Here's a quick and easy method I've developed for saving your heirloom tomato seeds without going through all the steps that fermentation requires.
The fermentation method has, for a long time, been the classic way to save tomato seeds. Our own Dave has written an excellent article on the subject. Furthermore, if you're going to trade seeds with other people, it's considered good etiquette to ferment your seeds. But there is a simpler way.*
he first step in any seed-saving method is to choose an heirloom variety, one that produces seeds that are true to the parent. Most tomato seed for sale today produces a hybrid variety, one that has been crossed one or more times with other tomato varieties. Seeds from such tomatoes do not come true to the parent. They will produce tomatoes that reflect the parentage of the hybrid.
Step 2 | Select a Seed Source
Select your seed source from a healthy tomato plant. Choose the best-looking tomato from that plant (see photo above). It should be fully ripe, but not over-ripe. The heirloom tomato variety I've chosen is called "Winsall," one of my favorites.
Step 3 | Gather Your Tools and Materials
For this project you'll need:
A paper towel
A teaspoon (optional)
A sharp or serrated knife
A felt tip pen
Wax paper (if necessary)
Step 4 | Slice, Scoop, Spread
Take your chosen tomato to the kitchen or other work area, place it on a level surface with the stem end up, and slice it in half horizontally. The seeds are contained in the compartmentalized segments. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon (or your finger) and place them on the paper towel. Note that each seed is enclosed in a gel-like sac. As you spread the seeds on the paper towel, space them so that they're one-half to one inch apart from each other. When placing each seed, gently press the gel into the paper to disburse it a bit. If you know in which container you'll be starting the seeds, you can arrange them according to the shape and size of the container.
Step 5 | Dry
After you finish arranging your seeds on the paper towel, move the towel to a warm, dry environment. The towel will wick moisture away from the seeds quite quickly. I generally allow several days drying time.
Select a smooth, somewhat slick surface on which to place the seeded towel, so that it won't adhere to the surface as it dries. I use the waxed surface of a metal café table. If in doubt, place a sheet of wax paper on the surface and then place the towel on that.
Step 6 | Fold, Label, Store
Once the towel and seeds are completely dry, you're ready to label and store the seed. Fold the towel so that the seeds are on the inside. Use the top outside of the folded towel to label your seeds. Store the seeded towel in a relatively air-tight container at room temperature. I use an old metal bread box that I inherited from my mother-in-law, who used it to store her flower seeds.
Step 7 | Plant
When you're ready to plant your seeds, plant them towel and all. Fill your container with a seed-starting mix and simply lay the seeded towel on top. If necessary, you can cut the towel to fit the container. Cover the seeded towel with 1/4 inch of the starting mix, water, and place the container in bright light, either natural or artificial.
The seeds will remain viable for two years or more. I've had an excellent germination rate using this method. Why not give it a try!
An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and itís still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: http://davesgarden.com/community/blogs/m/LarryR/. Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.