Saving seeds from tomatoes

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Saving Tomato Seeds – How To Collect Tomato Seeds

Saving tomato seeds is an excellent way to preserve a variety that performed well in your garden. Harvesting tomato seeds also ensures that you will have that cultivar the next year, because some types are more popular than others and are offered cyclically. It’s easy to save most seeds and provides economic benefit since you won’t need to purchase seed for the following year. You can also be certain the seed is organic if you grow and collect tomato seeds yourself.

Saving Seeds from Tomatoes

Saving tomato seeds is easy, but there are a few things to keep in mind. If you harvest hybrid tomato seeds, be aware that they are developed varieties, which won’t grow true from seed the following year. It’s also important to collect from healthy, disease free cultivars, which produce well. It’s also important when saving seeds from tomatoes to process and store the seed properly. You can save seed from cherry, plum or large varieties. It doesn’t matter if the tomato is determinate or indeterminate, as it will come true from the seed.

Tips for Harvesting Tomato Seeds

The process of how to save tomato seeds starts with a ripe, juicy tomato fresh off the vine. Collect tomato seeds at the end of the season when the fruit is ripe and ready. Some gardeners simply cut open the tomato and squeeze the pulp onto a plate or other container. The pulp needs to dry and then you can separate out the seeds. Another method is to rinse off the pulp in colander or screen.

Still another method of saving seeds from tomatoes requires the pulp to be put in a glass jar filled with water. You can shake it and let it soak for five days. Skim off the foamy fermented pulp and the seeds will be at the bottom of the jar.

The most important part of the process of harvesting tomato seeds is the drying. If the seeds aren’t properly dried, they will mold and then all your work will be fruitless. Spread the seed out on paper towels to absorb any moisture in a warm dry location. Store the seeds until spring in a clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Seeds need to be stored where it is dark to prevent stimulating their photo- receptors, which tell them when it is time to germinate. They may lose vigor or fail to sprout if they are exposed to light.

In the spring, your saved tomato seeds will be ready for planting.

Forget seed catalogs, I’m shopping for my tomato seeds at the farmer’s market. Walking through the colorful displays of produce at my local farmer’s market, I’m brimming with anticipation for the next gardening year. The heirloom tomatoes that I pick out today—given they pass the all-important taste test—will be the garden bounty of my future.

Saving heirloom tomato seeds brings back those memories of science classes: beakers and safety goggles, anticipation and disgust, curiosity and pride. The seeds can’t just be scooped out and dried; they need to be removed with all the slimy tomato guts and left to ferment. The gross factor of fermenting these tiny seeds is about as fun of a science experiment as you can get, making it an ideal project to do with kids.

Related: Getting Back to Basics with Seed Saving

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why on earth do I need to ferment the tomato seeds? Can’t I just scrape them onto a paper towel and dry them?!” The answer is that fermenting the seeds is copying the natural process the tomatoes would go through to reproduce. The membrane around the seeds prevents germination and can carry disease. By fermenting it, it sterilizes the seeds and thus protects the next year’s plants. In addition, it gets them ready for winter storage so they will be primed for good germination rates when the time comes.

Here is What You’ll Need:

  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Knife and spoon
  • Mason jars and rings
  • Paper towel
  • Pen or marker
  • Fine-mesh sieve
  • Paper or glass plates / bowls for drying
  • Coin envelopes

1. Choose Your Seeds

The most important part of saving heirloom seeds is selecting the best fruit to begin with. Whether you are purchasing your tomatoes or have grown your own, you should look for the best visual example of a variety: perfect color, size, and shape. Ensure there is no disease or pest damage visible, and don’t forget to taste them. Yummy tomatoes make seeds that make yummy tomatoes.

2. Scoop Out the Guts

Gently cut your perfect tomato into sections.

Grab a spoon and scoop out the seeds and the gel-like membrane that they are surrounded by. This whole glob goes right into the Mason jar so it’s going to get a bit messy. Fill up each jar with about ¼ cup to ½ cup water, just enough to cover the goop.

3. Cover and Label

Write the variety name on a piece of paper towel folded square, and secure to the lid by screwing on the ring over top. This allows for air to circulate to the mixture as it ferments, but also makes sure you don’t forget the variety.

