Posted on September 26, 2011 - by

Got a Brandywine Beauty? Save the Seeds!

A lovely tomato from a FRESH supporter’s garden

Perfectly ripe heirlooms in a perfumed cascade of colors—who doesn’t love a juicy summer tomato? Little wonder that the French nickname these beauties pommes d’amour, or “apples of love.” As the weather gets cooler, the last of this year’s harvest is coming to an end. However, you can still reap the benefits of a bountiful crop next year by saving the seeds. Here are some tips on how to harvest seeds from tomatoes so that you can enjoy them once again.

  1. Take a fully ripened tomato and cut it in half. Scoop or squeeze out the seeds and juice into a small, labeled container. If done carefully, the tomato itself can be saved for eating, sun-drying or canning.
  2. Add a little water to the container so that the seeds can float, then loosely cover it and set it in a warm place for 3-5 days where the odor will not bother you. Stir or swirl the mixture once or twice a day. The seeds will ferment and mold will grow at the surface. This mold is your friend; it eats the gelatinous coat around the seeds that stops germination. It also produces antibiotics that prevent disease.
  3. The viable, mature seeds will sink to the bottom. Pour off the excess water and solids at the top. Add more water and repeat this step until the seeds are clean and the water being poured off is almost clear.
  4. Spread the seeds onto a paper towel or plate and let them dry for 1-3 days. Keep them away from direct sunlight. Stir them to make sure they do not dry in clumps.
  5. Store the seeds in a dark, cool place in an airtight container. Don’t forget to label them with the name, variety and date you saved them!

Do you have tips on how to harvest and save seeds from your garden? Share your ideas and leave a comment below!

By the way, if you have ever wondered why supermarket tomatoes taste like cardboard, check out our review of Tomatoland. This new book discusses the seedy underbelly of Florida’s industrial tomato industry, and its environmental and social costs. It’s a must-read for anyone who has eaten or plans to eat a tomato.

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  1. Visit My Website

    September 27, 2011


    Maria said:

    What about concord grape seeds? I have some grapes from a grapevine that has never been treated with anything for 70+ years that my Aunt has owned it…definately heirloom seeds! :-) I’d like to harvest the seeds to plant my own grapevine but I don’t know where to begin…can you help me!?

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    September 27, 2011


    Kathleen Keene said:

    Whew, just put them on a piece of paper or napkin and dry them, you don’t need to fuss with all that! ;)

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    September 27, 2011


    Marn said:

    Kathleen–I thought that I had seen what they are describing on a Martha Stewart program, where the guest was a person that had an heirloom tomato business, and it was done for some of the other reasons that are mentioned here; not just for storage and germination.
    My question is, are there other plants for which this is method increases success/survival? Can this help germination in plants, like apple trees and grapes, that are normally planted from clones? What about plants that do not produce “juice” in which to ferment their seeds, such as (nut)trees and vegetables? I would guess that this is accomplished by re-creating conditions that would exist in nature, or what the plant has evolved to do naturally–in the case of the tomato, what might happen when a tomato falls off the vine and is left to rot.

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    September 27, 2011


    Barbara Talbert said:

    Leave a few drops in the garden to rot. The next year you will have a bunch of volunteers. ( Do not rototill this section) Of course if you had mixed varieties you have to wait to be surprised.

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    September 28, 2011


    Mike Jackson said:

    Fermentation is the healthiest way we have of experiencing the reproduction of the seed. Fermentation is the instrument the fruit uses to remove the gel sac. Fermentation also kills many seed born tomato diseases.The fermentation process is not difficult. However, just closely keep an eye on the mold because whenever the mold covers the top of your container, the seeds are ready. This could potentially just happen within 1-3 days. Otherwise the seeds could germinate. Also when cutting the fruit, it helps to cut the fruit along the middle not through the stem or the blossom end. Then its larger seed cavities can be exposed.
    Then if your job of fermentation’s all done,begin to finish your seeds by drying them out quickly so they wont germinate.
    It is just really easy to use coffee filters to dry the seeds quickly and thoroughly.Stir them frequently to avoid having a bunch stick together.
    Tomato seeds will remain viable for 4-10 years if the journey from fermenting to dryings done this way.It’s usually best to store using air tight containers and then freezing them.
    The book the Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, by Sandor Ellix Katz has a excellent chapter on the whys of healthy seed sustainability. It potentially makes the best case out there for sustainable farming and farming realities.

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    September 29, 2011


    Emilia said:

    Thank you for this wonderful information.
    I have a question.
    I already collected and dried some tomato seeds, but never heard of this fermentation process. What should I do with my seeds now? will they germinate or not?
    Thank you