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TOMATO STORAGE TIPS

 If you find yourself with hard, under-ripe tomatoes, store them in a paper bag with a banana or an apple, both of which naturally emit the ethylene gas that hastens ripening.

- Cook's Illustrated, July & Aug, 2012






Seed Saving

By the time you've reached this page, I'm hoping that you've taken some time to read through the different catalog descriptions and the incredibly rich history that follows many of the varieties.

I'm also hoping that you've begun to realize that these varieties are listed here for one reason only: someone - somewhere - loved one of these varieties so much that year after year, they took the time to save seed from their best fruits so that we, too, could enjoy them.

Why should I save my own seed?

For many reasons. The first is pure economics. Seeds - on the whole - are fairly cheap. Free is better.

But far more importantly, in a relatively short period of time, plants will begin to adapt to your garden, with all its inherent nuances (soil type, pH, sunlight, moisture, etc.). Each time you select fruits for whichever characteristic you're hoping to enhance, you are creating your own 'perfect' vegetables.

At the end of the day, my reason is much simpler. I find no greater reward, nor pleasure, in the process itself. From the eager anticipation of putting that first seed into the soil to picking the last vine-ripened fruit of the season. It is who I am. I am a gardener.

References

TOMATO SEED PRODUCTION - written by Jeffrey H. McCormack, Ph. D., founder of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Saving TOMATO Seed using the Fermentation Method:

THINGS TO GATHER BEFORE GETTING STARTED:

  • A strainer

  • Paper toweling - LOTS OF IT

  • Window screening (reclaimed, or new) cut into 8 inch squares

  • Bleach

  • Tweezers

  • Stapler

  • Masking tape or Paper

From top to bottom:

Freshly de-seeded, two and three days fermentation, to fully fermented.

STEP 1:

At any time during the season, select one or more ripened fruit(s) that you feel is the best example of that variety. You can choose for taste, size, shape, color, etc. Do not select diseased, misshapen or off-type fruits. Select the finest example of the variety that you can.

Without getting fancy, slice the fruit open and either squish (like you would a lemon) or scrape the seeds into any container that holds liquid. This particular year I used small carry-out condiment containers that I bought at Gorden's Food Service. I've heard that some folks are having good results with snack-sized sandwich bags, too.

If you were able to extract enough liquid from the fruit, thee seed extraction is done. With some varieties (mostly paste types) there won't be enough liquid to adequately begin the fermentation process. If this is the case, add a small amount of water. Don't add too much, as doing so decreases the effectiveness of the fermentation process which is vitally important to killing seed borne pathogens..

It's not mandatory, but you can rubber band or lay any breathable material securely over the top of your container (i.e.- coffee filters, paper toweling, screen, pantyhose, etc.). This will allow air circulation, but prevent insects from taking up residence.

MAKE SURE YOU LABEL EACH CONTAINER.

The fermentation process will begin naturally. Ideally, the location where the seeds are fermenting will be close to 70°F; temperatures over 80°F will reduce seed viability. (Note: I carefully move all my containers outside, on the back porch, under a covered porch, which receives zero direct sunlight.)

It is advisable to stir the mash several times a day as this helps the ferment to work evenly.

Fermentation is complete in two or three days and can be witnessed when the good seeds have settled on the bottom and much of the pulp has floated to the top.
 

STEP 2: PREP YOUR WORKSPACE

I process many different varieties at one time, so I am hyper vigilant to ensure that I don't mix up any seeds. I clear my counter of everything but what you see in this photo and in Steps 7 & 8.

STEP 3: OVER THE SINK, POUR THE CONTENTS OF YOUR CONTAINER INTO THE STRAINER

I make sure that I set the labeled cup just to the side of the coffee mug. Why am I mentioning this? Because it is all a process. If I should get distracted, then I know exactly what seed is in the strainer because the labeled cup is right there telling which variety it is.

STEP 4: USE STREAMING WATER TO CLEAN THE SEED

My faucet has the option of switching from the 'normal' flow, to that which is pictured... more shower head-like. Either works, but the shower head feature seems to get the job done faster.

Continue to run water over the seeds until nothing remains but the seeds.

Occasionally, there might be some gunk that won't go through the strainer. If this happens, I lightly rub the seeds with my finger and this usually will dislodge it. [NOTE:] If you've left your containers outside to ferment, you might also find fly larvae (maggots) and they do not go through the strainer. In these cases, I use tweezers and down the garbage disposal they go!

STEP 5: CLEANED SEED

Here is the finished product. Perfectly cleaned seed. But there is one more step...

STEP 6: SOAK IN BLEACH AND WATER SOLUTION

In my opinion, this is a very important step. Remember that mug in the first photo? It is filled with a 10% bleach and water solution. Rest the strainer in this solution for at least a couple of minutes, up to five. This will help kill any remaining pathogens..

STEP 7: ALLOW THE SEEDS TO DRAIN

I adopted this step on accident. That is a microfiber dish rag. What I found out is that it 'wicks' a bunch of extra moisture from the seeds. I originally just used it as a place to set the strainer until I readied Step 8. Now I don't skip this step. You will have to squeeze the rag out after two or three batches, as this is how much water is actually absorbed!

STEP 8: DRYING THE SEEDS

On top of a double layer of paper towel, place a sheet of pre-cut screen. In one fluid motion, dump the contents of the strainer onto the screen, ending with a quick tap. Leaving the strainer hovering over the screen, lightly tap on the strainer until all seed have been removed. IMPORTANT: Make sure there are no remaining seed stuck in the strainer before you start another variety.

STEP 9: REMOVING EXCESS MOISTURE

Place another sheet of screen OVER the seed - it is now sandwiched between two sheets of screen. Using a four way folded piece of paper towel, gently apply pressure using your fingers to start wicking moisture from the seed.

STEP 10: REPEAT....

You can see how much moisture is removed. The key is to try and dry the seeds as much as possible. Seed that is stored wet will mold, rot or even germinate!

Properly done, the top sheet of screen will pull away with ease, leaving all seed on the bottom piece of screen.

STEP 11: MAKING COOKIES

Folding all four corners into themselves, you end up with a fortune cookie type shape. I use as many staples as it takes to make sure the seed won't come out when the 'cookie' is turned over. Accidents happen! Now, using either tape of a small piece of paper, label each cookie and staple it to the cookie.

 

STEP 12: FINAL DRYING

I put all the 'cookies' in my wire vegetable bowl (more circulation) and store them in a warm room for at least a week. Now, I am confident that they are dry enough to put into long-term storage.
 

STEP 13: STORING YOUR SEED

In a draft-free area, clear of clutter, I carefully open one fortune cookie at a time. Some seeds will be stuck together. Gently crumble them between your thumb and fingers to break them apart onto a white sheet of paper which has previously been folded in half and then laid flat. By folding the sheet of paper, a channel is created which will help when pouring the seeds into their envelopes. Envelopes are clearly labeled and dated.

IMPORTANT: Before I open the next 'cookie', I make sure there are no stray seeds anywhere. If there are, I sweep them onto the floor. (Did I just admit that?) 

I store ALL of my seeds in the hydrator drawer of my refrigerator. Properly stored, tomato seeds should remain viable for at least 5 years, and probably many, many more.