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Victory Heirloom Seed Company - Preserving the future, one seed at a time!

 "Preserving the future,
one seed at a time."



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How to Save Tomato Seeds
Fermentation Method

The following step-by-step guide to saving tomato seeds is the exact process that we use here on the farm to produce the great seed that you have come to expect from Victory Seeds.

We have found that the fermentation method results in the cleanest seeds along with high germination rates possible.  In presenting this guide, it is assumed that you are saving seed from tomatoes that are not hybrids, are true-to-type, open-pollinated, and have not been cross pollinated.


Tomato seeds fermenting.

The first photograph shows a very common late summer / early fall scene here on the farm - containers of fermenting tomato seeds.

Seeds and juice are squeezed.

Most larger fruits are cut in half at their equator and squeezed into labeled, washed and sterilized plastic containers.  As seen in the above photo, small fruit can be simply squeezed.  However, we have learn from experience that making a small cut in the fruit will allow for better control of the squirting direction.

The containers of seeds and juice are then placed in a warm location (80 degrees F is good) and out of the direct sunlight with the lids loosely in place. The idea is to promote fermentation. I stir these batches a couple of times during the fermentation process as I have found that perfectly good seeds can get caught up on top of the mold scum, dry out, and become throwaways. Also, if the lids are left on tight, you might end up with a mess when they explode!

Ready to be cleaned.

After two to three days of fermentation, this photo is representative of what you will see in your containers.  Be attentive, check on them often, and DO NOT leave the seeds in this liquid too long or they will begin to germinate.  The seeds can also darken if left in this process too long.

The fermentation process breaks down the gelatinous material that encases the seed.  These jelly sacks contain a germination inhibitor so once it is gone, there is nothing holding the seeds back from germinating.  This is why you need to get them from the fermentation to the drying process as quickly as possible.  Fermentation is also said to be helpful in eliminating seed borne diseases.

Start by pouring off the scum.

Once germination is complete and the seeds are no longer surrounded by the gelatinous matter, find an out of the way location in the garden and start the cleaning process by pouring off the top scum (the big chunks).  Some people find the ripe, fermented tomato smell to be offensive.  To me it smells a lot like home brewing or winemaking.

Adding water.

Add water.

Stirring the water and seed mixture.

Stir up the concoction.

Carefully pour off the material floating on the surface.  This will include bad seed, tomato juice and other bits of the tomato tissue.

Washing.

Add more water and continue the rinse process.  Some people simply pour this mixture through a strainer and wash.  I find that I eliminate a lot more undeveloped or bad seeds by this rinse and pour method.

Rinsing.

Continue the process.  It is similar to panning for gold.  The nice, healthy, heavy seeds (gold) remain in the bottom of the container while the other material washes away with the liquid.

Finishing up the rince cycle.

After a few wash - rinse - pour cycles, you end up with a batch of beautiful seeds.

Finished washing the seeds.

This step is the first in the drying process. The container is quickly inverted onto your drying medium.   If you have small mesh drying screens, use them.  If you are processing a lot of different varieties and in fairly small quantities (one ounce or less), cheap coffee filters work great.  Do not use paper towels.  The seeds will stick and you will regret it.  Also, do not use metal or plastic.  You want something that will wick the moisture away from the seeds and promote drying.

Fresh, clean, tomato seeds.

This is what it looks like after picking up the container.  Make sure the filter is labeled with the variety and date.  You might think you will remember what they are, but it is a big waste when you don't.

Clean tomato seeds ready for drying.

Locate the seeds in a warm location, out of the direct sunlight with good ventilation. A fan may be necessary if you have high humidity.  Stir a couple of times during the day breaking up the clumps of seeds.  Never dry in an oven.

You need to get your seed dried quickly or it will start to sprout.  Complete drying can take up to a week.


Properly dried and stored, you should experience seed germination rates of 50% for up to ten years. Four to seven years are typical.   We store dried seed in airtight glass jars in a cool, dry location.  Small desiccant packets can also be used in the jars to lower the moisture and thereby help to increase seed life.

This is not the only method of saving tomato seeds but simply a method that has worked well for us for many, many years.


 

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