As a young kid I was always curious about how plants reproduce.
I learned one way for plants to reproduce is through their seeds. One of my
first experiences with planting my own home grown seeds started outside my home
in Staten Island when I was still a young boy. I remember a couple of Rose of Sharon bushes growing outside
of my New York home. Back then I didn’t have any money but still loved working
with plants since my backyard vegetable garden times. I first noticed how easy
it was to take seeds from the Rose of Sharon dead flower pods and plant new
plants. Many different colors started to come with the new bushes. I eventual
noticed that when I took flowers from one enjoyable color flower and pollinated
it with another colorful flower, I could
possibly get a different looking flower on the plants from the new seed of that
flower. This was amazing to discover for a young boy. Eventually a new neighbor
move in next door and decided to rip out all the plants that I was unnoticeably
planting, but not before I learned a little about the genetics of a plant. The
lessons I learned from my young seed experience have followed me today.
Nowadays as an adult living in the South Western United
States, I have a new obsession with seeds and plants in general. Heat and
drought conditions are huge obstacles for the Phoenix area. These conditions
are always in my thought process when buying starter plants and seeds. Buying
seed that are drought tolerant is a great idea for this climate.
As an adult I still love to collect seeds from my
garden plants. My plants are all open pollinated and are not plant hybrids.
This is why I know their seed will grow true to their parent plant form. I
still however observe some plants better adapted to my desert environment.
This adaptation is one of nature’s miracles of life. This is survival of the
fittest in action on desert earth.
If you have ever let a head of lettuce grow to maturity without
eating it, you would notice it grows flowers on top of the plant. The flowers
look like hundreds of tiny dandelion flowers. Modern urbanizes are not use to
what nature is intended to look like and would probable think a mature, bolting
(flowering) lettuce plant is an ugly weed. Regardless to their appearance, I
think they are beautiful. Besides that the finches and sparrows love the abundant
seed and bring their song and free nitrogen to the dirt. These birds are my cheerful
workers. They are the best “crappy workers” a gardener can have. That is they
poop on the dirt while they are singing and feeding. Lettuce plants have an abundant
amount of seed, so sharing is not a problem.
In the past few years some of this seed has been broadcast-ed (Thrown) by the birds and the wind to the surrounding poor rocky dry dirt. Some
of the lettuce through nature’s miracle adaptation have survived and
flourished. The picture shows it better but someday soon I hope to have a Mesa
Arizona variety of Romaine lettuce which is the perfect plant for this
environment. Seed study and seed saving for certain regional growing
environment is the single reason all of us need to gather our own seeds.
Tomato Seed Saving with the help of Bugs
Now that I have your attention, here’s the skinny on tomato
seed saving. Viable tomato seed collecting is a bit more complicated than just
popping open a seed pod and removing seeds. Just like breaking down carbon into
compost, we must once again introduce the assistance of some friendly little
buggers. The buggers I’m referring to are bacteria, yeasts and other microorganisms.
These are the buggers used to ferment carbon. During the fermentation process
these microorganisms convert carbohydrates like sugar and other organic
material into carbon dioxide and organic acids. The organic acids melt off the
gelatinous layer of goo surrounding the tomato seed which in turn makes the
seed viable for storage. This process is often accomplished naturally in the
wild through the rotting of fallen vegetable fruit. This method, though
effective doesn’t give the gardener a choice on where plant seeds and plants.
Also rotting vegetables are usually smelly and unsightly.
The Art of Saving Tomato Seeds
To replicate the natural fermentation seed process at home
we just follow a few easy steps. Take a clear glass jar, I use old mason jars
or a clear cup and set it on your working surface.
Next gather the very ripest, most desirable tomato from your
garden. The better the tomato picked for its seeds, the better the chance of a desirable
offspring seed. Also the ripper the tomato, the better of a chance of insuring
fully matured seedlings.
Slice the tomato in
half and squeeze its pulp and seeds into your jar container. Next add a small
amount of water. A few table spoons should do the trick. Now place the filled
jar in a cool dark place. You may consider covering your jar to keep flies and
other pests away but make sure you have air hole in your cover so the mixture
can breathe. As stated in the previous section, fermentation releases carbon
dioxide so the gas needs to be released.
After resting the mixture for a couple of days you will
notice a smelly, somewhat discolored whitish film floating in the jar. Believe it
or not, this is a good sign fermentation of the seed cover has taken place. At
this point you may also notice some seeds in the mixture sink to the bottom of
the container. These fallen seeds are the most viable seeds for saving.
Carefully remove the fermented sperm like layer off the top of the mixture and
add some more water. Stir the mixture. Empty some water and repeat the process
until the water is clear and the good seeds have once again fallen to the
bottom of the jar container. When this rinsing of the seeds is accomplished it
is time to remove the seeds from the jar.
Now that the gelatinous seed coating is removed from the seeds through fermentation, the seeds are ready to be dried.Carefully empty the water from the jar containing the tomato seeds. Next remove the seeds and place them on some wax paper, a plate or a towel. Place the seeds in a safe place to thoroughly dry. Don’t rush this process. Seeds need to be completely dry to prevent rotting.Once the seeds are completely dry, they are ready to be stored.
I store my seeds in plain white envelopes. Before placing the seeds in these envelopes I write on the envelopes all the information I have on the seed. Some of my information includes the type of vegetable and its specific variety. I make sure to include any specific attributes, the number of generations I have invested in the seed and the date saved. This information is priceless when it comes to creating new varieties adapted to your own environment. You would be surprised on what a gardener may forget about a plant variety.
Some Common Tomato Seed Saving Mistakes
As stated in the previous paragraph, I can’t emphasize
enough the importance of toughly drying your seeds. The last thing you want to
discover is your precious and priceless seed collection is full of mold. This
being said, mistakes in the garden as well as in life do happen. Even the
Gardening Grandpa is not free from mistakes. I consider mistakes a chance to
learn and improve. Mistakes have made me a better gardener as well as a wiser
One of my more recent mistakes occurred while I was
documenting the tomato seed saving process. This mistake made was allowing my
seeds to sit too long in their fermenting water. I should have checked on them
daily. Anyway the result of this was tomato seed germination. My seeds actually
broke and roots started to grow from the seedlings. Learning and trying to make
the best of a negative situation, I decided to take these germinated seeds and
place them in filtered seed starting soil. I figured I would try to get some
tomato starts out of my mistake. This answer would not work for most people in
the US but luck has it, Arizona’s warm climate allows several tomato seasons.