Enjoy fresh heirloom tomatoes year after year
Saving seeds sounds great at first -– who could argue with growing your own heirloom seeds instead of buying them? But when you take a look at what’s involved with saving things like squash and corn seeds you start seeing the beauty of capitalism. Even easy seeds like beans and lettuce require you to do your spring planting with fall seed harvest in mind.
But saving tomato seeds is different. Not only can beginning gardeners do it, people who don’t even HAVE gardens can do it, because the best tomatoes to eat are also the best source of seed.
It’s one stop shopping and how great is that? You can save the seeds from a single terrific tomato, no matter where you got it. In theory, at least, you could dig the seeds from a yummy tomato served in a restaurant and save THOSE. The seeds are simple to collect and process. And they last for years.
The only must-have is a tomato that is not a hybrid (read about why here), and that means we should all be very grateful that tomato names are now in style. Instead of “tomatoes,” pure and simple, the farmer — and increasingly the restaurant — offers Brandywines, Jetstars, Aunt Marie’s Marvels and who knows what-all. There are hundreds of possibilities. Doesn’t matter. As long as you know the name you can — bless Google — just look up “xyz seed. ” If it’s a hybrid that can’t be saved, “hybrid” will be part of the description.
The actual moral of this picture is do not get to the farmers’ market at 9:30 AM if official start time is 9:00.
I’m going to save seeds from a tomato –- a big fat wonderful tomato — I bought at the Rockland, Maine farmers’ market a couple of weeks ago. It’s called Hillbilly Potato Leaf, so I know that like many delicious heirlooms the plant will have broader, simpler leaves than common tomato plants.
To Save Tomato Seeds
1. Choose perfect, dead ripe tomatoes. The better they are of their kind, the better your chances of repeat greatness. And of course, the riper the fruit, the more ripe seeds it will contain.
2. Cut the tomatoes across the equator. Scrape the seeds into a glass jar. The surrounding gel will come along. No problem.*
Cross-cutting lets you pry out the seeds while taking the least amount of tomato flesh. Makes no difference with these little guys (Amy’s Sugar Gem, about the size of a golf ball), but if you have big tomatoes with small seed cavities there’s no point in wasting the parts you could eat.
3. Ferment the seeds.**
3a) Add enough water to the jar to make soup out of the seeds and gel. Loosely cover the jar with cheesecloth or a piece of paper towel, so air can get through. Put the jar someplace warm (not hot), out of the sun, preferably a place where odd smells won’t be noticed.
3b) Wait 2 to 4 days, during which the jar contents will bubble, a cap of revolting moldy goo will gradually form on top of the liquid and most of the seeds will sink. Those that remain afloat are no good.
3c) Lift and discard the cap. Fill the jar with room temperature water and gently swish the seeds around to wash them. Carefully pour off the water and debris, then put the seeds in a strainer and rinse under running water. Don’t press on them; they don’t need to be squeaky clean.
4. Spread the seeds on a paper plate (they stick to china and to paper towel) and let them dry out of the sun, stirring from time to time to expose all surfaces. When they’re dry enough to come off of the plate and rattle, they’re ready to store. As long as they stay dry, cool and dark the container is up to you. An ordinary envelope, labeled with variety and date will do, but a tightly-lidded jar is better. And if you want to reward yourself — or use the seeds as holiday gifts — there are all sorts of inexpensive supplies like resealable seed packets and moisture-proof vials at Garden Medicinals and Culinaries.
* The gel around tomato seeds contains most of the acid that makes sweetness interesting. Recipe instructions that tell you to remove seeds from raw tomatoes should probably be ignored, but if you want to follow them be sure the recipe includes some other source of acidity.
**Many garden bloggers say they don’t bother to ferment tomato seeds and it isn’t absolutely essential, but it does 3 important things:
+ It removes the germination inhibitor that keeps the seeds from sprouting inside the tomato.
+ It gets rid of many seed-borne diseases