Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds

Food
How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds
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.

With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less