Seed Saving Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are probably the reason that most heirloom seed houses are in existence. The humble heirloom tomato is the backbone of the heirloom industry and there are many heirloom seed companies that specialise in selling tomato seed only.

The question remains though as to what the best way to save tomato seed is.

In this post we will share tomato seed saving secrets that we use every season to save our own seed, and that which we sell to you our valued customer.

Naturally, you have gone through the effort of making sure that the tomato fruit that you are going to be saving seed from is pure, if not you will be wasting your time. Who wants to go to the trouble of saving seed that has been contaminated and will not breed true next year?

So now that you have your fruit that is nicely ripe and possibly even slightly over-ripe, just squeeze the pulp and seed out into a container, do as many fruits as you like and save seed from the best producing plants that have fruit that is ‘true-to-type’. This will ensure that you save only the best seed every year.

Notice the lovely white mould developing on the seed.
Notice the lovely white mould developing on the seed.

Now add water to the container to at least double the volume of the pulp and now all you do is let it ferment. What you are looking for is a nice healthy white mould/fungus that covers the top of the pulp mix. This process is going to pong, attract fruit flies and generally just upset your spouse. I know mine has to put up with hundreds of little ‘bakkies’ on the dining room table every year for a few weeks.

They need to be there so that I can keep a watch over them, and thank fully it’s in summer so we get to eat outside when the dining room table is covered in mould generating, odour exuding and fruit fly attracting containers. Sometimes I just thank the Lord that he gave me a wife that is as longsuffering as mine is.

Ok so what’s the point of the whole fermentation process? Let me explain a little.

When you cut a tomato open the seeds are covered in a small gel sac that makes the little seeds slippery, this gel sac is a seed protection to stop it from germinating and it contains a germination inhibitor. The process of fermentation breaks this germination inhibitor down so that when you plant the seed, it actually grows. In nature the fruit would rot and fall to the ground and that rotting process breaks the germination inhibitor down.

Next, if there are any diseases that could be carried across with the seed, this process of fermentation creates an environment that is very hostile to disease organisms killing off most known diseases.

Lastly, removing the gel sac is achieved at the same time allowing for a clean seed that looks good.

A rainbow of fermenting tomato seed.
A rainbow of fermenting tomato seed.

So, now that you know a few secrets, lets get back to the seed processing. We use a very technical arrangement of a flour sieve and running water. The 3-4 day old miff smelling goo is rinsed in the sieve under running water to clean off all of the ‘miff’ and now you have clean seed that just needs to be dried.

Dry9ning is best achieved in shade using a glass or ceramic plate. Stir the seeds every few hours to make sure that they are dry all the way through. It generally takes 5-10 days to dry out the seed properly depending on the relative humidity.

Once the seeds are dry you need to do two things.

First, put some seeds away for yourself, it’s always good to have some ‘extra’ in case of a crop failure or germination disaster.

Next, share some seeds with a gardening friend(s) think about giving a gift of seeds instead of some cheap, just imported from China. A gift of seeds is probably the greenest gift you can give, especially seed that you have saved yourself.


Book Review: Jane’s Delicious Garden


It’s taken me way too long to get to this book, Jane actually had to threaten me with a Prius sized marrow ‘cos I had not written about her book…. yet. Apparently she’ been growing one ‘specially. Sorry Jane, it’s belated but it’s here! 🙂

Jane Griffiths is the stunning redhead that has taken the South African gardening world by storm. Focusing on the urban gardener and looking at reducing carbon footprint while at the same time eating with the seasons. It’s refreshing to finally read a South African author that actually takes the time to explain what seasonal eating is all about.

Using simple and more importantly, workable techniques, Jane has made urban food gardening simple, fashionable and oh, so easy. The book is full of personal anecdotes and favourite quotes literally drawing the reader into her life and veggie garden.

This is the kind of veggie book that is not just a reference work (which it’s not… in the sense of a reference work) for beginner gardeners, it’s a complete gardening work for experienced gardeners and on top of all that is also a coffee table book that is just sublime. Doing duty as a work of art in its own right as well as being beautiful for your guests to flip through.

It’s not just a book to ‘get’ it’s a book to use. I honestly believe that Jane would find more pleasure in signing your copy with sand in the spine and muddy finger prints on the seedling pages, than one that is in pristine condition.