How do you grow your tomato plants each year? Do you purchase seedlings that were started by someone else? Obviously that is all well and good but maybe you would like to try something new and try growing your tomato plants from seeds next year. The first thought is to head to the garden center and find a packet of tomato seeds and begin them that way. Again, that is perfectly fine but what if you develop a hybrid variety or you grow such an awesome tomato crop that you want to duplicate these efforts the following year? No problem. All you need to do is collect a few of the best tomatoes from this bumper crop and harvest the seeds from these choice tomatoes.
Start by cleaning the tomatoes and cutting them down the middle so that the blossom end is on one side and the stem end is on the other. Scoop the seeds into a bowl or possibly even a clear glass jar if you choose. If the tomatoes are firm, you may need to add some water to achieve a gel like liquid but not too runny. Stir the mixture up well. Label the bowl or jar immediately with the variety and date so you don’t forget later.
Place the bowl in a warm location of at least 75 degrees F for the fermentation to begin. The goal here is to get the gel like covering over the seeds to breakdown so that we can get access to the seeds themselves. There is some debate as to whether to place them in direct sunlight or not. I have done it both ways and really haven’t noticed a difference. You may want to place them in a location that is not traveled well as there will be an odor as the fermentation process takes place. Stir the mixture 2-3 times the first day. This will allow some of the good seeds that have gotten trapped on top to fall to the bottom where we want them.
After the second day, check the process. You should start to see mold growing over the top and bubbles will begin forming. Once this occurs, you are ready for the next step. You do not want to let the seeds sit like this much longer or they will begin to germinate and you will need to start over. When it is ready, pour off the top layer and as much of the tomato pulp as possible without pouring out the good seeds which have settled to the bottom. Pour the remaining liquid along with the seeds into a mason jar, add water and place the lid tightly on the jar. Shake vigorously for about 15 seconds to help free the seeds from any remaining pulp. Allow the seeds to settle to the bottom again.
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Pour out the liquid again leaving the seeds on the bottom. If you are satisfied with the amount of tomato pulp that has been removed, you can move on. Otherwise you can repeat this process as many times as you like to get your seeds as clean as you like. Now pour the entire contents of the jar through a fine strainer which will catch the good seeds and allow the water to pass through. Shake out the water. Dump the seeds onto fine mesh drying screens (like a window screen) or onto a paper plate or even a coffee filter. Do not use paper towels, napkins or similar lightweight cloths as the seeds will stick to it and you will have a very difficult time freeing the seeds again. Move the seeds around 1 or 2 times each day to break up the clumps of seeds as they dry. Place them in a dry, well ventilated area out of the direct sunlight for 1 week. This will allow them to dry completely.
When the seeds have dried, gather them up and store them in clear, air tight jars or even in zip lock plastic bags. Mark your containers with the variety and date. Store them in a cool, dry location until they are ready to be planted. You can expect about a 50% germination rate and you should be able to store the seeds at least 5 years and usually a few more. I have seen a few variations of this method of seed collecting so there is definitely more than one way to do this but it works well for me and I’m sure it will work every bit as well for you.
Steve Haupt is a tomato growing enthusiast who enjoys helping others in getting started in this new “green” hobby. For more great information on saving tomato plant seeds and to sign up for our free tomato growing tips, visit our website at GrowingTomatoesForBeginners.com.
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