When Life Hands You Heirloom Tomatoes…

… You save the seeds!

I love going to the farmers market on Saturdays. Fortunately the one near me doesn’t start until 10am and goes until 6pm, perfect for a late riser like myself. Usually when I go I try to pick up at least one new unknown fruit or vegetable to try. This time around I decided on some beautiful heirloom tomatoes.

Aren't they beautiful?
Aren’t they beautiful?

Now, I’ve had tomatoes before. They actually hold a special place in my heart since my mom and I have grown them every year since before I can remember. For a while I thought that cooked tomatoes were one of the foods I wasn’t able to eat, since when ever I ate them I felt sick, which make me really sad. It ended up being the gluten that accompanied those cooked tomatoes in the form of pasta, or crust, or pasta that was making me sick, putting tomatoes back on the table. Now whenever I eat a tomato I’m reminded of what I CAN eat. They also remind me of summer. But I digress…

I had never seen tomatoes like these before. They were red, orange, yellow, and green all at the same time, a rainbow of color. Being heirlooms, I suspected that they also tasted different from the other tomatoes I have had, but that’s not why I bought them. I bought them because they were just so darn pretty.

Some quick Google searching told me that I had picked up a tomato variety called Big Rainbow.  Aptly named, this variety originated in Polk County Minnesota. It’s an indeterminate heirloom that is resistant to cracking and foliar diseases [GrowOrganic.com Organic Tomato, Big Rainbow].

This tomato was sweet with low acidity and beautiful when cut. I ate one sprinkled with salt and pepper (it was gone before I could take pictures, oops) and one with basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a little salt. Delicious!

Big Rainbow Tomato, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, and Salt
Big Rainbow Tomato, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, and Salt

Now, here’s the exciting part: because they were heirloom tomatoes, I’m saving the seeds with hopes of being able to plant them and grow Big Rainbow tomatoes of my own. Before last year I had never saved tomato seeds, but I had saved flower seeds from my gardens. There are several different protocols, but the one I used last summer (to get my black cherry tomato seeds) and this time around is a fermentation method.

First, I cut my tomatoes and scooped out the seeds and gel. I put the seeds and gel into a glass jar and added about 2 inches of water. I stirred the seeds, gel, and water together to mix. Then I covered the top of the jar with cheesecloth to keep the flies out.

Tomato Seeds and Gel Fermenting
Tomato Seeds and Gel Fermenting

Now all I have to do is let it sit out of sunlight and ferment for a few days, breaking down the gel around the seeds that prevents them from germinating. Once that happens, all of the good seeds will sink to the bottom of the jar, and the duds, gel and pulp will float at the surface. I’ll drain the liquid off the top of the seeds then lay the seeds out to dry for a few days on paper towels, package them up in an envelope and put them in my seed jar (My jar with desiccant that holds my seeds).

If all goes according to plan, I should have viable seeds for my garden! How exciting is that?!?

If you’re interested in trying to grow this gorgeous tomato yourself, you can get seeds from:

Baker Creek Seeds: All of their seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated, and non patented, and they have an amazing variety.

Victory Seeds: They carry a wide selection of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds.

Grow Organic: They don’t just sell seeds, but also weed and pest control, garden tools, and fertilizers.

Really good information about saving tomato seeds can be found at:

Agriculture & Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Santa Clara County – Their Saving Tomato Seeds PDF outlines the basics about the difference between open-pollinated and hybrid tomatoes, how to choose tomatoes to save seeds from, saving seeds, storing seeds, and how to cross your tomato plants if you want.

Mr. Brownthumb – He has a wonderful post (with pictures!) about the fermentation method for saving tomato seeds. This is almost exactly how I save my tomato seeds (I cover my jar with cheese cloth instead of a lid). He also answers some commonly asked questions.

The Heirloom Gardener also has a wonderful article about heirloom tomatoes in its current issue [Summer 2013].

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