The Tomato Seed Experiment: saving, storing, disease resistance.

So many wonderful flavors and colors, Tomatoes have become quite the popular veggie-of-choice for the Home Gardener.  Just one Tomato Plant can sometimes be overwhelming in a garden, yet the desire to try a rainbow of varieties never seems to discourage a Grower from trying and buying more varieties at the Farmer’s Market.

So how do we carry on the tradition of heirloom Tomatoes without dedicating our entire garden to them?  Save seeds and talk to your neighbors!  A major joy in gardening, besides eating the fruits of your labor, is letting your friends eat them too!  So here’s an Experimence you can conduct in your neck of the woods.  One in which everybody wins (including the Tomato plants!).

As you already know, Tomatoes are chock full of seeds.  Just cutting a Tomato leaves goopy-seed-gelpacks on the cutting board.  But did you know that saving that seed is as easy as 1, 2, 3?

1.  Take that pile of seed goop, containing at least 3-4 seeds, and spoon it into a small jar or bowl (I use a ramkin).  Put just enough water in the jar to let the seed goop float.  Place this jar in indirect sunlight; somewhere it can sit for 2 days.

  • We are setting up the perfect conditions for the Tomato goop to ferment and separate from the seeds.  In Nature, a Tomato seed would be covered by skin, flesh, and goop.  It would sit on the ground, possibly be nibbled a little, and ferment.  (Have you ever smelled a Farmer’s Tomato field at the end of the season?  Smells like someones brewing hard Tomato Juice.)  When the weather outside is appropriate for Tomato growing, the seed is already out there in the perfect condition to sprout*.

2.  After your Tomato seeds have fermented for two days, get yourself a fine-grade sieve and pour your Tomato seed liquid through it.  Gently rub the seeds around, pushing the goop through the sieve, until you are left with only seed.

  • Rub gently!  You do not want to rub so hard you shave down the seed’s outer shell.  It does not have to be spotlessly clean.  In fact, Tomato seeds are fuzzy, so some of that debris is meant to be there.

3.  Spread the seeds onto a plate or towel.  Let them air dry in the shade.  This should only take 1 day, max.  Then store them in a paper envelope or sealed glass jar.  Keep them out of direct sunlight and cool, until the warm weather returns and you are ready to plant next year!

  • Pretty easy, huh?  Make sure to label the seeds with as much information as you have.  Tomato variety (ie Green Zebra, Yellow Mortgage Lifter), Tomato latin name if you can get it, where you bought it or grew it, and the date that you sealed your seeds in for their long winter nap.  This will come in very handy later!

When you choose a Tomato whose seed you would like to save, there are several factors to be aware of:

  • First of all, this experiment involves Heriloom Tomatoes and not Hybrids.  A Hybrid is a forced cross between two types of Tomatoes and will be labeled most likely as an F1 generation.  When the second generation sprouts it only carries with it Mother Tomato or Father Tomato traits.  Heriloom Tomatoes are true to their Parents and the second generation will look just like the first.
  • From your Home Garden, save seed from those Tomatoes which grow on the healthiest plant.  This is because that particular Tomato plant seems to like where you live, so each year it will sprout up expecting conditions like you have already given it, slowly acclimating each year to your specific micro-climate.  Secondly, a healthy Tomato plant is as such because somewhere in its DNA it has figured out how to resist disease.  Maybe you have heard of the ‘Great Tomato Blight Incident of 2009’?  I think we all did.  Saving seed from a plant that is not affected by such diseases as Early Blight, Late Blight, and Septoria Spots means you can look forward to happy Tomato plants in the future.

*As mentioned above, Nature has her own way of saving Tomato seed. This may prove to be very significant in the strengthening of the Tomato gene pool.  After that unfortunate 2009 growing season, many Universities and Agricultural Organizations studied which varieties were the best at fending off disease.  What I saw was a trend that I love to groove to… Nature knows best!

Instead of drying tomato seeds and bringing them in the house, you can easily take a healthy-plant Tomato and squish it in the garden where you plan to plant your Tomatoes next year.  (Crop rotation and plenty of nutrients will keep your Tomatoes happy, so make sure if you are going to try this part of the experiment that you put your squished Tomatoes in a new area of the garden, or in a new garden all together.)  Place healthy squished Tomatoes on top of your garden bed and mulch it.  Next season there will be a “volunteer’ who sprouts up from that place when the temperature is just right, hopefully a little earlier each year.  You still have to keep an eye on the plants during the growing season and watch for blight etc, because disease resistance and climate-perfection doesn’t happen in one season, but with persistence you will surely see results.  And who knows, maybe many many Moons from now we’ll have a Volunteer Tomato who likes the cold weather!  For more information on “garden volunteers”, check out this vintage article from Mother Earth News.

Finally, how to solve the space problem a rainbow of Tomato plants creates.  Make friends with the Tomato-loving Gardeners in your neighborhood and make a deal: Each neighbor grows a different variety or two and you all trade.  You can save your Tomato seeds and trade those too, thus the handy labeling trick.

According to Suzanne Ashworth, author of the book Seed to Seed, Tomato plants are unlikely to cross-pollinate due to hidden pollen-sacks, so you can feel safe that the Tomato seed you save will grow the same type of Tomato it came from.  Unless you want to create a new variety – save seed from the double-flowers, like my horned little friend above.  They are more likely to have anthers a-ready for the crossin’.  For more information on seed saving, check out Suzanne Ashworth’s book.

Did you know Tomatoes are native to South America?

Hasta luego, amantes del tomate!

xxoo – herbaloo

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Be Wise and Warned:

This experiment is intended for climates with winter-kill (Like the North-Eastern US).  Please use caution when saving seed in warmer climates.  Feel free to contact me or leave a comment with any questions or concerns.  Thank you!

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2 thoughts on “The Tomato Seed Experiment: saving, storing, disease resistance.

  1. I missed dancing with you at the shop party….I had Mary this year, she’s 18, old enough to partake i think!!! As for the seed saving blog, gracias amiga!!! I usually save in a much more haphazard way!!! oxoxoxoxpam

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