Seeds are miraculous things. Inside a tiny and unassuming package, they contain the genetic material and energy stores needed to create new life. Seeds are patient. They know how to wait until the conditions are just right for growth.
Sometimes I look at my garden and marvel at how almost every plant was once a seed I held in the palm of my hand. It amazes me that we can feed people with such simple tools.
While seeds are easy to buy from a garden supply store or catalogue, one of the most exciting ways to take more ownership of our food sources is to save our own. With some crops, seed-saving is challenging. For others, like tomatoes, it’s easy and fun.
The hot weather we’ve had for most of the summer has meant an extra-bountiful tomato crop in our garden. This time of year, when the tomatoes are at their peak production, is a perfect moment to save seeds.
Heirloom tomatoes, unlike some other fruits, tend to “breed true”. This means that if you take the seeds out of a yellow cherry tomato, those teeds will turn into plants that produce more yellow cherry tomatoes. For the best results, you’ll want to stick with heirloom tomato varieties: seeds that have been saved and passed down for generations using the techniques below.
Tomato seeds, like sauerkraut and yogurt, are a fermented product. The seeds of a fresh tomato are coated with a gel that inhibits growth. To remove the gel and allow the seeds to grow, we need to unlock the tomato’s power of decomposition. It’s going to get stinky.
HOW TO SAVE TOMATO SEEDS
- Tasty, very ripe heirloom tomatoes from your garden or a farmer’s market.
- A knife and small spoon
- Small cups or jars
- Masking tape and a pen
- A fine-mesh sieve
- Clean, dry cloths
- Non-chlorinated water
How to do it:
First, make sure that you have selected tomatoes that you really like. The tastiest tomatoes you can find. If the tomato looks really cool but doesn’t have awesome flavour, don’t use it.
If you don’t know whether or not the tomato is an heirloom, ask your farmer’s market vendor, or just take a chance. Remember that it’s an experiment. A science experiment!
Cut the tomato into quarters and use a spoon to scoop the seeds and surrounding goo out. Place these into a jar. Label the jar with masking tape, including the variety and date. If you don’t know the variety, use a descriptive name like “sweet orange grape tomato.”
Eat the rest of the tomato.
Add a spoonful or two of non-chlorinated water to the jar, just enough to make things juicy. We want to avoid chlorine because it could inhibit the growth or our bacteria and mold friends. Keep in mind that you won’t need many seeds, unless you’re planning to give some away for gifts (which is a great idea). In most cases, one or two tomatoes is plenty.
Leave the jar, un-covered, on your counter for a few days in a spot that’s warm and gets indirect light. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
Wait until the jar is really gross. Super moldy and stinky and covered in fuzz and all kinds of spots.
Now it’s time to rinse the seeds. Dump them into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cool tap water until most of the gunk has come off.
Place the seeds on a clean, dry scrap of fabric. Transfer your masking tape label onto the fabric so that you stay nice and organized. If you’re saving multiple tomato varieties, take care not to mix them up.
Leave them in a place with airflow for a few days, until the seeds are nice and dry.
Finally, transfer your seeds to small envelopes. Label them well and store in a cool, dry place until spring.
With these simple techniques, we can take the power of seed saving into our own hands.