4. Store in a Warm Place

Now set the Mason jars someplace warm, out of direct sunlight where they won’t be disturbed for a few days. Depending on the temperature, it could take 2 days to a week so be prepared to stick around and keep an eye on them.

5. Check for Mold (You Want Mold)

Within a few days, the top of the liquid should have a grayish rim of scum and even later, a full cover of mold. At this point the seeds should have sunk to the bottom of the muck as well. Congratulations! This means that the fermentation process is complete. This is also great news because the jars are likely smelling quite awful by now.

6. Strain and Rinse

Add another ½ cup or so of water to the jars to dilute the gunk and allow the viable seeds to sink to the bottom. Gently pour off the top layer of fermenty-goodness and then strain the seed into a fine-mesh sieve.

7. Drying

Next, you need to dry the tomato seeds. Place the strained tomato seeds on a plate or bowl and set back in the warm dry place for a few days to dry out. Many people use paper plates, but my little glass bowls work just fine for me. Make sure that you attach or set your paper towel cover / label to the seeds – there is nothing worse than going through the process of fermenting seeds and then forgetting which variety they are!

8. Storing

Once your tomato seeds are dry, you can shuffle them into some handy little coin envelopes, label them up, and store in a cool dry place until next spring. You have graduated from science-class geek to a true heirloom-tomato alumnus.

What’s an Heirloom, Anyway?

Heirloom seeds have been saved and passed on for many generations and so the plant, flowers, and fruit are true to type of the original great-great-great-(insert 50 years here)-grandmother plant. The seeds have been saved for their outstanding qualities, be it beauty, flavor, and yield, or disease, pest, and weather resistance. Heirloom vegetables and fruits provide much diversity from the standard fare mass-produced by industrial food production.

There are many colorful and unique tomato varieties, but beauty and diversity doesn’t mean it’s an heirloom. Hybrid tomatoes have been created by cross-pollinating strong characteristics of different varieties, making brand-spanking new varieties. While the tomatoes can look and taste as good as heirlooms, saving these seeds comes with problems.

Some seed companies create franken-fruits that only contain sterile seeds, ensuring that you always have to buy from them. Even if you could save and germinate the hybrids, there is no guarantee what characteristics the new plant will have. Remember, they cross-pollinated before so who knows what they will get up to with the other tomatoes, nor what the offspring will be.

Hey! Now that you have your tomato seeds ready, how about some printable seed envelopes? Download them here:

If you are tired of paying top dollar for tomato transplants each and every spring, then this is the year to start saving tomato seeds from your garden!

Saving seeds is not only easy and fun, but a great way to save on your gardening budget.

Saving Tomato Seeds – The Basics

Select the best tomatoes for saving seed.

When it comes to saving seeds from tomatoes, there are some varieties that work, and some that won’t.

Open-pollinated tomatoes, or heirloom tomatoes as they are often called, are the only varieties that can be saved from year to year. With heirloom varieties, what you save is what you will get the following year.

Hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, do not work in the same way. Hybrids are a cross of two or more tomato plants. They are bred to create a unique and new tomato plant and tomato. The seeds from a hybrid tomato will not replicate the hybrid when re-planted. Instead, they revert back to one of the original tomato plants crossed, or a mutation of it.

It often results in a plant that will not bear fruit, or creates a completely different tomato all together. Not a good thing when you need to know what you are growing in the garden!

The “How To” Of Saving Tomato Seeds

The tomato seed-saving process is unique when compared to saving seeds from other vegetables. Tomato seeds have a gelatinous coating on their outer skin. This coating, if left in tact, makes it very difficult for the seed to germinate the following year.

If a tomato plant were to grow uninterrupted in the wild, its fruit would ripen and then fall to the ground. In doing so, it would eventually rot and decompose. This process of rotting is what breaks down the gelatinous outer coat of the seed. Once removed, it allows for easy germination.

So when it comes to saving seeds, following nature’s lead is your best bet for success.

Saving Seeds – The Process

When a tomato begins to decompose, it breaks down the protective outer coating of the seeds.

When saving tomato seeds, begin by selecting a healthy, ripe tomato from your best plant. Whether saving seeds from a tomato, a pepper, or any vegetable, you’ll want to save seeds from the healthiest vegetable on the best-looking plant.

