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Seed Saving

If you’re like many backyard gardeners, the arrival of multicolored, tasty heirloom tomatoes is a high point of the fall yield.

Whether you prefer Tlacolula, Black Krim, or Berkeley Tie-Dye Green, these oddly sized and shaped open-pollinated heirloom beauties stand apart from their commercially grown, store-bought hybrid kin (in flavor and nutrition).

One way to more fully enjoy your homegrown bounty — and save some money in the process — is to practice the ancient farming tradition of preserving seeds from your favorite varieties to swap with neighbors and sow again in the spring.

Follow these steps to create your very own seed bank.

  1. Slice washed tomatoes in half widthwise or cut an X in the bottom of smaller varieties. Squeeze seeds and tomato pulp into a container such as a Mason jar; label it with the variety of tomato.
  2. Place the container in a location out of the sun where it will be undisturbed for three to five days so the pulp can ferment. Seeds are ready when the gelatinous seed coats float to the surface. If white mold appears, don’t worry; this is a natural part of the process.
  3. After fermentation, carefully skim off any mold that appeared, add enough non-chlorinated lukewarm water to fill the container, and stir. Mature seeds will sink to the bottom. Spoon out any nonmature seeds and the pulpy mixture.
  4. Strain the mixture and wash the mature seeds under warm running water. Use a spoon to loosen seeds from remaining pulp. Wash until the pulp is gone and water runs clear. Let seeds drain as much as possible to remove moisture.
  5. Spread the seeds in a thin layer on a coffee filter or paper plate, labeling them with the variety’s name. Place out of direct sunlight to dry for up to four weeks. Seeds are fully dry when they easily crack open. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark location until you’re ready to plant in the spring.

Photography by John Mowers/Unleashed Productions

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