CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, I extolled the virtues of saving seeds for the future and gave some basic directions for seed saving. I didn't feel I had enough room in the column (they do tend to limit my ramblings) to share the one special case in seed saving -- tomatoes.
Tomato seeds are coated with a gel that inhibits germination, which is a good thing when it is still inside the fruit, but can make starting saved seeds more difficult. While it is not absolutely necessary to do so, removing this gel can improve germination success. This is a natural process that occurs when a tomato falls to the ground and rots. The most effective way of doing this is through fermentation, which is a simpler process than you might think.
Last week, I said that you should save seeds only from open-pollinated or heirloom varieties. This is so very true for tomatoes as well. First, slice your tomato open to reveal the chambers full of seeds; these chambers are called locules. Different varieties of tomatoes have different numbers of locules (just a little something interesting I thought that I would point out). You can use a spoon or your fingers to remove the seeds and the locular fluid into a nonreactive (plastic or ceramic) container. If you are careful, you can still eat the de-seeded tomato in a salad or other dish.
Next, add some water to thin the solution, and make sure the seeds are covered with water. Cover the container loosely with a lid, paper towel or cloth and allow it to set undisturbed in a warm location away from direct light.
You will know it is working when a whitish mold forms on top of the liquid. Scoop it out with a spoon or add more water until the mold flows out. You will want to drain all of the liquid from the container, making sure to not spill any seeds. You should notice that the seeds do not have a gel coating at this point. Allow them to settle in the container; anything that floats is a dud and can be removed. Pour the rinse water out, again making sure not to spill the seeds.
At this point, move all of the seeds out of the container and spread them out on a plate to dry. Some people use a piece of paper or paper towel, but the seeds may stick. Make sure you put a label with them so you remember what they are.
After a few days of drying, move the seeds into a sealable plastic bag or small container and store them in the freezer. As you put them away, remember that you have preserved a future harvest, and you'll be enjoying your favorite tomatoes again next year.
And remember, it is always a good idea to save some extra seeds to share with your friends or favorite garden writer/extension agent (just kidding).