As tomato season winds down (booo!), it’s time to think about saving the seeds of your favourites. Tomato plants that produced early, resisted disease, and had prolific and flavourful fruit are good candidates for seed saving.
You’ll also want to make sure that the plant is an open-pollinated variety, that is, one that is pollinated by wind or insects rather than deliberately cross-bred by a breeder. The latter type, known as hybrids, are marked F1 (“First Filial Hybrid”) on the seed packet (or sometimes on the label). Hybrids do not reproduce accurately from seed, so saving and growing their seeds is a bit of a crap-shoot. Heirloom varieties are always open-pollinated (OP), which is why they’ve been saved and passed down through the generations like granny’s silver.
After you’ve chosen your tomato, it’s time to save those seeds.
Step one: Slice the tomato width-wise (rather than through the stem) to expose the seeds.
Step two: Scoop out the seeds and surrounding gel using your finger or your favourite piece of cutlery. Or simply squeeze the contents of the tomato into a shallow bowl. Remove any large bits of tomato debris.
Now, this is where things get weird. Each tomato seed is protected by a jelly-like sack that prevents germination inside a ripe tomato. Only after a process of fermentation (which, in nature, would occur as ripe fruits dropped to the ground and rotted) is the gelatinous membrane destroyed, leaving it open for business. Of course, that means you have to ferment your seeds to make them viable, too. And that means you’re going to purposely let a bowl of tomato junk rot. It’s going to stink, so put it somewhere it’s not going to ruin your appetite.
Step three: After a couple days, the surface of your bowl will be covered with mold. Check it frequently; you don’t want to overferment or the seeds may begin to germinate.
Once the surface is entirely covered with gray or white fuzz, add water and mix well. Let it settle, then skim the mold and bad seeds off the top. Viable seeds will sink to the bottom.
Step four: Set your seeds to dry on a plate or tray in a well-ventilated area. Once they’re dry, why not make yourself a pretty little seed packet to store them in?