By selecting from the best stock, you are ensuring the best chance for good growth, health and success. It all comes down to good genetic.

By selecting the best tomatoes, it strengthens the odds for the good genes to be passed on.

Next, cut the tomato in half and scoop out the pulp and seeds into a clean mason jar. There is no need to add any water or a lid.

Place the jar in a warm, humid location that is a bit out-of-the-way of everyday traffic. The goal here is to let the tomato rot a few days, and there is nothing like the smell of a rotting tomato to awaken the senses.

Decomposition

In a few days, the tomato will begin to decompose. Usually, within 3 to 5 days, the pulp will be encased in white or green fuzzy mold. It can take a bit longer in some instances. Once the tomato has become engulfed in mold, it is time to get to work.

Begin by pouring water into the jar and wash off the mold, – repeating the process a few time to get the seeds clean. The good seeds will sink to the bottom, allowing you to skim off the pulp and bad seeds.

After washing, lay seeds out on a paper towel or newspaper to dry for a few days. It is very important to let seeds dry completely before storing.

To store, put the seeds in a sealed plastic baggie, or mason jar with a covered lid. Store seeds in a cool, dry and dark place. If you have room, a refrigerator makes an excellent storage location for seeds.

All that is left is to start your seeds next spring! For more on seed and transplanting, check out our article : Hardening Off Vegetable Transplants

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How to Save Tomato Seeds to Plant Next Year

Saving your tomato seeds is easy and fun. Plus, when you save tomato seeds, you save money.

Here’s the dirt: many different kinds of flower and vegetable seeds can be collected, saved, dried, and used next year. But with tomato seeds, you must take one additional step – fermentation.

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Tomato seeds (along with a few other types of seeds, including cucumber and melon seeds) are enclosed in gel casings. The casings contain growth inhibitors that prevent the seeds from sprouting inside the tomato.

In the garden, the casings break down naturally as tomatoes fall to the ground and fruit decays. Fermentation allows you to move that process along manually. To ensure a strong germination rate next spring, when drying tomato seeds make sure you include the extra step of fermentation.

How to save tomato seeds: the basic method

Save Tomato Seeds Step #1: Choose Tomatoes

Save seeds from “open pollinated” (OP) or heirloom tomatoes.

These are tomato varieties are true to their type from their own seed, which means the next season’s plants maintain the same characteristics as they previous one.

Hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, are bred from two parents of different varieties.

Because of that, it’s questionable whether or not they produce seeds that keep their characteristics from season to season.

Select your tastiest and healthiest heirloom (OP) tomatoes from which to save seeds.
Saving tomato seeds: which varieties should you save for next year?

Save Tomato Seeds Step #2: Extract Seeds

1. Wash tomatoes from which you will save seeds.

2. Slice the tomato in half on its equator

3. With a spoon or your finger, scoop out seeds. Place them in a bowl, cup or jar. Reserve the remaining tomato to eat fresh or use to make salsa.

4. Add enough water to the tomato seeds and pulp (depending on the juiciness of the tomato) to make a soupy consistency. Stir the mixture to loosen the pulp from the seeds.

5. Cover the container with plastic wrap (punch holes in wrap so air can move) or cheesecloth. If using a jar, punch holes in the lid or don’t screw it on too tightly. Air circulation helps fermentation. Fermentation causes air to expand. A tightly-fitted lid on seeds could make the container explode during fermentation.

6. Label the container with the name of the tomato variety. Don’t trust your memory!

7. Set the container in a warm, protected area, such as on top of the refrigerator or dehumidifier. The ideal temperature for fermenting seeds is 70º-80º F. Try to avoid drafty areas. If your house is cool, or you can’t find a warm area, seeds will still ferment but the process may take a day or two longer.

Save Tomato Seeds Step #3: Ferment Seeds

The key to this step is careful observation. Watch closely to note when fermentation begins.

1. Each day, remove the covering from the container. Stir the seed liquid. Replace the cover. Set the container back in its warm area. Repeat for 2-7 days (on average 4-5 days), depending on the temperature of your house and the area in which seeds are placed to ferment.

2. As the mixture ferments, it will turn darker and emit odor. Look for three additional signs of fermentation:

  • seeds separate and sink to the bottom of the cup as you stir
  • a white, foamy mold will form on the top. The mold is harmless to the seeds. In cooler temperatures, mold may not form.
  • bubbles start to rise to the top of the container

Fermentation helps dissolve the gel casings around the seeds.

