Saving seeds is a great way to plant for next year, especially for tomatoes

Saving good seeds from tomatoes for the next season is a fairly simple process.
Saving good seeds from tomatoes for the next season is a fairly simple process.

As tomatoes ripen, consider saving seeds of the best open-pollinated varieties you’re growing. If you try to save seeds of a hybrid tomato, even one labeled F1, you may get something completely different than the fruit-parent you liked. Many open-pollinated tomatoes are also heirlooms, seeds handed down from one generation to another. Folks do not save seeds of tomatoes that are especially prone to disease or are not “good” tomatoes, but they’re not labeled as disease resistant.

Disease-resistant tomatoes have been tested, usually by a university faculty paid to test, then identified as resistant to V (verticillium), F (fusarium), N (nematodes, destructive kind), T (tobacco mosaic virus) and/or A (alternaria leaf spot). Seed companies don’t have sole rights to sell open-pollinated varieties, so they don’t pay to have those varieties tested. A plant variety listed as F1 is a hybrid of two different parent plants, the F standing for “Filial,” or child, the 1 being first generation. Breeders usually work the F1s into more complex and stable crosses between parents.

If you do want to save seeds of open-pollinated tomatoes, however, select those best-flavored, and cut them open across their middle or equator, then squeeze seeds into a small bowl, add water and set aside to ferment for a few days. To get a good seed harvest, squeeze seeds out of two or three fruits of the same variety, and be sure to label your container with some freezer tape or something similar. After a few days to a week, pour the seeds into a sieve and rinse the gunk off. Then slap the sieve onto a plastic, glass or china plate (I dislike using paper or paper plates for this purpose), and put the plate away to dry where mice can’t get at it and it won’t be accidentally knocked over. Be sure to include an identifying label.

As the seeds dry, they lose their anti-germination coat and tend to adhere to whatever they’re lying on. If it’s a paper towel, they stick to it, and you may have to tear the towel and plant part of that when you plant that seed. Seeds on plastic or china are easily scraped free, and free of paper encumbrance, and are easily stored for use another season.

To save seeds of tomatillos (some varieties do taste better than others), husk a number of the desired ripe (yellow) fruits, and put them into a blender with a small amount of water, perhaps a half cup. Tomatillo seeds are tiny and slick, so they will not be harmed by blender blades. Pour this mix into a bowl, add twice as much water as the bulk from the blender, stir and let stand, letting the good seeds sink to the bottom. Then pour water, floating scum and seeds out of the bowl carefully until all that’s left in the bowl are the good seeds. You may have to do this a few times to get rid of tomatillo pulp. Pour cleaned seeds out on plastic or ceramic plate to dry. Some folks use a fine sieve, but tomatillo seeds are so tiny they fall through some sieve screens.

To save seeds of peppers, wait until the pepper pod is red, or at least ripe. Some peppers ripen to brown, others to purple, orange or yellow, but most ripen to red. If the pepper is a piquant or hot one, wear rubber gloves to harvest seeds, for the placenta (holder of the seeds near the stem end) and pinkish veins that hold some seeds are the source of heat. If you’re not sure whether a chile or pepper is hot, hold it under your nose. A little practice may be necessary to tell whether the mild ones are a little hot, but the super-hot ones announce themselves.

To harvest these seeds, use your fingers to push seeds back and forth on the placenta until they pop loose, then distribute them onto paper plates to dry. They’re not very moist to begin with, and won’t stick to paper like tomato seeds do.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.