Friday, September 20, 2013

How to Save Tomato Seeds

It is the middle of September.  The nights are cooling down, and so are some of the plants in my garden.  The tomatoes however, are still in full swing.  I wanted to share this easy technique on how to save your own tomato seeds before those delicious beauties are done producing for the year.

Tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to save seed from.  The flowers are "perfect", meaning they self pollinate without the help of you or the bees.  There are only 2 things you need to keep in mind when choosing which tomatoes to save seed from.


1) You will only successfully save seed from OPEN-POLLINATED tomato plants.  Not hybrid.  Hybrid = bad.  Open-pollinated = good.  Open pollinated and heirloom are not the same thing, but for all intensive purposes, most heirloom seeds are open-pollinated.

2) I have heard there are differences in tomato plants that have a "tomato leaf" vs. a "potato leaf" when it comes to seed saving.  You can easily save seed if the plant has tomato (scalloped) leaves.  
I heard this from a well trusted gardener, and though I have tried to do my own research on the topic I have found nothing stating it is true or false.  I am just putting it out there as a precaution.  Every plant I have in my garden right now has tomato leaves, so I stopped worrying about it, but I just wanted to give the heads up.
Tomato leaves have scalloped edges, potato leaves do not:
Potato leaf tomato plant (left) - Tomato leaf tomato plant (right)
First, a short lesson on the life cycle of a tomato seed:
Tomato seeds are covered in a gelatinous coating.
This coating is actually a sprouting prohibitor.  It needs to be removed somehow before your seed will be able to grow.

Naturally, when a tomato is left to rot, this slimy covering is, for lack of a better term, "mold"ed away.  The mold eats away the material that stops the seed from sprouting.  If you live somewhere like Utah, and the growing season needs to be started indoors, that is what we need to do before we can save our own seed.  Otherwise you'd just let a full tomato or all of its innards lay out in your garden where you wanted your plant to grow next.  (Which I have tried, and with great success, only it significantly cuts down on the growing season for my area).
  
There are 2 ways you can remove this coating yourself.
1) Let the tomato seeds rot in a cup over the span of a couple weeks, scraping the mold from the surface and refilling with water until the seeds are 'cleaned'.
2) The quick clean method.

I will be demonstrating method #2 in this post.

Materials Needed:
Ripe Tomato(es)
Knife
Powdered Disinfectant Cleanser
Dish Detergent
Sieve
Bowl
Paper Plate
Permanent Marker
Water

Start by horizontally cutting the tomatoes in half.  I am using Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes to demonstrate.

Squeeze each half over a bowl to remove the seeds.

Manually remove the largest bits of pulp from the seeds.

Pour seeds into sieve, run under water, and remove any remaining large bits of tomato flesh

Pour the seeds, gel, and remaining tomato bits back into the bowl.  Add about an equal amount of powdered disinfectant cleanser (no need to measure, just eyeball it).

Gently swirl or stir the contents to blend evenly.  You may need to add a tiny amount of water if it is too thick.

Set a timer for 30 minutes.  The cleaner needs time to dissolve the gel and tomato bits.  It also helps to disinfect the exterior of the seed and reduce disease transmission.

After 30 minutes, add a little water to the bowl to thin the contents.

Pour everything into the sieve and rinse well.

Return seeds and any remaining bits to the bowl and cover completely with water.  Gently stir and let everything settle.  Loose tomato bits and immature seeds will float to the surface.  Cleaned seeds will sink to the bottom.

Carefully pour off any floating bits and immature seeds.

Repeat above two steps until nothing more floats to the top of the water.

Pour remaining clean seeds back into the sieve.  Add a single drop of dish detergent.

Gently scrub the seeds by stirring and pressing them against the sieve.  Rinse well, washing away all suds.

Pour back into the bowl and check a final time for any floating seeds.  The water should be clear of particles and the seeds should all be at the bottom.

Rinse and drain for a final time in the sieve.

Prepare a drying plate by writing the variety name with a permanent marker.

Tap the seeds out of the sieve onto the labeled plate.  Spread out into an even layer.

Place the plate in a safe location where the seeds will dry for at least a week.

Periodically stir the seeds to loosen them from each other and the plate.
Once completely dry, store in a cool and dry place.

That's it!

I have successfully tried and tested this method with great results.  It is relatively fast and easy.

Seed Saving Source: Wintersown.org

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