Garden: Going To (Tomato) Seed
The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. This week, Brian Cruey of the BBG explains how to store your tomato seeds, so that next year’s crop will be as juicy and delicious as this year’s.
You’ve done it. After a summer’s long search, you have finally found it—the perfect tomato. The color is so unlike anything you have ever seen and its shape is so imperfect that it is just PERFECT. You’ve never tasted anything like it—it’s buttery, sweet and, wait—is that actually sunshine you’re tasting? This is the tomato you want to eat on every sandwich for the rest of your life. If only there were a way to recreate this moment year after year…
Good news! There is. By properly saving seeds, you can ensure that your favorite heirloom tomatoes pass their perfect genes from one summer’s BLTs to the next. My family has a beefsteak tomato that my grandma gives us seeds for every year and it’s become a tradition to see who can get the first one to ripen on the vine. (Given that she lives in Kentucky and we are practically in the North Pole (her words), I’ll give you one guess as to who wins every year.) Here’s the best way to save your tomato seeds:
You’ve probably noticed that tomato seeds have a gelatinous coating surrounding each one. In nature, that protects the seed as the tomato slowly rots and breaks down. To get the best results, you are going to remove that coating through fermentation. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds—though it is kind of disgusting, but that just makes it fun.
Get a glass container with a wide mouth on it, like a Mason jar or drinking glass and squeeze your tomato seeds into it, juice and all (try to keep out the meat of the tomato—go ahead and eat that.) Add a little water—a quarter to a half of a cup. You can do more than one tomato if you’re saving seeds of the same kind.
Put your jar somewhere you aren’t going to mind a little bit of a stink. Now walk away and let the fermentation process begin. This usually takes about 1-2 days. A layer of white mold will more than likely form on the top, so don’t freak out,that’s just nature doing its thing. You’ll know when the seeds are properly fermented when the gelatinous coating separates and floats to the top.
Once you’re done fermenting, scrape off the mold that has formed on top and throw it away. Now add water to the jar with the seeds. Swirl it around. Seeds that are floating on the top are duds and you can get rid of them along with all of the other pulpy stuff, saving the good seeds that’ll be resting on the bottom. Pour the seeds into a strainer and rinse.
Spread the seeds out on a paper plate and let dry. Allow up to four weeks and keep them out of direct sunlight. If you’re doing more than one type of seed, it’s a good idea to label the plate. Once the seeds are fully dried, store them in a cool, dark, and dry place until springtime rolls around.
That’s one way to do it. If you don’t want to go to all that fuss, you’ll probably have a pretty good success rate just laying thoroughly rinsed seeds out on newspaper, a coffee filter, or a paper towel to dry. If you go that route, make sure to spread your seeds out. Once dried, they’re going to be pretty stuck to whatever you dry them on, which isn’t a problem. Just store them in a cool, dark, and dry place and cut out the seeds in the spring to plant them, paper and all.