3. Remove seeds from the liquid as soon as fermentation begins. If you allow seeds to stay in the liquid as it ferments, they may begin to sprout. Warm, wet conditions in the jar are perfect for sprouting seeds – a development you want to avoid when saving seeds.

Save Tomato Seeds Step #4: Rinse Seeds

There are three purposes to rinsing: you want to stop the fermentation process, separate the pulp from the seeds, and separate the good seed from the bad. Take these steps to properly rinse tomato seeds.

1. Remove foamy mold from top of container.

2. Rinse seeds. Add water to fill the container. Stir the mixture several times and then wait about 10 seconds. Good seeds will sink to the bottom of the container; bad seeds will float to the top. Pour off the liquid and bad seeds.

3. Repeat the rinsing process as many times as you need until all pulp, mold, and debris is rinsed from the seeds, all remaining seeds have settled to the bottom of the cup, the water is clear, and no seeds float to the top of the cup. It’s important to continue to rinse the seeds in the container in order to separate out bad seeds as they float to the top.

4. When seeds are thoroughly rinsed and sorted in the container, pour them into a thin-gauged wire mesh sieve to wick out remaining water.

Save Tomato Seeds Step #5: Dry Seeds

After rinsing, monitor seeds carefully to make sure they dry thoroughly before you store them. Here’s how.

1. Stir and dry: spread rinsed seeds in a single layer on a paper plate, glass dish, mesh screen placed over a plate, parchment paper, waxed paper, or coffee filter to prevent sticking. Avoid drying seeds on ceramic, metal, or plastic, which don’t breathe and don’t allow water to wick away from seeds. Label each tomato variety.
You can also save tomato seeds on paper towel to save time and produce your own seed tape. Find out how to make your own tomato seed tape.

2. Set seeds in a warm area to dry, away from direct sunlight. The top of a refrigerator works well.

3. Shake plate or stir seeds daily to prevent clumping and allow even drying. Spread seeds in a single layer after stirring. When seeds are exposed to air, they dry quicker.

4. Seeds will dry in 1-2 weeks.

5. Seeds have difficulty drying in high humidity and high temperatures. If exposed to those conditions during the drying process, wet seeds may sprout.

6. Do not heat seeds as they dry. Never place them in an oven.

Step #6: Store Seeds

1. Store dry seeds in either paper envelopes or zipped plastic bags.

2. Make sure seeds are 100% dry before storing them, especially if using plastic bags. Otherwise, extra moisture will be locked into plastic bags and spread to all seeds, allowing mildew and rot to spread and ruin the whole batch.

3. Add silica gel packets to saved seed bags as an additional moisture deterrent and to increase shelf life.

4. Label seeds with variety and date.

5. Store seeds in a cool, dry place. Many gardeners store tomato seeds in the refrigerator or freezer.

How do I know when my tomato seeds are completely dried?

1. Allow seeds to dry for 1-3 weeks

2. Dried seeds will be very hard.

3. Dried seeds are difficult to bite or smash.

4. An adequately dried seed makes a faint snapping noise when broken in half.

5. Seeds that bend rather than snap need to be dried longer.

More on saving tomato seeds
Why save tomato seeds? 10 great reasons …
Saving tomato seeds: which varieties should you save for next year?
Easy seed saving method for tomato seeds …

How to take end of season notes about your tomato garden …Saving Tomato Seeds FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) …
How to make your own tomato seed tape …
Seed Trading 101: how to trade tomato seeds …
Where to find seed exchange forums to swap seeds …
Harvesting tomatoes: when to pick them …
How to grow tomato plants from seeds …

Get more tips on our Saving Tomato Seeds Pinterest board…

Return from Save Tomato Seeds to Tomato Dirt home

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave a comment in the box below.Fermentation, the biological process that converts sugars to gas, acids or alcohol accomplished by bacteria or yeast is the process that produces yogurt, sauerkraut and pickles as well as wine and beer. In a sense, it’s a tool, one that we humans use to our advantage. One of its many beneficial applications comes when saving tomato seeds for next season’s planting.

