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Fermenting Tomato Seeds So They Sprout - Neccesary?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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I've been looking at the best ways to harvest seed from whole tomatoes, and I'm a bit confused.  All of the suggestions seem to imply that one must ferment the seeds prior to sprouting them.  I'm not quite sure that is necessary.

The instructions have you squeeze out all of the seeds, and then to let that mixture ferment for 2 or 3 days.  This helps to break down all of the flesh that is around the seed.  I wonder if my method is tastier and just as effective for sprouting.

The tastiest part of the tomato is right around the seed.  It takes some oral dexterity, but I am able to lick and suck off all of the extra flesh from the seeds.  It's this excess that I believe is the reason for the need for fermentation, because there is no fermentation that happens in the natural fruit to seed process.  

If I was to put the tomato seeds straight onto a paper towel, that excess flesh around the seed would hinder it from sprouting, because it would become a water resistant barrier.  If the seeds have all of that flesh removed, then I propose that the seed is in the state that it would be in after fermentation and drying.  I do not have any experience to back up this opinion of mine, but to me it is simple logic.  

What do you think of this method?  Sure, it takes some extra work, but I get to eat ALL of the edible portions of the seed.  Sure, it takes more time, but I feel like I am conserving more than simply wasting the excess flesh.  I absolutely love eating different varieties of tomatoes, so that I can see the different structure that the seeds are in.  My favorite ones have seeds that are structurally intact to the central portion of the fruit, so that it looks like a little strawberry inside of it.  Then, I get to lick off the flesh and expose the seeds more and more, until they come loose.  Other varieties have the seeds in a fluid environment, and these are a bit messier.  My favorite taste come from a dark brown tomato that tastes a bit like salty ketchup.  

I've been eating tomatoes plain the last two days, and absolutely loving it..... but, am I flawed in my assumption of proper seed saving?  To me, it seems the fermentation method is simply to save the extra work of manual extraction.  I have my seeds wet, on the first stage of sprouting, so I will be able to determine what percentage of saved seeds that I was able to sprout.  
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I don't know if fermenting them causes them to sprout easier, but it's a great way to clean the seeds before you store them.

Tomato seeds have that slimy coating around them, which takes a long time to dry.  If you dump them onto a paper plate or paper towel, they dry and glue themselves to the paper, making them hard to work with/store.  To remove that sticking coating, simply leave the fresh seeds in a glass or bowl full of water for 3 days.  That will ferment the slimy stuff off the outside of the seed.  Then simply rinse with a blast of water, swish them around and the scummy stuff will wash right away, pour off the bad stuff, and the clean seeds are ready to dry on a paper towel and store for next years garden.
 
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I take my tomato seeds out of one of the seed cavities with a teaspoon and drop it on a paper towel. I may repeat this a few times. When I'm done I make a note of what tomato it is, and maybe a note about this particular tomato and the year date I'm saving the seed for. That's it I'm done. The seeds stick to the paper towel so you don't need an envelope. They'll stick there till next spring.

The reason for cleaning the seed is so that you can make a presentation for sale. A nice clean envelope with seeds that pour out. Seeds than can easily be weighed.

I find that my seed germinate better than store bought tomato seeds. You get used to peeling a seed off the paper towel. It becomes second nature. Much better than dumping an envelope into..... Oh no! all over the carpet. I think possibly the better germination rate is because I vine ripen my tomatoes. I do know that my seeds are bigger than another guys beefsteak tomato seeds. Also makes them easier to handle.

 
William Wallace
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Right now, I am getting organic variety packs from the store, and saving them on a paper towel without notating the tomato type.  I figure that I should, for hereditary tracking, but it's not a priority.  I'm not too worried about the seeds sticking to the paper towel, as I sometimes just pluck them off of the paper to go directly into my seed mix.  I also figure that I can hydrate the paper towel, sprout the seeds, and that they will then separate quite readily.  

Marco, you perfectly describe the method that is often repeated as the tried and true method for tomato seed saving and sprouting.  I found it disturbing when a few sites said that you MUST ferment the seeds to get any high degree of viability.  This was the part that I could not reason with in my mind.  

John, thanks for your description of your method.  It's good to know that one can attain a high rate of germination with the least work needed.  You have a good point of the fermentation being mainly to clean the skin for sale.  I am surprised that you don't have problems with the flesh that is still affixed to the seeds.  This is good to know!  

My best method for removing that super tasty flesh from the seeds, is putting them in between my teeth and my upper lip, and sucking the extra flesh off.  This provides me with so much joy.  If a seed slips into my mouth, I just push it back in front of my teeth.  I've found that the small gaps in between my teeth are the perfect size to stop seed infiltration.  It also makes me feel good that I am getting almost everything from the tomato as possible.  

John, can you clarify what you meant when you said that you "may repeat this a few times" in reference to scooping out the seeds.  Do you mean that you scoop the seeds out, and then use the spoon to further separate seeds and flesh .... or do you just put the entire scoop of flesh and seeds directly onto the papertowel?  
 
