Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How To Save Tomato Seeds

It's roundup time for most gardeners. Clean up the garden a bit. Put up the tools. Sit back with a cold beer or glass of ice tea and just rest awhile in the shade. Enjoy the coming fall. The cool. The color. The pollens... Even the butterflies.
Yesterday, I was carrying out some fermented juice from a muskmelon which is a by product of extracting seeds from pulp. Anyway, I spilled the tiniest bit of juice on one of my fingers that was holding the pan. There was a flutter next to my ear. A butterfly resembling a monarch landed on my knuckle and start sucking away what I'm sure was for him an ambrosia of the gods! I waited for him to leave. And waited, and waited... Finally, I turned around, walked up the back steps of the patio and opened the double doors to the kitchen, and walked in. The butterfly still perched on my knuckle. It's long syphon still sucking up the juice on my knuckle. I show it to my grand kids and daughter who said it was a sign of good luck. I seen it as a blessing. I turned around and walked back outside. He stayed a few more minutes until he had his fill, then suddenly flew away.
Folks, isn't it great to be a gardener. And now- back to work.

But for some of us. We're not quite finished. We're maybe eyeing that big overripe tomato on the counter and wandering if we should save some seeds for next years garden, or as a gift to a garden friend or maybe our kids starting their own gardens. How about that special Black Tomato or Tiger tomato you picked up at the Farmers Market. Wouldn't you like to try That next year in your own garden. Or maybe even those great Roma's you picked up at the Supermarket yesterday.

Or just maybe you suddenly realized how fast the Old Fashioned -Heirloom favorites are vanishing from the seed counter and even from the garden Catalogs. Some by accident and others, I fear, by design. Some say even ordinary vegetables are being genetically altered so they can be patented and "Owned" by hungry agricultural conglomerates - who would like to control all seeds. Even the ones the cottage gardener like you and I would plant. They want to make it Illegal to even save your own seeds as has happened with most varieties of field Corn and Soybeans. Is it really happening in the Cottage Garden? And to the independent Truck Farmer? I don't know. But it wouldn't hurt to save all the varieties of seeds you can before they vanish! Maybe we should have started a long time ago.

Here is everything you need to know to save all the Tomato Seeds you want. There are clearly 4 separate stages. Preparation. Fermentation. Drying and Preservation.

A. Preparation
Tools and Materials You Will Need:
Knife to cut a tomato.

A Spoon - A grapefruit spoon works nicely.

A Fork.

A large Tea Strainer - 4 to 6 -inch diameter is good.

A Coffee Filter - A paper or cotton towel will work in a pinch.

A Small Funnel

A paper plate or ceramic plate etc will work

A Kitchen sink or other source of running water is handy.

Rubber Gloves for sensitive hands


A Small Open Mouthed Plastic bottle preferably with the original screw-on lid. Often used for Orange Juice, Chocolate Milk, Gatorade etc. This will become your fermenting bottle. Or an ordinary Jar with a hole in the top would work too.
Lets Begin

1. Find a nice specimen of the Tomato you want to save seeds from. This should be ripe - even a little over ripe wouldn't hurt! We want to be sure the seeds inside are mature.
2. Carefully slice the tomato horizontally through the middle.

Using the grapefruit spoon, dig out all the gel and seed matter unto a plate.

4. Using the Fork and a plate, gently work the pulp and seeds down to a texture of juice and seeds. Do not press hard on seeds so as to damage them.
5. Pour the pulp into the Tea Strainer.

6. Carry the Tea Strainer and the Pulp to the sink and start working out some of the pulp through the strainer in full running water.

7. Using your fingers, gently rub the Gel through the screen as you run water through. Best use rubber gloves as the screen may abrade and scratch your fingers. Remember, some tomatoes are very acid. This plus scratching the tips of your fingers on the Tea Strainer is a recipe for sore fingers for several days.

This is a messy process but you will get used to it. Here I show rubbing the pulp and gel through but I would advise using throw-away plastic gloves or rubber gloves if your skin is sensitive.

Eventually most of the Gel will disappear down the drain and you will be able to pick out most clumps of remaining tomato pulp.

9. After a few minutes of rinsing and working, almost all the Gel is gone and most of the Pulp. Pick out as much Pulp as possible with your fingers and commence to the Fermenting Stage.

Fermenting Stage
1. Turn the tea strainer with its seeds over on top of a plate. Tap out all the seeds into the plate. Set aside while we prepare the fermentation bottle.

2. Using a small funnel, work the seeds out of the plate and into the fermentation bottle made from the juice bottle. When all the seeds are in, add water to about 2/3rds full.
Note #1
If you have the cap for the bottle, carefully drill a 1/4 to 3/8" hole through the top. For safety sake, drill from the inside of the cap out slowly and carefully. With a piece of sandpaper smooth out the hole. You now have a fermentation bottle with a Cap which will look like this.
It will give you years of service. Once you make a few, your good to go!
Note # 2
If you have lost the cap, you can make one out of aluminum foil. Hold it with a rubber band and don't forget to poke a hole in the top to allow air into the bottle. Why? Because fresh air in the bottle allows Aerobic Fermentation to take place. No awful bad smells when you open the bottle. If no fresh air is allowed in, the fermentation will be Anaerobic - without air - and most likely the seeds will rot too and you won't be able to stand the smell. A word to the wise. Always allow air to reach the mixture and shake gently every day. It makes for happy seeds. (;-)

4. With the seeds in the bottle of water and the cap on, set them in a warm place for the left over Pulp and Gel on and around the seeds to ferment. You may see a little foam or the water clouding up. This means the seed is shedding fermented Pulp and Gel. A good sign.

5. Gently shake the bottle a couple of times once a day. After a few days, dump the original water out, add new and set the seeds up on the shelf to continue the fermentation process that will continue to clean the seeds.

6. Continue this process for about a week. Dump out the old water and rinse the seeds still in the bottle thoroughly. Dump the seeds and water back into the sieve . Shake and knock out as much water as you can. Again turn the sieve over as you did before and knock them out into a plate with a coffee filter in it. Now begins the -

Drying Stage.

1. Be sure to label the Drying Plate with the Date, The Name and Possibly the source of the original plant.

2. Set the plate in a warm dry place for the seeds to dry thoroughly. I use a library shelf. Stir the seeds at least once a day. If seeds are clumping together, gently break them apart. The seeds should never be over one layer. Never laying on top of one another. 2 or 3 weeks should be more than sufficient to dry them thoroughly.

3. Pour them into a dry container. I use old pill bottles that have been cleaned out. Or some people go to the hobby store and get change envelopes. In a pinch, you could use a small mailing envelope.

4. Again, Label the seed container with the type of seeds - Tomato - The Variety, and the dated prepared. I also sometimes add the source of the doner tomato. Have Fun!

If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comment section. I answer all comments.

Thanks for stopping by!


Copyright Robert Mader 2009

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