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Your tomato plants have given you an entire summer of produce. However, the leaves are starting to brown, you’re not getting any more blossoms, and the days are getting shorter. As you’re wrapping up your last canning jars of spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce, it’s a good time to start planning for next year’s garden.
If you’ve been following my blog at all you’ll know my love affair with tomatoes. The first vegetable I ever grew was a tomato plant, and it grew so tall it easily outgrew its cage, passed me in height and then fell over.
Tomatoes are the best vegetable for the beginning Homesteader. For more information on how to grow tomatoes, check out my 30 Second Guide to Growing Tomatoes.
While technically you can save seeds from a hybrid plant, it’s not recommended. A hybrid plant is one that has been genetically altered by humans to combine the best traits of two different varieties of plant. The first generation hybrid will usually be very vigorous and produce a lot, the next generation is usually unstable and weak.
If you want to regrow the type of tomato you had this year, next year, you’ll want to start with heirloom plants. Heirloom plants have been naturally pollinated, and the children will reflect their parents.
When picking which seeds to save, choose tomatoes from your best looking plant – the tallest, the healthiest, the one that produced the most. In this way, you’re selecting the characteristics you want to reproduce in the next generation. After a few years of this, you will be creating a tomato that is naturally adapted to grow the best on your property, in your conditions. Can’t beat that!
When a tomato ripens naturally, it falls off the vine and rots. This rotting, or fermentation, is essential to the success of the seeds. Fermentation removes germination inhibitors – priming the seeds for germination in the spring.
Saving tomato seeds is a free, easy, efficient way to permaculture.
Separate the Seeds
While you’re skinning and de-seeding tomatoes for canning, squeeze the seeds into a separate bowl for saving. I love this process because it means even less is going to waste. The skins, however, can go to the compost bin. I store my seeds in mason jars because I have dozens laying around, but any metal or glass container will do.
Do not add any additional water, as this can delay fermentation. Simply cover your container full of seeds with a cloth or coffee filter. Fermentation will release gases. You’ll leave the seeds alone to ferment for three days.
Removing the Seeds
Depending on how large your container is, you may need to transfer them to a larger container. Add three to four times the volume of water and let stand for a minute. The pulpy, gelatinous goo will float to the top, where the viable seeds will sink to the bottom. Simply pour off the liquid while saving the seeds. Then in a sieve, rinse the seeds to remove any clinging gel.
Drying the Seeds
With your seeds fermented, and separated, place them on a paper towel, paper bag, or paper plate to dry. Spread the seeds out with your finger to prevent clumping and let dry for five to six days or until they are dry enough to store. Store in a cool, dark place until next spring!