Quantcast

How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Food
Heirloom tomatoes at the Walnut Creek Farmers' market in California. John Morgan / CC BY 2.0

By Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz

Sometime during the spring, backyard food growers decide what kind of tomatoes to grow: heirlooms or hybrids. Hybrid varieties have had the benefit of genetic tinkering that allows for some cool traits. But these seeds must be purchased new each year from the companies that create them.


Heirloom varieties have long, stable genetic histories, and these seeds usually have been passed down for generations within communities. Heirloom vegetables are irresistible, not just for the poetry in the names, but because these titles stand for real stories. Vegetables acquire histories when they are saved as seeds for many generations, carefully maintained and passed by hand from one gardener to another, wrote author-turned-farmer Barbara Kingsolver in her memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (2007).

Most tomatoes in a supermarket are hybrids, bred for uniform shape, mechanized harvest and long journeys. A study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that between 1903 and 1983, the variety of produce being grown had shrunk by 93 percent—408 varieties of tomatoes down to 79—and many of those heirlooms have been lost entirely. Like sunshine, heirloom seeds are of little interest to capitalism if they can't be patented or owned, Kingsolver wrote.

That has spurred backyard farmers and networks like Seed Savers Exchange to preserve what's left. If you're traveling to out-of-the-way farmers' markets or find yourself dining on beautiful heirloom tomato varieties that you find particularly delicious, save a tomato slice to take home. Then save the seeds to grow your own. Here's how:

1. Save a big tomato slice to take home.

2. Dig around to extract the seeds, surrounding pulpy gel, and juice, and put in a non-metal cup or jar.

3. Allow it to sit for two days at room temperature. Don't be alarmed by a little mold. The fermentation kills viruses, sorts out dud seeds and separates seeds from their gel coating. Add water, stir, and wait for the mixture to settle. In general, the healthy seeds will sink to the bottom.

4. Pour off the goop, liquid and any floating seeds, then rinse the good seeds in a strainer.

5. Arrange the biggest, fattest seeds on a paper towel, and allow them to dry for a couple of weeks. When it's time to plant, just pinch off pieces of paper towel. Don't forget to check the Seed Saver's Exchange to see if your variety is in its seed bank. If not, let them know what you've got.

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

With well over a billion cars worldwide, electric vehicles are still only a small percentage. An economist from the University of Michigan Energy Institute says that is likely to change. Maskot / Getty Images

In 2018, there were about 5 million electric cars on the road globally. It sounds like a large number, but with well over a billion cars worldwide, electric vehicles are still only a small percentage.

Read More
Nestlé is accelerating its efforts to bring functional, safe and environmentally friendly packaging solutions to the market and to address the global challenge of plastic packaging waste. Nestlé / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Nestlé, the world's largest food company, said it will invest up to $2 billion to address the plastic waste crisis that it is largely responsible for.

Read More
Sponsored
Determining the effects of media on people's lives requires knowledge of what people are actually seeing and doing on those screens. Vertigo3d / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Byron Reeves, Nilam Ram and Thomas N. Robinson

There's a lot of talk about digital media. Increasing screen time has created worries about media's impacts on democracy, addiction, depression, relationships, learning, health, privacy and much more. The effects are frequently assumed to be huge, even apocalyptic.

Read More
Indigenous people of various ethnic groups protest calling for demarcation of lands during the closing of the 'Red January - Indigenous Blood', in Paulista Avenue, in São Paulo, Brazil, Jan. 31, 2019. Cris Faga / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Raphael Tsavkko Garcia

Rarely has something so precious fallen into such unsafe hands. Since Jair Bolsonaro took the Brazilian presidency in 2019, the Amazon, which makes up 10 percent of our planet's biodiversity and absorbs an estimated 5 percent of global carbon emissions, has been hit with a record number of fires and unprecedented deforestation.

Read More
Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Washington on May 12, 2017. GLENN CHAPMAN / AFP via Getty Images

Microsoft announced ambitious new plans to become carbon negative by 2030 and then go one step further and remove by 2050 all the carbon it has emitted since the company was founded in 1975, according to a company press release.

Read More