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Kim asked about fermentation. She keeps seeing references to it, but doesn't understand it.
Some seeds come imbedded in a gel mass. These include tomatoes, cucumbers, some squashes, some melons, and other plants. If you try saving these seeds without removing the gel, they stick to themselves, and to everything else they touch.
The gel also contains anti-germination compounds (especially those in tomatoes) so that the seeds do not germinate in the warm, moist environment of the growing fruit.
When you ferment the seeds, it removes the gel. And it destroys many disease pathogens carried by the seeds as well.
There are several variations on the theme. But here are the basic steps:
1. Remove the seed mass and put it in a small waterproof container. I use plastic throw-away glasses myself. But anything will do.
2. Add an equal volume of water to the container. Your instincts will tell you to add more than that, but it is not ncessary, and will slow down the process.
3. Put the container in a warm place, but not in direct sunlight. Stir the mixture once a day.
4. In about three days the process will get going, and will last up to about a week. The good seeds (those that are viable) will sink to the bottom. Everything else---remains of the gel coat, dead seeds, debis, and mold---will float.
5. When you think as much seed as will sink has, gently pour off the crud. Rinse the good seed in several changes of water. Lay them out to dry. Best drying medium is screening, but lot's of people use other things. Seeds will take about three weeks to dry completely.
The biggest mistake we all make, from time to time, is not asking a question because we think we'll look silly.
Everybody is a beginner some time, and the only stupid question is the one you _don't_ bother to ask.
That's a general truth. But it's even more important when you get involved in seed saving and growing open pollinated varieites, because there are all sorts of technical and semi-technical things going on. And they come with the baggage of jargon.
So, if you don't understand something, ask. Ain't nobody gonna be laughing at you.
I understand that you got burned by some trades, and this has made you a little bitter. But you overstate the case.
Peppers, for instance, are Solanacae types, but don't need fermentation. It wouldn't serve much purpose if you did ferment them, because they lack the gel coat. If you are concerned about disease pathogens on pepper seeds, there are other ways to handle it.
Water layering, to seperate the viable seed from the bad certainly helps. But that's a different process than fermentation.
There's something we agree on 100%, Byron. "Growing Garden Seeds" is a great introduction to the subject. More than an introduction, actually, because it goes into some subjects deeper than "Seed to Seed."
Thanks for reminding us about it.
And BTW, anyone who doesn't get Johnny's catalog is missing out on a good'un.
Brook, thanks for the how-to above; it will be very helpful for new seed-savers (like me) this year.
One thing that occurred to me, just to clarify - can metal be used as a container for fermentation? (I'm thinking it shouldn't, because of the corrosion that would take place, but to be honest, I don't know if it causes any real problems for the seeds or just the containers.) If it does, maybe a warning that the fermentation container should plastic or glass, but no metal, especially aluminum...just a thought. Good job - very simple, straightforward, and easy to understand and follow. Thanks!
Any non-reactive container would do, Go-Vols. I wouldn't use aluminum (heck, I don't even _cook_ in aluminum) or copper because they could effect the seeds. Iron would probably be safe for the seeds, but the process is not good for the iron.
Mostly fermentation is done in cheap containers that are not reused. Like I said, I use clear plastic cups---mostly because I like to see what's going on. As I recall, I pay something like a buck 79 for 25 of them. They are reusable, but I don't bother. If you want to see how mine look, go to www.lebepsgarden.zipworld.com.au. Click on The Heritage Garden. Then click on You Say Tomato. There's a pretty good photo there.
A lot of people use the deli containers that cole slaw and the like come in.
The main criterium is that the container be waterproof.
I'm with you Brook - gave up my aluminum a looooong time ago. But for folks who may not be aware of the reaction that will take place, they might see that old aluminum pan as a good semi-disposable container. Just trying to think of this from the beginner's perspective, and covering all the bases.
I have found it easier to decant the mold and other debris when the fermentation is finished by first adding lots of water, stirring, let settle a few minutes and then decant. Then add lots of water again, stir, let settle for a minute, decant...and keep repeating till the viable seeds are clean. I dry them on polystyrene plates.
Without adding lots more water prior to the first decanting, I was throwing away lots of good seeds...
I was given some tomato seeds by an older friend - they were stuck on a piece of napkin. And I grew both the beefsteak and the cherry tomatoes with no problems. Just peeled a few seeds and planted them. I keep hearing about fermenting tomato seeds, but no one nowadays seem to do it this way anymore.