Tomato seeds, like peas and beans, are among the easiest seeds to prepare and save. But they’re not without problems. I remember my first tomato seed saving attempts. We strained the seeds out of tomato pulp, washed them, and let them dry without heat in our food dehydrator. The following spring, we planted as many starter pots as we thought we’d need tomatoes. While we did get a few seeds to germinate, the vast majority did not. Our circle of garden advisers thought maybe we’d saved the wrong seeds, namely hybrids, that have all sorts of problems when carried over a season. We hadn’t. Most thought that drying them in our dehydrator had done them in, even though we did it with the heating element turned off. That didn’t seem likely.

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But the wisest among our garden consults said that we simply needed to ferment our seeds. We had no idea of what he was talking about, so when the time came he took us over to his house to show us how to do it. But not without first telling us why.

Basically, seed fermentation is just the process of letting seeds soak in their own juices or “gel” until the juices start to show mold. This is a sign that fermentation is going on. What the fermentation does is turn the tomato’s sugars to alcohol that then destroy a germination inhibitor that’s natural to the seed. Why has the plant evolved with reproductive seeds that have a component that inhibits the process? To prevent them from germinating too soon. Think of a tomato left to its own devices in nature. The fruit matures and falls to the ground. Without the inhibitor — and with everything it needs to sprout — the tomato seeds will start to germinate in their own juices even before winter has set in. The inhibitor sees to it that they don’t.

The fermentation process has other benefits. The alcohol and other products produced by fermentation will kill off any seed-borne illnesses that your tomato seeds may carry. And its also a chance to go carefully through your seeds and pick out any that are just no good. How do you do it?

First, consider all the rules of seed saving before you start. The most important is to know your tomato. You may love the tomatoes those hybrid seeds produced but saving their seed is an exercise in frustration. I’m sure we don’t need to tell you wise growers why. But even wise growers can mix up tomatoes after their picked so be sure to track the ones, usually heirlooms, that you want to save seed from. Other than that, the rules for saving tomato seed prior and after fermentation are pretty much the same.

Fermenting the seeds is easy. Choose the best looking tomatoes for their superior genetic traits. One tomato of each kind will do most gardeners unless you’re growing rows of tomatoes or want to give seeds to neighbors and friends. Slice them in half horizontally and scoop out the seeds with their accompanying gel into a glass jar. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth — you want your little fermenters to breathe — and leave it in a not-too-cool, dark place for a day or two. Check it regularly. Too much time will encourage your little seeds to rot or even sprout. Here’s a good guide — with pictures! — to show you the way.

What you’re doing is creating the same conditions the tomato would have if left to its own devices. When the fruit falls to the ground, it slowly rots — ferments — with the seeds inside. Weather, in the form of rains, drying sunlight and winter, will eventually decay the fruit to nothing, leaving behind only the seeds. But during the tomatoes first days on the ground after ripening, the fermentation process occurs naturally.

Once that mold starts to form in two or three days, scoop it off with a spoon and then separate the seeds from the gel. Let them dry on newspaper somewhere where its warm (but not too warm) and dark. Air circulation is good. Be sure to keep your seed labeled all through the process. When they’re fully dry, store them in a cool dark place inside a tightly closed jar. Then, at the tail end of winter, eight weeks before the last frost. . . well, you know what to do.

An educational resource of the
Victory Seed Company

How to Save Tomato Seeds
Fermentation Method

The following step-by-step guide to saving tomato seeds is the exact process that we use here on the farm to produce the great seed that you have come to expect from Victory Seeds®.

We have found that the fermentation method results in the cleanest seeds along with high germination rates possible. In presenting this guide, it is assumed that you are saving seed from tomatoes that are not hybrids, are true-to-type, open-pollinated, and have not been cross pollinated.

The first photograph shows a very common late summer / early fall scene here on the farm – containers of fermenting tomato seeds.

Most larger fruits are cut in half at their equator and squeezed into labeled, washed and sterilized plastic containers. As seen in the above photo, small fruit can be simply squeezed. However, we have learn from experience that making a small cut in the fruit will allow for better control of the squirting direction.

The containers of seeds and juice are then placed in a warm location (80 degrees F is good) and out of the direct sunlight with the lids loosely in place. The idea is to promote fermentation. I stir these batches a couple of times during the fermentation process as I have found that perfectly good seeds can get caught up on top of the mold scum, dry out, and become throwaways. Also, if the lids are left on tight, you might end up with a mess when they explode!

