Winter Gardening – Saving Heirloom Tomato Seeds

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I had mixed results with the heirloom tomato varieties I grew last year.  Some, like Red Siberian and a nameless grape tomato from a neighbor, performed very well, with high yields throughout a long season.  Others performed terribly: Speckled Roman was overwhelmed with blossom end rot even with supplemental calcium and Tigerella and Green Zebra produced a scant handful of fruits.  So, in mid-January, I started twelve different varieties of tomatoes, two from saved seed and ten from various vendors.

When I saved the seeds, I didn’t bother with an elaborate fermentation process (see GardenWeb for a how-to on tomato seed fermentation).   I just squeezed the seeds directly from the tomatoes onto a sturdy, dye-free paper towel (Bounty brand), smeared them across the paper towel to break the seeds free from the jelly surrounding them, and allowed them to air-dry, gunk and all, at room temperature  for about two days.  I then folded up the seeds (now firmly stuck to the paper towel) and stored them double-bagged in Ziploc freezer bags in the refrigerator.  When it was time to plant the seeds, I tore off bits of the paper towel with the seed attached (to avoid damaging the seed) and planted the paper towel and seed together.

This is the first year I’ve kept track of seedling success rates (number of seeds that grow to cotyledon stage).  The sample size is small (two to four varieties per vendor, plus two saved varieties), but the results were striking:

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At least under my greenhouse conditions, only a third or so of the seeds from commercial vendors grew into seedlings, while more than 90% of saved seeds were viable.  The sample size isn’t statistically significant, but I believe the trend: I’ll be saving more tomato seeds this year.

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