John Duda
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William

If I need more seed than what I get out of one seed cavity then I attack another seed cavity. It's possible you could double dip out of one seed cavity, but the pickins are better over there in that nice full cavity. I have to say that I've never savored sucking the flesh off the seeds, I eat the whole tomato and enjoy it immensely. When I slice a tomato and before I salt it I pcik out a nice looking slice and raid
a few seed cavitys and then salt, pepper and enjoy. Occasionally a slice with brown sugar.

This method I use I leaned at the feet of my mother and I assume she learned from her mother. Back in those days there were no paper towels. But they struggled along with plain paper, I guess newsprint. I can't remember that part of the job. I'd guess the full page ads for the department stores had the most white space, made it easy to write your notes. Last fall I saved 7 different tomato seed types, mostly beefsteaks. I did save seed from a yellow pear tomato. I saved seed from 3 different pumpkins, Straight Eight Cucumbers, and Fordhook Zucchini. The Zucchini seeds were very small. and didn't sprout. So I replaced those. I let radish go to seed and got a bonus crop in the fall.

I grew Caliente 199 Mustard. The mustard I had grown as a home spun method of preventing late tomato blight. What I learned from letting it go to seed was that what was left after it seeded was mostly stems. So the second crop sorta made up for the greens I lost on the first crop.

edit:

After I scoop the seeds I drop them on a paper towel and maybe tap it with the spoon. It's fairly runny and sorta spreads on its own. You can tell what color the tomato is from the stain, even the following spring. I'd post some pictures but I can't get the picture uploader to upload off my computer and I shut down my website this past January.


 
William Wallace
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If you get the chance, taste the seed with liquid and the flesh separately.  I think you'll be surprised.  I personally believe that it's from the priority that the plant puts into the seed.
 
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From the reading I've done I think the only reason the fermenting (sometimes called "wet processing") of tomato seeds is not REQUIRED but suggested as it simulates the natural path of propagation. If a tomato falls on the ground in the summer of fall, it rots on  the surface of the ground before the seeds contact the soil to germinate in the next spring.

The fermentation simulates this rotting of the fruit. So it certainly can't hurt. But is it strictly required to achieve high germination rates? Only experimentation can can say  
 
John Duda
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William

I'll make sure I try your tasting.

I believe it's possible that the coating left on the seeds may dry and protect the seeds from drying out. Sort of like an M&M. There's no experimentation needed. My family has been doing it this way for almost a hundred years. If your experience with gardening is buying seeds in an envelope then you'll want to do it like they do it. If your experience comes from gardening then you'd be happy saving seeds from your heritage produce and growing it again the following year. This is the way it's always been done. The heritage seed you buy is available because a family or an individual saved that seed faithfully for decades and generations. Look at the seed descriptions. Some came from old seed companies, which may not have given credit to where the seed came from. But there are many seeds that we know an individual Who is the source. Marianna's Peace and Mortgage Lifter come to mind.

I saved zucchini and cucumber using the same method. My pumpkin seeds I did wash because of all the pumpkin attached to the seeds, not because nature required a human hand to make reproduction possible.
 
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John Duda wrote:I take my tomato seeds out of one of the seed cavities with a teaspoon and drop it on a paper towel. I may repeat this a few times. When I'm done I make a note of what tomato it is, and maybe a note about this particular tomato and the year date I'm saving the seed for. That's it I'm done. The seeds stick to the paper towel so you don't need an envelope. They'll stick there till next spring.

The reason for cleaning the seed is so that you can make a presentation for sale. A nice clean envelope with seeds that pour out. Seeds than can easily be weighed.

I find that my seed germinate better than store bought tomato seeds. You get used to peeling a seed off the paper towel. It becomes second nature. Much better than dumping an envelope into..... Oh no! all over the carpet. I think possibly the better germination rate is because I vine ripen my tomatoes. I do know that my seeds are bigger than another guys beefsteak tomato seeds. Also makes them easier to handle.



EXACTLY! This is precisely what I do. The paper towel isn't a problem even if it does stick to a few seeds--you just plant the paper with the seed and it deteriorates in the ground. This spring I had a whole bunch of folded paper towels full of tomato seeds I saved but forgot to label. Since I didn't know what they were and wanted to be sure to get enough of the varieties I had saved to ensure plenty of each, I decided to just dump all of them willy-nilly in a tray of soil and see what came up. Unfortunately, they all did and now I have something like a thousand seedling tomatoes in one tray!!! I have been transplanting the healthiest-looking of each to larger containers, but I am really scratching my head over where to put the several hundred I can't bring myself to discard. (These are tomatoes that have survived and thrived in my hot and humid garden for years, so I want to keep them all if possible.) So ... is fermenting tomato seeds necessary? In a word, NO!
 
