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Garden Guru: Saving tomato seeds has an extra step

By John Porter
John Porter
To save tomato seeds, remove seeds from the locules and place in a plastic container, covering the seeds with water. When a whitish mold forms on top of the liquid, the seeds' gel coating is off.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, I extolled the virtues of saving seeds for the future and gave some basic directions for seed saving. I didn't feel I had enough room in the column (they do tend to limit my ramblings) to share the one special case in seed saving -- tomatoes.Tomato seeds are coated with a gel that inhibits germination, which is a good thing when it is still inside the fruit, but can make starting saved seeds more difficult. While it is not absolutely necessary to do so, removing this gel can improve germination success. This is a natural process that occurs when a tomato falls to the ground and rots. The most effective way of doing this is through fermentation, which is a simpler process than you might think.Last week, I said that you should save seeds only from open-pollinated or heirloom varieties. This is so very true for tomatoes as well. First, slice your tomato open to reveal the chambers full of seeds; these chambers are called locules. Different varieties of tomatoes have different numbers of locules (just a little something interesting I thought that I would point out). You can use a spoon or your fingers to remove the seeds and the locular fluid into a nonreactive (plastic or ceramic) container. If you are careful, you can still eat the de-seeded tomato in a salad or other dish.Next, add some water to thin the solution, and make sure the seeds are covered with water. Cover the container loosely with a lid, paper towel or cloth and allow it to set undisturbed in a warm location away from direct light.You will know it is working when a whitish mold forms on top of the liquid. Scoop it out with a spoon or add more water until the mold flows out. You will want to drain all of the liquid from the container, making sure to not spill any seeds. You should notice that the seeds do not have a gel coating at this point. Allow them to settle in the container; anything that floats is a dud and can be removed. Pour the rinse water out, again making sure not to spill the seeds.At this point, move all of the seeds out of the container and spread them out on a plate to dry. Some people use a piece of paper or paper towel, but the seeds may stick. Make sure you put a label with them so you remember what they are.After a few days of drying, move the seeds into a sealable plastic bag or small container and store them in the freezer. As you put them away, remember that you have preserved a future harvest, and you'll be enjoying your favorite tomatoes again next year.And remember, it is always a good idea to save some extra seeds to share with your friends or favorite garden writer/extension agent (just kidding).
Master Gardener courseI will be starting my fall session of the Extension Master Gardener course on Sept. 10. It is a 10-week course designed to provide horticultural and gardening knowledge to gardeners of all abilities and to train volunteers to assist the WVU Extension Service in educating the gardening public. Classes will be from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Homeowner Education and Community Center at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, 815 Court St.Course topics will include botany, soils, fertilizers, landscaping, vegetable gardening, composting, plant diseases, insects, pest management and more. Those completing the course are asked to complete 30 hours of community service to become a Certified Extension Master Gardener.A materials fee of $100 is due at the first class, and an application must be submitted by Sept. 6 to the WVU Kanawha County Extension Service. Applications can be found at or can be picked up at 4700 MacCorkle Ave. S.E., Suite 101, Kanawha City.Upcoming gardening classesIf you aren't able to do the full Master Gardener course but want to learn about gardening this fall, I will have a series of free workshops from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays, also at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.The first workshop, on Sept. 14, is "Grow Green! Planning and Planting the Fall and Winter Veggie Garden." To register, visit or contact Amy McLaughlin at the ReStore at 304-720-0141, ext. 22, and leave a message.
Future classes will be: "Grow Great Garlic" (Oct. 19), "Preparing the Landscape for Winter" (Nov. 2), and "Caring for Holiday Plants and Christmas Greens" (Dec. 7).John Porter is the WVU Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Kanawha County. He may be reached at or at 304-720-9573. Twitter: @WVgardenguru.
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