I have since just rinsed tomato seeds in water, strained them through a colander and then put the wet glob on a napkin spreading them around. When the napkins dry, just write the type of tomato on it and save.
All serious tomato seed savers do process their seeds via fermentation. It's the only way to completely remove germination inhibitors and seed-borne diseases. I won't trade with anybody who does not ferment their tomato seeds.
Thankfully, almost all DG tomato growers ferment their seeds prior to storing.
>but no one nowadays seem to do it this way anymore. <
Esther, I'd love to know where you got this idea from.
I know several hundred heirloom tomato growers, including commercial growers. You are one of only four I know of who do not ferment. All of them are individuals (none of whom I'll trade with). All commercial tomato seed is fermented.
Hmmmmm. Looking over what I just wrote, and at Dave's comments above, we both sound kind of arrogant. But that's not the case. We just care about having the best seed possible. We supply seed that's been treated right,to the people we trade with, and we expect the same from seed we get.
As I said, I got seeds this way from an older (late 70s) friend and have assumed people did this long ago.
I have not tried to save seed until recently - also been reading about fermentation only recently. And everyone talks about the stink. I do sort of mash the seeds against the mesh of the colander and when I rinse them again, I can see the gel coating floating off. I guess I will not be trading my tomato seeds - unless I got them in trade.
Esther,It's not that bad.It's an easy process and if you only do a few at a time,the odor is minimal.I do it in my kitchen.
I'd suggest trying just one variety at a time and seeds from only a couple of tomatoes. Of course,you should repeat the process with another couple of fruits from a different plant later. Ideal situation is four fruits from four plants.This would keep the genetic vigor of the variety and give you a good selection of seeds.
I usually ferment the seeds from at least a dozen fruits from 4 to 6 plants.I select the tomatoes by how close to the original fruit they look and always use the nicest ones I can find.
There were several people just like you who weren't sure they wanted to do this process last year. Most tried it and were quite happy with the outcome. It goes a long way with seasoned seed savers when you can say...'of course,my seeds are fermented'. It will open up a whole new world of tomatoes for you,and you're gonna drool over the selection available and want to participate. Try it with just one or two and if it gets to bothering you,wash the whole mess down the sink. By doing just a few seeds at a time,I think you'll be pleased with the outcome.
Oddly enough, I never noticed any objectionable odor when fermenting tomato seeds.
Cukes, on the other hand, seem to produce a really bad smell. I would never do them in the house; whereas I ferment tomato seed in-house all the time.
By the way, Ester, where Melody and I live, fermentation often has another meaning. It involves a copper kettle and coil, sour mash, and a secluded place in the woods. And it produces a different kind of heirloom. :-)
Oh folks, you have all been misguided by the demon Brook
Fermenting seeds is for masochists.
You'll get the same results (inhibition of disease, etc) by simply tossing the seed-gell from tomatoes, squash, and the like into a tray of fine sand. Then put that sand over a radiator for a few days, so it's all very dry.
And pour it through a very fine metal mesh. Like a kitchen strainer.
The sand disappears and you're left with perfectly dried seed.
No mess, no flies, no fuss, no smell...
I got this idea from a lady who once worked in a giant seed firm. Do they ferment their seeds? (Ho..)
Just some comments and additions to what has been said.
Fermenttion lowers the number of seedborne pathogens but not all of them. The Cornell Experimental Station at Geneva has a wonderful lady scientist who has had research grants from the Campbell Soup Co and she's done a lot of work in this area.
Also, fermentation is an anareobic process, meaning without air. If you stir the mixture you admit air and slow down the process.
The rate at which the fermentation proceeds is dependent on the ambient temperature. Don't let the mix dry down. And if you overferment the seeds will be brown but viability is still OK.
In addition to removal of the gel capsule there are a couple of other processes that go on, according to the literature.
The acids formed in the process are supposed to kill the viruses and fungal spores and the mold that forms at the surface of the mixture is supposed to secrete antibiotics which kill the bacterial pathogens. But I've never been able to prove the latter and have suggested it as a science project to a middle school student.
I don't know if you folks who ferment have fruit flies where you live but that's a major problem when I ferment stuff, as well as diving wasps and yellow jackets; just jazzes up the excitement of fermtation. So do it outside, not in the sun and where wild critters won't tip over your containers.