After two to three days of fermentation, this photo is representative of what you will see in your containers. Be attentive, check on them often, and DO NOT leave the seeds in this liquid too long or they will begin to germinate. The seeds can also darken if left in this process too long.

The fermentation process breaks down the gelatinous material that encases the seed. These jelly sacks contain a germination inhibitor so once it is gone, there is nothing holding the seeds back from germinating. This is why you need to get them from the fermentation to the drying process as quickly as possible. Fermentation is also said to be helpful in eliminating seed borne diseases.

Once fermentation is complete and the seeds are no longer surrounded by the gelatinous matter, find an out of the way location in the garden and start the cleaning process by pouring off the top scum (the big chunks). Some people find the ripe, fermented tomato smell to be offensive. To me it smells a lot like home brewing or winemaking.

Add water.

Stir up the concoction.

Carefully pour off the material floating on the surface. This will include bad seed, tomato juice and other bits of the tomato tissue.

Add more water and continue the rinse process. Some people simply pour this mixture through a strainer and wash. I find that I eliminate a lot more undeveloped or bad seeds by this rinse and pour method.

Continue the process. It is similar to panning for gold. The nice, healthy, heavy seeds (gold) remain in the bottom of the container while the other material washes away with the liquid.

After a few wash – rinse – pour cycles, you end up with a batch of beautiful seeds.

This step is the first in the drying process. The container is quickly inverted onto your drying medium. If you have small mesh drying screens, use them. If you are processing a lot of different varieties and in fairly small quantities (one ounce or less), cheap coffee filters work great. Do not use paper towels. The seeds will stick and you will regret it. Also, do not use metal or plastic. You want something that will wick the moisture away from the seeds and promote drying.

This is what it looks like after picking up the container. Make sure the filter is labeled with the variety and date. You might think you will remember what they are, but it is a big waste when you don’t.

Locate the seeds in a warm location, out of the direct sunlight with good ventilation. A fan may be necessary if you have high humidity. Stir a couple of times during the day breaking up the clumps of seeds. Never dry in an oven.

You need to get your seed dried quickly or it will start to sprout. Complete drying can take up to a week.

Properly dried and stored, you should experience seed germination rates of 50% for up to ten years. Four to seven years are typical. We store dried seed in airtight glass jars in a cool, dry location. Small desiccant packets can also be used in the jars to lower the moisture and thereby help to increase seed life.

This is not the only method of saving tomato seeds but simply a method that has worked well for us for many, many years.

How to Save Tomato Seeds for Planting

If you wish to skip seed packets altogether and harvest your own tomatoes, the first step is obtaining the fruits. Obviously, they can either be grown from a purchased plant or bought at a local grocery store or farmer’s market. Then, follow a few surprisingly simple steps to harvest, dry and store their seeds.

Step 1: Ripe, Red and Ready

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The seeds are ready to be harvested once your tomatoes are completely ripe. You can even speed up the ripening process if you want. Just take your green tomatoes and store them in a cool area, wrapped individually in newspaper, brown paper sacks or tissue paper. This keeps one rotten tomato from affecting the whole bunch. Then check on them every day or two to monitor the ripening process.

Step 2: Are you ready for this jelly?

Once they’re ripe and red, carefully remove the seeds and the jelly like substance in which they’re contained. To properly accomplish this, cut the fruit vertically down the center. Carefully squeeze the substance from the tomato and save the rest to be eaten. No sense wasting a good tomato, right?

Step 3: Storing the Seeds

Next, you’ll need to put the jelly and seed mixture in a jar or glass and cover it loosely — not in an airtight container! The containers should then be stored in an area that reliably remains around 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep them there for three days, taking care to stir each container once a day.

Step 4: Rinse and Repeat

Once three days have passed, fill each jar with warm water. Allow everything to settle back to the bottom. Viable planting seeds will be heavier than the others and stay submerged, whereas extra pulp and unusable seeds will float to the top. Carefully pour out this leftover gunk, along with the water, until all you have left is clear water and those lovely, viable seeds.

