Originally posted on liseed.org August 2007
When I was a child, my mother saved seed in a shoebox so it was understood that if I wanted seed for my small garden, I should do the same. Usually she folded the seed into a paper napkin, sealed it with a rubber band and then identified by writing, "Yellow Marigold" or whatever, on the napkin with a ballpoint pen. For saving tomato seed, I learned to squeeze the seeds onto the napkin, spread the gooey mass out, then let it dry in the sun for a day or two and then roll it up and band it. The next year I could tear little strips of napkin into a sort of seed tape and plant it in a pot of soil to start my new tomato plants. It worked fine in the home garden.
Producing seed commercially requires clean, disease free seed. To save seed that rivals any commercial producer, squeeze the seed and juices into a container. I leave it to ferment for about two days. By then the liquid is frothy, pungent smelling and often there is mold growing on the surface. From here I dump the mess into a larger container and add water, slosh it around, let the seeds settle to the bottom and then carefully pour the rest out. I'll do this once or twice adding more water each time and at the end of the process the seeds will be clean, free of the sticky gel and tomato pulp. Depending on the amount of a variety of tomatoes you are processing you might use a pail (a bushel of tomatoes) or a small plastic cup (for a few tomatoes).
The clean seed is dumped onto a screen or sheets of newspaper will do and allowed to dry. Voila, classy, clean tomato seed. When I operated the Long Island Seed Company, I would add a teaspoon of Chlorox bleach to a quart of the last rinse water and let it set for 20 minutes. I probably shouldn't have bothered since the fermentation process does a nice job; I'm told, of destroying any seed borne pathogens that could cause disease.
Fermenting Tomato Pulp
When you are fermenting your tomato seed, juices and the pulp that gets in to the liquid you may think there must be another use for this pungent bubbly liquid that the seeds have to be washed out from. Actually, unless you visit homes in the tomato growing region of Holland, it probably wouldn't dawn on you that there's another use for the stuff. Some years ago I visited my niece and her husband in the "glass city" part of Holland. He is a hydroponics tomato grower as many folks in this region are. Johan and Andrea took me over to their neighbors who had a little stove-top distillation unit steaming away. Concentrated alcohol would drip out of one end into our little shot glasses. Ah, Genneiva, the Dutch version of vodka. "So what goes into the other end of the distiller as a source of the alcohol?", I asked my hosts. They laughed as they pulled the sofa out from the wall. There were carboy after carboy of fermenting squeezed tomatoes. They were making tomato wine! Only tomato wine is pretty awful and you have to drink so much to get drunk they explained. So what do you do when you have so many tomatoes...