Seed Saving 101: Heirloom Tomatoes Edition
If you're anything like me, this is the time of year when you're enjoying the fruits of your garden and yet spending way too much money bounding from farmer's market to harvest festival and back to see what others have on offer.
But it's also when you've got to start thinking of wrapping things up and planning for next year. Since I'm a tomato fiend, this the year I'm going to try out the technique I learned last year: saving and storing heirloom tomato seeds. I learned the basics of the process from a seed-saving workshop pictured here that was run by Adrianne Picciano a.k.a. The Dirt Diva. It's not as straight-forward as collecting seeds from your flowers. And it's even a little bit icky to be honest. But it's so worth it -- to have delicious red or striped green, purple or orange tomatoes that won't make you have to take out a second mortgage just to get your fix.
The basic difference with tomatoes is that you can't just take the seeds and dry them. Tomato seeds have a gel coating around them that is there to ensure they don't sprout inside their wet and warm environment. So it's your disgusting/fascinating job to ferment them and naturally zap that coating off.
Get a jar, bowl or plastic container and scoop out the seeds of your perfect ripe (but not over-ripe) tomato and then go ahead and squeeze out the juice too. A see-through container is not necessary but helpful, I think. Add a bit of water -- some say an inch or up to a cup. Place the container in a warm spot that isn't in direct sunlight and cover loosely with a paper towel, cheesecloth or loose lid. Don't forget to label them, especially if you are doing multiple containers. The process will last two to four days and if you're doing it right it should start to look and smell pretty awful. Stir your container once or twice a day. Once you have a nice head of bubbly mess, remove that lovely layer of mold on top. If you leave seeds too long after this they will germinate. Then pour out the liquid without pouring out seed and add more water. Let things settle and then the gold is on the bottom -- any seed that floats is not going to grow and should be ditched.
Finally, use a fine mesh strainer and rinse the contents of your container under cool water. Pick out the seeds, maybe rub them between your fingers to make sure no coating is left, and then let them dry them completely before storing them. I'll blog more about methods for seed-storing over winter in my next post.
So go ahead and buy heirloom seed or save the seeds of that perfect farmer's market heirloom tomato.* Then the next year, save the seeds of the tomatoes that have the characteristics you appreciate the most -- flavor, growing speed, color. Then tah dah! You are a seed saver who produces and can hand down stunning fruit.
Have you saved your own heirloom seed? How did it go? How bad is the stink? Any tips or tricks you have appreciated.
* Remember the tomato name and use the power of Google to check and make sure your heirloom tomato is not a hybrid as a hybrid may produce something completely different from your expectations. Here's a great place to read more about open-pollinated plants vs. hybrid plants.
This post was posted in Seed Saving, Seeds, Things to do and was tagged with seeds, tomatoes, gardening, Catskills, heirloom tomatoes, seed saving, seed storing, hybrids, open pollinated, fermenting tomatoes, dirt diva, adrianne picciano