plate (they will be stuck to it) and store in a moisture-proof container. I put mine in a small coin envelope, and put a bunch of those envelopes inside a mason jar. Tomato seeds will stay good for three to five years, although their germination rates will go down a bit each year. For long term storage, place them in a refrigerator or freezer.

Most tomatoes will self-pollinate, which means they usually won't cross with another variety. The seed you save will grow into a plant just like the parent. But sometimes they do cross, and you will end up with a new kind of tomato. Some people don't like crosses, some people have a lot of fun trying to create new and interesting varieties.

I save seed because I like growing my own plants from the seeds I save. I've got a dormitory refrigerator in the basement filled with several dozen varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds. I give out packets to friends, neighbors, and complete strangers I meet on the street.

For more info on seed saving, I recommend Suzanne Ashworth's book 'Seed to Seed.' Once you start savoring your own seed, you'll be hooked for life.


Erin said...

Great post, Jo! Thanks for the tutorial. I planned on doing it this year, but plain forgot before all my tomatoes ran out! I still have my packets from the past year to start seedlings with though. Funny thing is, after all the labors of seed starting and raising seedlings under the lights last spring, I find that I have Brandywine heirlooms starting on their own all over the garden, and they looked better than my babies ones, lol! Problem is, they were all in the wrong places. Weather here is finally more heat and humidity in the 100's...last night was 65 and breezy I left all the windows open and it felt so NICE! Soon I will be jealous when you post a pic of your fall colors :)

Mr. H. said...

Excellent post on saving tomato seeds. The best part is you can count on them to germinate properly next season, it's sometimes a bit of a hit and miss adventure when dealing with purchased seeds.

Do you ever use desiccant when storing your seeds in the refrigerator?

Jo said...

Hi Erin -- Let me know if you need any seeds, I'd be happy to send some. I've got plenty! Yes, some of those volunteer tomatoes are more hardy than the ones you start yourself. I've got one tomato plant in my bean patch and another in with my carrots. I just can't bring myself to yank them all out!

Hello Mr. H -- Thanks for your nice comment. I do use desiccant when I refrigerate seeds. When I first started I used powdered milk wrapped in a kleenex, but then I started saving those little silicon packets that come inside shoe boxes and other containers. I put them in a low oven for a few minutes to dry them out, and then pop them in the bottom of the mason jar.

I also do germination testing each year on some of my vege varieties. I have some seeds that are six years old that are at 100%, and some that are just one year old that are 20%. So germination is still hit and miss for me, even when I do save my own!

Mama Pea said...

Hi, Jo - First off, great tutorial. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it up for all of us. Reading the books is fine but having the info from someone who has actually done it means so much more.

Next, I thought you had sadly disappeared! Up until today, the last entry I could bring up from you was the August, Crappy Day one!! I kept checking daily and was wondering what had happened. Obviously, cyberspace between us got mucked up somehow. (What a mystery!) I just caught up on all your posts and now must go take a nap . . . what a busy, busy girl you are. Keep it up! Such good posts.

Jo said...

Mama Pea -- Howdy! Sorry about cyberspace screw-ups, they plague me too. At least that is what I blame most of my blogging errors on. Certainly couldn't be my fault...

Thanks for the compliments, it means a lot coming from you, as you are one very busy girl yourself!