Saving Heirloom Seeds

Saving Seeds

Q.  I want to save seeds from tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables – How do it do it right?

A. For those who are interested in saving and using seeds from your own garden, or receive seeds from non-guaranteed sources – here’s how we heat-treat tomato and some other seeds for long-term storage and to kill diseases. Remember, however, that hybrid seeds most likely will not produce the same fruit as the parent plant did. If you want seeds that hold true to the vegetable you ate, you must use open-pollinated, or heirloom seeds.

First, place seeds, along with the natural juices surrounding them, in a bowl or bottle. Place the bottle in a warm place out of the sunlight. Allow them to ferment for 5-7 days (the time can vary, depending on conditions). Once the gelatin has broken down from around the seeds, you may proceed to the next step. Next, pour off all materials, other than the seeds. Rinse the seeds gently in fresh water until they are clean – being careful not to wash them down the sink!

After you have fermented the seed and cleaned it, and (preferably) before drying, place seeds in the toe of a pair of pantyhose. Fill a bowl or pan with hot water from the kitchen tap (most people in the USA heat their water-heater water to 130+). Using a candy thermometer, adjust the water temperature to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, with more water – cold or hot. Place pantyhose with seeds in water, moving gently to assure even distribution of water over all seeds. Add hot water to bring temperature back up to 130 degrees. Continue the gentle seed movement and maintain temperature at 130 degrees for 30 minutes. Do not allow the temperature to vary more than a degree either side of 130. Less than 130 degrees will not kill diseases, and more than 130 for any length of time will kill the seed.

Remove seeds from water. Spread thinly on a paper towel in a warm dry place. Allow seeds to dry. When completely dry, place in a storage container with appropriate labeling. Do not return seeds to the container they were in before the heat treatment, but use a clean container.

While heat treatment will reduce germination by 10-20%, it is the weakest seeds that are lost, and the reduction in diseases is well worth the effort.