Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Saving Sweet Summer Seeds


This summer we talked about the beauty and diversity of heirloom tomato varieties and how they differ from hybrid tomatoes.  Heirloom's are selected for desirable traits such as color, shape, resistance to disease and/or flavor (of course).  Since these specific varieties are perpetuated and passed on from one season to the next and one generation to the next, the seeds must somehow be stored and saved during the winter in order to sow them the following year.  Although you can clearly see the seeds sitting in pockets of the tomato above, the gel that surrounds the seed is actually...

preventing germination from taking place inside the fruit, a genius mechanism the plant has developed.  So the only way for these seeds to be used again is by a simple fermentation process that removes this restrictive gel casing.

Without eating the tomato, you want to gently scoop out all of the seeds into a container.

Straining them is good if possible as the end goal is to have completely clean, dry seeds.

If you're using a strainer, give the seeds a quick rinse to get off as much gel and tomato chunks as you can.  Regardless, place the seeds into a clean container and cover them with water.

It's best to cover the container with a top providing some airflow i.e. a paper towel or a piece of Reemay as this will sit until a mold forms atop the seed/water mixture and you want to prevent anything else from getting inside.

At this point you can discard the seedless tomato as you've already taken everything needed to reproduce this specific fruit.

On a great last minute trip up north to the Hudson Valley Seed Library (HVSL) in Accord, NY near New Paltz, I managed to catch a glimpse of a hand cranked deseeding machine that is used to capture seeds from tons of tomatoes every summer.  The HVSL is a farm that acts as a storage facility for locally grown plants.  As a farm, they grow plants to maturity and capture the seeds from the very best.  In addition to growing their own, HVSL purchases saved seeds from farms up and down the Hudson Valley, Stone Barns being one of those farms.  The seeds we were saving above are called Black Krim which is saved specifically for HVSL.

Lucky for me the seed library had an entire room of fermenting tomato seeds and I was able to get a quick peak into the future of seed saving once the mold starts to form.  Here you can see the final stage of the fermenting process.

Once the mold forms, you can scrap out the seeds and rinse them off again, this time the leftover gel will come off easily.  Now let them sit in a warm, dry place for few days and then store in an airtight container like a ziplock bag and anything else that will stay dry and avoid any pests between now and next season.

Saving tomato seeds is an easy process and it can be done from any heirloom tomato you pick up at your favorite market.  At $5/lb and a summer full of fresh salsa dreams, it could end up saving you some nice cash and connect you a little closer to your food.


  1. How did you get the skin off so perfectly! Were they blanched or something? Or am I misunderstanding what I'm seeing? I didn't know you needed to do so much to get plantable tomato seeds, very cool.

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