Growing tomatoes is a staple crop in every garden. It’s one of those crops we look forward to every planting season and it’s one of those crops that we dream about in the middle of winter. Tomatoes are one of those crops that produce a lot of food in a small amount of space. Choosing plants that produce the most amount of food in the smallest of space is essential to every gardener, no matter what the size of your garden is. Whether you grow beefstakes, early girls, cherry tomatoes or anything and everything in between, there are just some plants that do so well, we want them again for next year. This is done by a fermentation process that is quick and easy to do.
Heirloom varieties are especially important to preserve by harvesting seed. Nonhybrid plants quite easy to harvest seed from but even hybrid varieties can have seeds harvested for the next growing season and beyond. Hybrid varieties may look or taste a bit different than the parent plant but it’s been my experience that it’s not enough to deter from the quality that was enjoyed in the current season. It’s easier than you think and more satisfying than buying prepackaged seeds every year. That being said, I also recommend buying plants in a nursery in addition to your own seeds as a means of expanding your varieites and growing season.
Getting started –
Choose a branch that has flower buds on it but haven’t opened yet. The reason for this is that all tomatoes are self pollinating but a few varieties can be cross pollinated by insects and wind. Cover this branch with cheesecloth or a light polyester fiber. Remove this cover when fruits begin to develop, tag your stem so you will know which tomatoes you need to pick for your seeds.
Once thoroughly ripened and soft, harvest the tomatoes from the tagged branch and start the seed harvesting process.
Fermentation process –
1. Wash tomatoes and then cut across. Do not cut across from stem tip to bottom, cut across the other way. Gently squeeze juice and seeds into a container and label it with the variety and the date. Fill containers approximately 1/2 way with water. Tap water is fine but you can use distilled or spring water if you wish.
2. This needs to sit for approximately 3-5 days. At this time, a whitish mold will form on top of the water. Be sure to set your container out of direct sun and someplace where the fermentation odor will not bother you. If you are in a warm climate, you may need to add a little more water in the middle of the 3-5 days. Once the 3-5 days have passed, carefully spoon out the mold taking care not to remove the seeds with it.
3. Fill container with water again and stir. The good seeds will sink to the bottom.
4. Once you have your good seeds, drain water and put seeds into a fine strainer. Lay these in a single layer on a plate for drying. This will take approximately 3 days. Once dry, place in a labeled envelope or jar.
That’s it. Your seeds are now ready for use next spring. You can start seedlings indoors as normal or direct sow when the soil is workable.