16 August, 2019

Getting Viable Seeds from Tomatoes

When tomatoes left the Americas for Europe, the pollinators were not imported with them. Tomatoes adapted by becoming inbred, that is, self-pollinating – a process we see continue in that older varieties of tomatoes are more likely to expose the inner parts of the flower while still fertile, whereas the more modern hybrids are more unlikely to expose the inner flower until after they have self-pollinated.

Joseph Lofthouse, a self-described “food shaman,” has set about to change that and allow tomatoes to cross in order to increase the wild genetics and support their genetic intelligence for dealing with insects, soil, climate and other environmental changes.

A few years ago, Lofthouse, crossed a domestic tomato to a wild relative. He intends to select for 100% out-crossing and hoping for huge flowers like the ancestors (note that tomatoes were first grown in France not to eat, but for the flowers!).

Black Krim Tomato - this is not a good variety for coastal
gardens - they need temps above 80͒° over all 24 hours!

Tomatoes as we know them in our gardens, are mostly self-pollinating. Each flower has both male and female parts and self-pollinate in the flower before the flower opens. Some of the older varieties, while being mostly self-pollinated, still expose the inner flower with its pollinating parts, to bee activity and will cross. Almost all the modern tomatoes will not do this which gives rise to the idea that tomatoes do not cross.

This is important only if you are saving seeds. If you merely want to eat tomatoes, it doesn't matter. But to save seeds, and not be surprised by what fruits you get, this is important.

Tomato plants that do expose the pistil and the stamens before you figure it out, will cross pollinate via bees to whatever pollen the bee has onboard. You don't see it in the first generation, but you will on down the line.

For most of us, inspecting the flowers almost daily for any exposed sex parts should be fine. If you go through the hassle of saving seeds, this is a minor inconvenience, but important to the work. You want to be sure what you are saving is what you think you are saving!

Once you have on hand a good specimen of the tomato you want to save, imagine the top part (where it was attached to the plant) is the North Pole and the other end, the blossom end, is the South Pole, cut the tomato in half thru the Equator.

Into a small bowl, squeeze the juice and the seeds. If it is an older variety tomato, you might find the seeds rather scarce, but work to get all you can – sometimes I use the point of my knife to get out those stubborn and hidden seeds.

Insure you have enough liquid to cover the seeds – if not, add a little water so they are covered.

Use cloth or paper towels to cover the dish and place it out of the way – in an area where you don't smell it. For me, it's no biggie because I don't have a really good nose for smelling, but for sensitive types, it is not pleasant I am told. Leave this alone for a few days – in hot weather, it will be quick, on cooler days, it might take three days or so. You are waiting for a scum to form on the surface of the mixture. Once this has begun, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Pour the mixture into a sieve, or a meshed strainer to thoroughly wash the goop that covers the seeds and lay them out on a surface to dry out of the sun. I use paper towels or sometimes, newsprint.

Once they are dry, really dry, put them in a protective container, with detailed info on what they are and the date, one on the inside and one on the outside. Believe me, this doubling up is really necessary – I have seeds all over from my early days that I have no idea what they are because of missing labels! All this work should not be for ought!

Store in a cool, dark and dry place until ready to plant again, or return them to the Seed Library to be shared next summer!


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