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Saving tomato seeds

To save the seeds from a ripe heirloom tomato, put the seeds and the liquid surrounding them into a small container. Add water, cover and shake the mixture for several seconds. After a few minutes and the seeds have settled to the bottom, pour off most of the liquid and the few seeds that float. Add new water and repeat this process several times. After the liquid seems mostly clear, again poor off most of the water. Use a paper towel to absorb more water but avoid having seeds stick to the paper towel. Pour the seeds and the remaining liquid into a shallow dish and let stand for hours, maybe overnight. If there is too much liquid remaining, the seeds may sprout, spoiling them for planting. When the final liquid is almost evaporated, separate the seeds from each other around the dish.

Place the dish in a safe place indoors (where no one will wash it!) until the water is entirely evaporated and the seeds are completely dry. Final drying will take several days to a week or two. They will probably still stick to the dish at this point. Using a fingernail or kitchen knife, lift the seeds from the dish. You will want to slightly cover this process with your other hand, so that the seeds don't "pop" away from your work area.

After the seeds are separated, make sure that they are completely dry. If not, they may mold or sprout. You might place them in a paper envelope for awhile.

Storing seeds: Label them, and keep them cool and dry until ready for germination in the spring. (Troy stored his in moisture-proof labeled containers, inside a jar in his refrigerator). I store mine in paper envelopes at room temperature. Maybe that's why his tomatoes weighed up to 2.5 lbs., while mine are nowhere that large, although my plants do grow past 7 feet tall.

Hint: It's very easy to mislabel seeds at this point, or to mislabel your germinating seedlings. Pay strict attention to labels in all processes.

Germinating tomato seeds

Troy germinated his tomato seeds on or about February 14th. Obviously, this is too early to plant the seeds outdoors, so he planted about nine seeds in a 4" pot about 1/4" deep. He then covered them with plastic wrap and put them in a dark warm place (over his water heater) until the seeds sprouted. Take the plantic wrap off after the seeds have sprouted (new growth above soil level).

As soon as the seeds sprout, expose the seedlings to light (from a window, lamp, or outside). If it's a warm, mild day in California, take them outside in the sun for a few hours, then brings them in again if it turns cold, or night falls. Rotate the seedlings so thay don't lean only one way toward the light. Another alternative for cold climates is a heat/grow lamp. Special seedling pads are available to place under your plants to keep the soil warm.

When the seedlings were about 1" tall, Troy transplanted each seedling into its own 4" plastic pot. (I germinate mine with one seed in each 4" pot). Then comes the "baby-sitting" of the seedlings until the ground is warm enough for transplanting. Take them out on mild days, not on cold sunless ones, and bring them into the house at night. A slight wind is OK, commercial hot-house gardeners rake a broom handle over their tomato plants to simulate strong breezes, which causes the main stem to strengthen and grow wider.

When is the ground warm enough for transplanting? Troy's uncle told him that if he pulled down his pants, sat on the ground, and the earth felt warm, it was time to transplant tomatoes. Troy usually says to use your bare feet as the thermometer!

Please see: Planting tips for information about transplanting your tomato seedlings.

Palo Alto, California

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