On changing up the routine

I find it hard to do anything consistently year to year.  I guess I like to monkey with routines, just to keep things interesting –slash–entertaining.  There is a lot of repeated work done in the garden and the food preservation kitchen, and, true to form, I tend to monkey with that too.  For the most part my manipulations have the stated aim of efficiency.  I do tend to keep what works, admittedly.  Other times, well, I am simply prone to tinker.

And this year, I am not waiting until fall to harvest my tomato seeds.  NOPE!  I am doing it now, as the tomatoes ripen.  I pick the biggest and most ripe fruit, slice open the bottom, squish the pulp and seeds into a glass canning jar, add a tiny bit of water, put a label and a lid on it, and…wait for science to happen.  [note: I tend to get two fruits, from two different plants, just to keep my genetics open.]

P1000509-1Granted, seeing moldering produce on one’s kitchen counter is not everyone’s cup of tea.  In the general chaos that is my canning kitchen, however, this is not much of a hardship.  I also have the advantage of being fully aware of how the seeds are doing: they are under my nose, after all, vying for space on the butcher block.  Toward the end of the season, when I normally tackle this task, I am so fed up with tomatoes that saving their seeds is generally accompanied by my resentment of the things, with a lot of “never again” oaths thrown in.  This does not work in the tomatoes’ favor, not at all.  Now, well, now I have the fresh eyes and enthusiasms of a newbie!

So, after about a week, a nice blue-green mold will grace the surface layer of the watery seed pulp.  Fungi Are Our Friends here, as they break down the slimy seed sack in which the seeds are floating.  I take the moldy jars outside, dump the seeds into a very fine meshed colander and spray off all the goo with the hose.  Then I take the seeds back indoors and let them dry a little bit.  I spread them out individually onto a labeled white paper towel:  they’ll stick to this, but I just cut a bit of the towel around the seed when it’s time to plant them.  I let them dry fully, then I roll up the paper towel and store it in a jar in the basement with all the other seeds.

17 responses to “On changing up the routine

  1. Do you wait until the tomatoes are really ripe or just pretty close? I know that you can let a green tomato ripen on the counter and then extract viable seeds from it, but was wondering if I should let the “pretty ripe” ones sit a bit longer before removing the seeds. Thanks.

    • Hi Mike: letting them ripen on the counter should do the trick. I just figure that in nature these things would go completely ripe, near rotting, before dropping to the ground and starting life anew so…I just try to repeat what happens “out there.”

  2. Sounds reasonable, to take your enthusiasm level into account. Seems a useful task, and one you’ll appreciate even more next year for not adding to your resentment level this year.

  3. You are remarkably clever.

  4. That’s the best description I’ve ever read for saving tomato seeds…thanks!

    I live in California where it frosts lightly…I always get volunteer tomato plants in the spring because I often let poor or overripe or split fruit lie on the ground as compost. I rarely allow them to grow, though (more compost).

    When I first started gardening I never thought I’d become a seed saver….gardening is enough work already! Last fall I impulsively saved a green “Cherokee Purple” tomato, tried to let it ripen on the counter and finally just haphazardly saved the seeds. Soaked them a couple of days in water but when they dried left them on the plate on a shelf to overwinter. This spring they turned into the most vigorous plants! I’ve got two growing and they’re looking good.

    Somewhere I read that Cherokee Purple is indeterminate, but it behaves determinately for me.

    Now I’m a seed saving fanatic, and this fall…watch out!

  5. fun. i’m saving seeds for the first time this year, beginning with tomatoes. just waiting for enough to ripen to be worth saving…the trickle is slow still.

  6. I’ve got some tomatoes in my dining room just waiting to be cut up for seed saving. I should get to it soon.

  7. Well, this is my first year starting tomatoes from seed and my first year saving the seed, too. So why not start with your method? I know what the harvesting, mad food preservation time feels like, so I certainly don’t want to add to that craziness. If this sun and heat last the week, we should start getting a bunch of toms turning finally!

    A question: we are in the NE, but I see no signs of late blight (fingers crossed). If that comes along, are the seeds contaminated too? No sense saving something that is doomed or likely to cause worse problems next year.

  8. Great description. I’ve always wondered how tomato seeds can be saved since they are floating in the tomato pulp. So after they are dry, how do you save them? Packets of paper? And in planting time, do the seeds get treated like purchased seeds, or is there a different method…

  9. Mike, I hope that helps. You sure have lots of tomatoes to seed harvest from this year!

    Stef, it’s always wise to take one’s enthusiasm into account. I am usually fairly happy to do it but in the fall I am a lot more distracted!