I use one pint deli containers.
And if someone wants to just scoop out some seeds from an open pollinated tomato and wash them and dry them that's fine for home use. But if those seeds are being traded I think courtesy says to ferment them. I've received seeds plastered to wax paper, paper towels, newspaper and whatever. All those seeds germinated just fine. So while we talk about the removal of the germination inhibitor present in the gel, which does happen during fermetation, I'm not exactly sure how important that is. it has significance for a tomato outside in that seeds from rotten tomatoes won't germinate until the following summer as volunteers, but other than that natural process I just don't know about the removal of gel being that important physiologically other than it makes for nice clean seeds.
And there are a couple of other methods that can be used such as peroxide and TSP ( tri-sodium phosphate) and hot water, but this thread is about fermentation so I won't say more. I do think that fermentation is best.
And if you're doing lots and lots of fermentations use the liquid from a fermenting mix to inoculate the new batches and the fermentation will go faster. Kinda like using sourdough starter.
But prior to fermentation I think folks might wish to be sure they never ever use just one fruit of a variety for seeds. It's best to use several fruits from one plant and fruits from several plants so as to maintain genetic diversity within the variety.
One last little hint. When you tap out the seeds onto a labelled paper plate, be sure the plate is paper, not coated, and carefully spread around the seeds into one layer. If you don't, with the germination inhibitor removed you can get germination of seeds on the plate where they are heaped up and damp.
It's so nice to have fluffy squeaky clean seeds at the end of the process.
>And there are a couple of other methods that can be used such as peroxide and TSP ( tri-sodium phosphate) and hot water, but this thread is about fermentation so I won't say more. I do think that fermentation is best. <
I don't think any of us minds a thread being hijacked; especially when it's to expand our knowledge. Please tell us more about using peroxide and TSP
Glad to see you again Carolyn (and hope you are fully recuperated and feeling in tiptop shape. You certainly seem to be typing fast, or do I just read fast?)
I'm glad to hear about the "starter"...I'm going to incorporate that into my fermenting. (By the way, I do mine on a shelf outside of my shoffice, out of the sun and under an overhang. As for bugs etc I usually cover the top of the jars with either paper towels or the like.
Another good aspect of fermentation (with water as opposed to the "dry" technique mentioned above) is that the viable seeds sink to the bottom and the poopers stay up top with the pulp...or so I was led to believe many yrs ago. Several friends agreed that they too noticed an increase in germination percentage when they fermented (as opposed to not fermenting). (Don't attack folks, I also realize germination has many other factors to take into consideration, i.e., temperature, moisture, age of seeds, etc.) Has there been any studies showing truth or not about the idea of viable seeds always being at the bottom?
Now, as for them revenures/revnoors...everone around here grows up knowing that it's a fact of life that no matter how you say it, no matter how you spell it, the word must ALWAYS be preceded by the prefix "DAD BLAMED!"
I probably won't be able to get back to the issue of other techniques today...just too much going on. But to the TSP and peroxide and hot water methods I should add hypochlorous ion (Clorox) also. I'll get to it soon.
Horseshoe, thanks for asking if I'm fully recuperated but the fact is that I haven't had even the first hip replaced yet, so no recuperation. I'm supposed to be losing a lot of weight and stopping smoking before they go at me and I haven't done that yet. Oh well. LOL
And I forgot to add yesterday that most seed physiologists feel that some pathogens are in the endosperm of the seed so surface active treatments aren't going to eliminate those pathogens at all.
As to viable seeds going to the bottom while immature ones stay at the top, I don't exactly see it that way. After fermentation is completed I pour off the mold layer. I usually lose a lot of seeds that way, and I mean good ones from the looks of them. Then I add water, swirl and decant and repeat that process until the water is clear.
To be perfectly honest there are few seeds that don't sink to the bottom of the container after swirling and letting them rest for a bit. Occasionally there are immature seeds which one can ID becasue they are whitish in color and not fully formed, but they are few if you use ripe tomatoes for seed processing.
I know of only one person who planted seeds that floated versus ones that sank and there was practically no germination with the floaters, but they were also IDed by the person who did that as being immature, not fully formed.And I trust that person's judgement.
