It’s time for saving seeds. The weather forecasts, temperatures will drop from the comfortable 40s to the 30s at night, with a possible frozen mix approaching. Just because we have a new cover on the high tunnel, does not mean our green tomato crop is protected from the frosty temperatures. We’ll have to harvest all the tomatoes as well as other crops and store them.
A number of members are continuing to collect dry seeds from herbs and flowers. I am currently saving wet seeds from tomatoes and cucumbers which is more involved because it involves fermenting the seeds before storing them.
While some plant seeds mature in pods and release dry seeds such as beans, peas, lettuces, wet seeds are inside the “fruit”. (Yes, some produce that we call vegetables are actually fruit due to bearing seeds inside, such as tomato, cantaloupe, squash, beans, peas, asparagus, etc. All other plant parts – roots, stems, leaves, etc. – are vegetables.)
Each wet seed has a gelatinous substance that surrounds it. The gel protects the seed from germinating too quickly by inhibiting it from prematurely growing inside the fruit. Allowing the seed to ferment dissolves the gel and the process also allows good bacteria to kill bad bacteria, thereby providing a kind of inoculation against certain seed-borne diseases. Fermentation also divides the viable seeds from the unviable seeds.
Some people prefer to skip fermentation by physically removing the gel from the seeds and drying them, but this method lessens the odds of successful germination. Tomato seeds that are properly saved can last up to 10 years.
How to save wet seeds:
• Cut the tomato in half and scoop the seeds into a glass bowl or jar. (This is my preference. I think using a glass container is much better than using plastic. As I progress with the instructions, you will understand why.)
• Add enough water to the mixture so it’s not too thick with seeds and pulp.
• Some seeds will float to the top, most should sink to the bottom.
• Cover with plastic wrap and pierce holes in it for ventilation. (This is an option and not necessary.)
• Store it away from direct sunlight, tucked in a semi-dark corner. Let it sit for 3-4 days until a white scum/mold forms on top. (I don’t think plastic is a good medium for this activity.)
• Skim off the white scum/mold and the floating seeds.
• Thoroughly rinse the seeds in a fine sieve.
• Spread the seeds on a paper towel and let them dry over a few days. (Do not store damp seeds because they will develop mildew. Use a desiccant such as silica gel to ensure dry storage.)
•Label the seeds with name/description and year.
This same fermentation process is applied to saving cucumber and squash seeds but the fruit should be very mature, almost past the edible stage. Again, the interaction of fermentation keeps the seeds from germinating too soon and provides protection from diseases. Saved cucumber and squash seeds will last for about 3 years.
If you have not saved seeds before, it is best to save seeds from heirloom or organic fruit. These seeds ensure that the plant’s fruit will be a duplicate of the previous generation. You can save seeds from hybrid fruit but there is no assurance of an exact replication. Hybrid seeds derive from two different varieties of the same species. The seeds will produce fruit that does not replicate the original parent. It’s not a bad thing, it means the next generation will be kind of a surprise.
Visit us: wmcgarden.org