    Pamela, no I am not, I just read a lot of gardening and seed-saving books.

    Petunia, you’re not the only fan of Cherokee Purple that I know. I need to try them sometime. But your method of composting them reminds me of a story from my city gardening days. I had a friend go out to the garden and harvest what he could for our dinner, and he came back into the house and said, “You know you have a couple of bombs on the ground out there,” and I had no idea what he was talking about. Tomato bombs! If you let them, the fruits will yield dozens of seedlings.

    Serina, good! Not good that it’s taking so long, just, good you’re going to save them!

    Daphne, yeah, if they’re fairly ripe. I almost never use the whole tomato, just a bit of it, so if you have a recipe that needs them do it at the same time.

    Andrea, I would guess you shouldn’t save them if they get blighted. My understanding though is once they get blight the whole plant dies so you probably wouldn’t be able to get seed from ripe fruit anyway. But yeah, it’s a fungus so its spores are tiny enough to be attached to the fruits (if you had blight that is otherwise go ahead and save ’em).

    MC, I just leave them on the paper towel, rolled up and labeled, until I need them. Then I tear off a piece with a seed attached and plant it. Doesn’t seem to hurt the seed at all, and it’ll decompose just fine. Good luck!

  10. Just thinking here, as I’m a seed saving newbie. Would it actually benefit from choosing an early fruit, so as to encourage that type of behavoir?

    (I know other factors like weather and misc conditions also contribute to ripening…)

    • Sara, that’s a good question, one which I have no real answer. I would think saving a fruit from the PLANT that ripens lots earlier than its fellows would be a good candidate; I am not so sure earlier ripening gets carried along the fruit that ripens earliest if they’re all ripening…does that make any sense?

  11. No tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes BUT finally we have green beans, Bushels of green beans!!!
    I will be busy for a while!

  12. Thanks! This is the first year I am attempting to save tomato seeds, and I was wondering what would be the best way. Can’t wait to give it a try.

  13. Always happy to hear about seed savers. I don’t know how much of what I come across is true, but I never dreamed peoples’ rights to save seed and grow their own choice of plants would be challenged. In case, save and grow!

  14. Great post! I requested (and received) a number of heirloom (indeterminate) tomato seeds from WinterSown.org this year and they included a seed saving pamplet with their package. Your instructions are much simpler, clearer and… healthier: step 6 in their pamphlet says to “add a small amt of powdered disinfectant cleanser. Set timer for 30 minutes. The cleanser needs time to dissolve the gel and tomato bits”) HA HA HA! Ewwww….

  15. How far apart do you grow your tomato plants to reduce cross pollination?

    I used to contract grow small lots of tomato seeds. I recommend you stir or shake the seeds at least every other day while fermenting. This loosens the gel around the seeds. How long to ferment? The hard way is end-point fermentation. That is you rinse when they stop bubbling. Easy way. Ferment for 7 days exactly. I write the day on the jay with a sharpie, which will wash off. Less than 7 days and you may not get the full beneficial effect. More than 7 days and the seeds may sprout – not a good thing.

    I use wide mouth canning jars for fermentation. (Easier to clean than the regular size.) I cut wire screen to just fit inside canning jar rings. (Use a canning lid for a template to get them round.) I have also used muslin and rings. I want to let the wee beasties in the air into the jar (bacteria and fungi). And I have always been afraid that sealing the jars may cause them to burst.

    When you are ready to wash, stir the seeds well in the jar. Let the seeds settle, the pour the liquid and anything floating into a bucket. Add water to the jar and repeat until the seeds are clean. Use a sharpie and write the name of the tomato on a large coffee filter and put the filter in your strainer. Pour the seeds and water into it and let drain. Staple the filter to a paper plate and put on a stack of newspapers. Spread out the seeds as much as possible with your fingers. Repeat with other varieties.

    I had you save the liquid from the tomatoes because it is the best compost activator I have seen. Just pour it on your compost pile and watch it shrink.

    I had you use coffee filters because the seeds won’t stick to it. You can flex the dried filter and the seeds will pop off. I buy commercial size filters by the case, 1000. These are about the same size as the cheap paper plates I buy, which help keep the filters from blowing away and to keep them flat. The newspapers help wick the water away. The filters will last forever if you keep the mice out of them. Do not dry outside. One gust of wind can ruin a years worth of work. (Don’t ask me how I know.)

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