Carolyn, who was just passing by this site on my AOL faves list yesterday and stopped in to see what was here. In the past year I came here only twice; once when asked re a question about tomato nomenclature and yesterday, although I've been sent snippets of posts in the meantime when reference to me has been made at this site by someone. So I don't intend to stay here and post on a regular basis. A complicated issue, actually.
well, for one thing...I'm much obliged for the input Carolyn. Thanks for your time and words you've shared.
It sounds like (re:floating seeds) that maybe some of the immature ones are floaters (and perhaps some viable ones hang w/them), so that at least helps us raise our germ rate if we ferment (w/water) cuz they will wash out w/the poop (technical term here). I know what you mean about them being relatively few...I've seen VERY few floaters in my batches. What few, if any, viable seeds get washed out w/them don't seem to cause "forlorn". (I LOVE that word!)
If you get back this way I'd like to hear more about the seed treatments (TSP, hot water, etc). If some of them are merely surface treatments I was wondering why something like heat/temperature (hot water treatment) couldn't be raised to have an effect on the endosperm (vs a "topical" external treatment like chlorox, etc. (Wonder if the rise in temp would damage the potential life that lies within the seed?) (Listen to me? I sound almost intelligent, eh? eh?)
Well...this all still holds my attention. Hope to hear some more input folks.
And Carolyn, it is hard to quit smoking (hard to even WANT to quit) and hard to lose weight...you've got two biggies there to deal with. All in all it sounds like you are well and doing just fine, so you keep being just fine, k?
Hot water treatment does reduce the germination level of such treated seeds because it does affect the endosperm.
Trust me, I'll be back to talk about those methods.
I'm just up to my respective bippies with other stuff right now and I need to find something online I wanted to add to what I was going to say.
Am hand tallying 250 survey forms with 26 seperate items with another person re the possible restoration of the local courthouse. And have to submit an outline, due tomorrow, for a seminar for C.E. credit that I've been asked to do for Funeral Directors re infectious diseases, my true former career.
I love retirement but can't imagine how I did what I did when I wasn't retired.
Thankyou for all that info on fermentation! It was all a bit of a mystery to me. I have been saving seeds by spreading them out onto cardboard, then drying in the hotwater cubbord. I have had some very good results like this so far. This season I will attempt fermentation as well.
Do you usually just do one tomato per container, or several, to get enough seed to be worth saving?
Does the ripeness of the tomato matter? ie Can I use some of the ones that are verging on over-ripe, or are the younger 'maters better? I'll bet you have to do a couple dozen cherry tomatoes to get enough to be worth anything!
Do you cover the top with plastic wrap or anything?
Hoping to hear from all those veteran seed savers!
I fermented my seeds for the first time last autumn (its now spring here in NZ) and it wasnt as hard as I thought. From my understanding, the more ripe the fruit is, the better!
And use as many tomatoes as you like in a single container, as long as they are of the same variety. I like to save some seed from at least 8 different fruits, across the best 3-4 plants of a single variety to preserve some genetic diversity. I could be wrong in doing this, but to me it seems wrong that just one single plant should parent next years crop.
I didnt cover my containers, and so ended the lives of a number of thirsty fruit flies. They rinse away with all the slimy stuff though.
Hope that helps, and hopefuly somebody with a little more experience will add a few words!
Well, I couldn't get my own kids interested in helping me squirt "tomato guts" into cups, but two of the neighborhood kids came over to investigate, and ended up having a great time helping. Next best thing to grape-stomping: tomato squeezing. I even convinced them to try some cherry and grape tomatoes, to see if I could help them overcome their dislike of tomatoes. Not sure it worked, but I figured the extra exposure (and my enthusiasm) couldn't hurt any! Heck, my 10 year old will now occasionally eat a grape or cherry tomato, and he used to gag at the very idea, so I guess you can wear them down eventually if you keep offering! LOL
I wonder if anyone has written an article on tomato seed fermentation? I should check it out. I am new to the writers group, and new to seed fermentation, so not sure I am the prime candidate to write one. I guess it could be from the "lessons learned" perspective!
I like your article Dave, its easily read and understood. Id love to send it to a young friend of mine, who I have talked into growing her first garden this year. She is very enthusiastic, and having alot of fun with it now that the ball is rolling. I supplied her with the heirloom seeds and ongoing growing support, next step is teaching her how to save her own seeds. Is there a way I can get the article to her without breaching copyright laws? She is not a DG member.