The truth of the matter is that I’ve saved open pollinated tomato seeds for years without taking the following steps, and I was pretty happy with just plucking them out of the tomato, drying them on a paper towel, peeling them off of said towel (always with a small chunk of paper attached), and planting them the following spring. What I didn’t know is that fermenting the seeds for several days before storing them actually boosts the germination rate, and helps to combat some diseases particularly troublesome to the tomato. In short, it’s worth a little extra trouble for more and stronger tomatoes! Here we go–
Cut your very ripe tomato open and squeeze the juice and seeds into a waterproof container. I always add a little tap water to keep things swimming, but if the tomato is pretty juicy, you may not need to do this. Next I cover the container with a piece of cheesecloth or a similarly thin cotton rag–this will help to keep out the fruit flies. Which are even more disgusting than the mold that will grow on top of your tomato juice within about 3 days. See the white and gray mold above? While that’s forming, the gelatinous material that surrounds each seed will also be breaking down. This is a good thing. Don’t let this fermentation process go for much more than 3 days or the seeds will actually germinate. This is not a good thing.
Next, rinse, rinse, rinse, until all of the mold and slimy material that formerly surrounded your seeds has been washed away. Inspect your seeds, and toss any that have accidentally germinated, or any seeds that look poorly formed. Now is not the time for compassion–save only the best seed!
Then allow to thoroughly dry. I usually allow at least a couple of days for this process, more if I have any question about their dryness. Those who store moist seed end up with a germination rate of about zero; wet seeds will mold, rot, and otherwise perish.
See this completely dry tomato seed? Cleaned properly, it will feel a little bit fuzzy. Time to store your seeds!
You know those envelopes you get in the mail that billers, charities, and businesses who hope you’ll put money in inside those envelopes and send them, filled, back to the business? I cut them up and use them for saving seeds. Why? I like that they breathe, and they’re free.
Fold and tape along the raw edges.
Label and seal your dried seeds inside the skinny envelope you’ve just made, then I suggest storing the little envelopes inside a bigger container that is dark and waterproof–I use old coffee cans–until you’re ready to plant them next spring.
Of special note is that you can use this very same method for other “wet” fruits, like cucumbers, watermelon, etc. with the same improvement in germination and disease resistance.
Here’s to a bountiful garden next year!