Monday, September 9, 2013

Fermenting Seeds

I have had several requests on fermenting seeds here lately and with the summer garden in full production now was the time to turn my attention to next year's crops. While the tomatoes were ripening well we decided which open pollinated seeds we wanted to save. We then waited until we had a good batch of large fully ripe tomatoes and picked very mature tomatoes from those bushes making sure to keep the varieties separate. I like to leave my tomatoes on the bush for as long as possible so that I have nice plump fully mature seeds. 

 Above we have Oxheart paste tomatoes on the left and an UNIDENTIFIED determinate paste on the right. This will be my second year for saving both those seeds. Also I like to pick the tomatoes from these bushes from more than one plant if possible to get a wide representation from that variety. You may get an occasional tomato off one bush that has cross pollinated but unlikely from several.  I also am fortunate that I have lots of room to space my tomatoes out, multiple gardens and beds that I can use are helpful too.   

If you do not have the luxury of space there are ways to either put mesh bags or cages around your bushes to help prevent cross pollination. 

The good thing about saving the same seeds over the years is that you are able to really learn that variety. It's traits, strengths, weaknesses and how it performs under different climate conditions and your own unique conditions in your farm or garden. This Oxheart after 2 years I know is a large indeterminate paste type tomato. Very large and meaty with very few seeds. It is however very spindly at first compared to the Brandywine that I grow. So to compensate I have to pay special attention to supports because it could easily be broken in wind, heavy rain or hail. The limbs also must be tied up to a sturdy support or cage because the fruit is so big that otherwise it could break the stems. Thinning can also benefit. It has a traditional tomato cut leaf and is almost a wispy plant. This plant benefits from extreme pruning to prevent those suckers from overtaking the bush. It ripens late but thus far has proved to be a heavy producer and disease resistant. It has a very traditional tomato taste for a paste tomato. 

These seeds were saved from a fruit that I bought from a local Amish farmer. 

 In contrast this Unidentified paste tomato is a determinate tomato that makes a very compact plant under 3 foot. It has a traditional potato leaf and makes an abundance of red fruit. It seems very disease resistant and the plant is sturdy but does benefit from support. Does not require a great amount of pruning other than the occasional sucker but can benefit from thinning of the fruit. It makes a medium size very uniform red tomato that is very meaty. Not as tasty as the Oxheart but lots of them. They do tend to be a later ripening tomato that needs to be allowed to become almost overripe on the vine to get the best taste and texture. They also tend to all ripen at once which is great for large batch canning.

  Once you have your ripe fruit picked then I peel my tomato by hand. Do not dunk in boiling water! Then simply take your finger and over a bowl or jar open the fruit and extract the seeds encased in a gelatinous material. The remaining parts of the tomato can be thrown in your next batch of tomatoes to be canned. 

Once you have your seeds in your jar simply cover the seeds and other material with water. 

Now take the jar and set it on the porch or in your garage or shed and let it set for about a week. It will start smelling BAD! It will draw gnats. As it ferments it will break down any tissue etc around the seeds.   Once it has set you can then pour it through a colander and strain out your seeds. 

Make sure your colander has small enough holes that the tomato seeds will not go through. I have invested through the years in several different colanders with different size holes for this very reason. Everything else should be liquid at this point and go through the colander. Then I take the hose and rinse my seeds off well and let them dry. 

Then I simply place my seeds of pie plates covered with waxed paper and let them dry in the open air. I write the variety on the waxed paper with a permanent marker. 

Some seeds like watermelon and cantaloupe I pick directly out of the fruit and simply rinse and then dry. 

To answer some of the questions of late on this topic. Do cucumbers and zucchini the same way. Several comments have said that the fruit had small or no seeds. That is because you are picking it immature. Cucumbers are picked immature for us to eat. 

Let your cucumber get much larger than normal and ripen to the point that it turns colors. These cucumbers will have large mature seeds. Make sure and let them ripen ON the vine. Same thing with peppers. 

We've all forgotten a zucchini and seen it get the size of a small baseball bat. Let it get huge and ripen to get large mature seeds. If your zucchini has no seeds then it is too immature. 

I never dehydrate my seeds but rather let them air dry. Once completely dry I store them in small containers but hope to start vacuum sealing them in bags and storing them in the freezer. 

Many seeds such as okra, peas, beans and flower seeds I simply let ripen and dry on the plant. 

If you plan on gardening and seed saving long term I suggest investing in a good book on seed saving. You can find one on either Bakers Creek or Seed Savers Exchange website. 

  If you continue to have a question I have not covered post it in the comments and I will try to answer them as time permits.  

Blessings from The Holler

The Canned Quilter


  1. Thank you so much for your time for this post. I will also consult Bakers for one of their books. Thanks again!

  2. This post was very helpful for me. Vonda

  3. weed
    In the modern seed industry a lot of attention is paid to protecting plants from different kinds of diseases and pests. This is sometimes accomplished by breeding varieties that are resistant to diseases, thereby protecting the crop through its growth cycle.

    1. I have grown many open pollinated crops that out perform hybrids on both those fronts.


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