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I think it's a little misleading when people say that you must ferment tomato seeds in water in order to preserve the seeds.  Obviously this is the way to get perfectly seperated, dry, clean seed that can be weighed accurately... but for those of us that don't work for a seed company, I don't see the point.  If you're just trying to save seeds from your own tomatoes to plant again, why bother with that process?  I don't think the bit of jelly around the seed would prevent it germinating if it dries, that just doesn't make sense.  It would just hydrate again and then decompose.  My personal favorite (though not most efficient) way to plant tomato seeds is to just drop a tomato on the soil and wait.  The flesh and jelly of the tomato naturally breaks down and provides nutrition for the hundreds of seedlings that pop up later on.... then it's just remembering to thin them out.
 
William Wallace
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So, it's been a week for my tomato seeds, and they haven't sprouted.... failure.... they must have been irradiated.  What a shame and waste of produce.
 
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Tomatoes can take up to two weeks to sprout, particularly if temperatures are on the low side. Also, is there any way for air to get into that plastic bag?

In any case, I think it is a little early to chuck the experiment.
 
John Duda
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If I plant tomato seeds too early and it's too cold I sometimes replant. And then what usually happens I get multiples in each tray cavity. If I say to myself these seeds were free, I'll just plant a few where one might do, what will happen is I get 4, 5, 6 seedlings. It may be a month or longer till those first seeds finally germinate.
 
William Wallace
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I've been keeping the seeds in a warm place, with the bag open.  They've been in my car next to my moss.  
 
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Perhaps I can shed some light on why we ferment tomato seeds (and eggplant and cucumber). I am a 6th generation heirloom vegetable seed saver and seed producer.

Basically, seed fermentation is just the process of letting seeds soak in their own juices or “gel” until the juices start to show mold. This is a sign that fermentation is going on. What the fermentation does is turn the tomato’s sugars to alcohol that then destroy a germination inhibitor that’s natural to the seed. Why has the plant evolved with reproductive seeds that have a component that inhibits the process? To prevent them from germinating too soon. Think of a tomato left to its own devices in nature. The fruit matures and falls to the ground. Without the inhibitor — and with everything it needs to sprout — the tomato seeds will start to germinate in their own juices even before winter has set in. The inhibitor sees to it that they don’t.

The fermentation process also has other benefits. The alcohol and other products produced by fermentation will kill off any seed-borne illnesses that your tomato seeds may carry. It's also a chance to go carefully through your seeds and pick out any that are just no good AND it also kills Clavibacter michiganense pv. michiganense a Bacteria that affects the unfermented seeds.

Most important is to know your tomato, even wise growers can mix up tomatoes after they're picked, so be sure to track the ones, usually heirlooms, that you want to save seed from. Fermenting the seeds is easy. Choose the best healthiest looking tomatoes for their superior genetic traits. One tomato of each kind will do most gardeners unless you’re growing rows of tomatoes or want to share seeds to neighbors and friends. Slice them in half horizontally and scoop out the seeds with their accompanying gel into a glass jar. Leave it in a not-too-cool, dark place for a day or two. Check it regularly. As soon as a mold or scum covers the top it is time to clean your seeds. (Leave too long and your little seeds may sprout or rot).

What you’re doing is creating the same conditions the tomato would have if left to its own devices. When the fruit falls to the ground, it slowly rots - ferments - with the seeds inside. Weather, in the form of rains, drying sunlight and winter, will eventually decay the fruit to nothing, leaving behind only the seeds. But during the tomatoes first days on the ground after ripening, the fermentation process occurs naturally, there is also a better strike rate when you come to plant them.

Once the mold starts to form in 2 or 3 days, scoop it off with a spoon, place seeds in a kitchen sieve and very gently rinse them off under the tap until all the gel is gone and just clean seeds are left. Let them dry on a plate or tray somewhere where its warm (but not too warm) and dark with good air circulation, and run your hand through them every so often to turn them to dry thoroughly. Be sure to keep your seed labeled all through the process.

When they’re fully dry, I usually wait 1-2 weeks to be sure, store them in a cool, dark, dry place inside a tightly closed LABELED glass jar, NOT in a hot garage or kitchen drawer near a stove. Then, at the tail end of winter, 6-8 weeks before the last frost, they will be ready to start off under cover ready to plant out in spring. The reason we use a plate or tray is so the sees don't stick and pick up bacteria from the paper. Many brands of paper towel use toxic chemicals and bleach during processing and shouldn't be placed next to seeds - just a tip if you are trying to grow healthy organic plants.

Hope this has explained the science behind the reason we ferment some seed types.
 
John Duda
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It's now fall, almost, September 19. I've been saving seeds for 5 or  6 weeks. Using my old method. So I'll post some pictures:



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Spooning....?
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Onto the paper towel.
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Again, this tomato is so meaty, not much seeds
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Some notes so I'll remember next spring
 
John Duda
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I have a picture of some recent tomato seeds that I've saved. Also in the picture is my stack of saved seed from my 2017 crops that I planted this year. I don't see mold. You can also see the zucchini and cucumber seeds in that pile. The zucchini seeds I saved never germinated because, I think, they were saved from a small edible sie fruit instead of a squash left on the vine till maturity. I also saved seeds from three different size pumpkins that are still growing.
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Annual seeds saved on a paper towel without any processing
 
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