Step 5: Strain and Dry

Pour the remaining mixture into a fine strainer and then put the seeds onto a dry paper towel in a safe place where they won’t be disturbed. Allow the seeds a couple of days to dry completely and place them in a seed packet or plastic baggie, taking care to break up any clumps that may have formed. Store the seeds in a cool, dry place until it’s time for them to meet Mother Earth.

While you can simply scoop out the seeds and spread them on a piece of paper to dry, fermenting them is easy and means you end up with cleaner seeds that are handier to store and trade with others. Always be sure to use tomatoes that have ripened as much as possible on the plant.

To start with, set the tomato upright and slice it in half horizontally through the middle.

Then scoop the seeds out into a small glass or ceramic container. In this case I’m using an old food jar. If you think it’s necessary to keep the seeds covered and wet, you can also add a tablespoon or two of water.

Cover the container with plastic wrap, then poke a few holes in it for air with a knife or fork. Let it sit about five days in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, at which point you will probably see it has developed a layer of mould.

Mould on tomato seeds

This mould can range from a thin, almost invisible layer, to a thick green one. It may have a terrible smell, but this is normal, and nothing to be concerned about. Remove the plastic wrap and using a spoon remove as much of the mould layer as possible and discard it.

Rinsing tomato seeds

Place the container under gently running water. You will see the seeds tend to sink to the bottom, and you can let the water run off the top, or gently pour it off if necessary, until the seeds have been thoroughly rinsed. You may need to use your fingers to loosen a few stuck pieces. Then pour off as much water as possible.

Wet tomato seeds

Set the seeds on a coffee filter with the remaining water to dry. Don’t use kitchen roll or the seeds will stick.

Dry tomato seeds

Be sure to always protect the seeds from direct sunlight. Once completely dry, scrape or rub the seeds off the coffee filter, with the help of a finger nail if necessary. Store in paper or plastic envelopes.

How to save tomato seeds

If you want to grow your own heirloom tomato variety every year, you will need to know how to save tomato seeds at the end of each season. While you can simply scoop out the seeds and dry them, it’s better to use this fermentation process. Scroll on to learn why!

See also 2 easy ways to preserve tomatoes

Save tomato seeds with fermentation

Tomato seeds are encased in a gel that contains a germination inhibitor. In nature, this ensures the seeds don’t sprout prematurely. A fruit that has fallen to the ground will naturally ferment and dissolve that gel. When you collect seed you have to artificially create those conditions. Let’s look at the steps needed to do this.

Choose the right tomato

First, select a ripe tomato with a flavor, shape or size you like. Most old-fashioned heirlooms, such as Brandywine Pink and Brandywine Yellow, are good choices for seed saving because they are open-pollinated. Open-pollinated plants need wind, insects or water to perform the pollination among flowers on the same plant or variety. The fruits produce seeds that grow to be like the parent, as long as pollen from another variety didn’t fertilize the flower. Since tomatoes aren’t easily cross pollinated, you can prevent this by planting cultivars at least 25 ft. away from each other.

If this isn’t possible, to be sure you have an open pollination, seal a cluster of unopened tomato blooms in a paper bag. Every morning, give the bag a shake to move the pollen inside from flower to flower as they open. Once they’ve withered and fruit begins to form, remove the bag and label the cluster. Later, use the ripened tomatoes to collect the seed.

See also 4 favorite heirloom tomatoes

In contrast to an open pollination, seed from cross-pollinating two different varieties is a hybrid. Seeds from a hybrid may grow into a plant completely unlike the parent, with a mix of traits from each side of the cross. These plants are usually less vigorous, as well, so you wouldn’t want to save those seeds.

Now that you have your tomato picked out, learn how to save and dry the seeds with the steps below.

Step one — Scoop out the tomato

Wash the tomato then use a sharp knife to cut the fruit in half. You can scoop out the gel that contains the seeds with a spoon, or simply squeeze the tomato half to push out the pulp. If you don’t mangle the fruit too much, you can eat what’s left. I was able to fill each half-pint jar two-thirds full with seeds, gel and pulp from two tomatoes, which was a perfect amount to work with. Any less liquid and the pulp dries out and won’t ferment.

Step two — Let the gel ferment

The tomato gel will need to sit indoors at about 70 degrees F out of direct light to ferment. You can leave the jars uncovered, but I used a coffee filter held on with a rubber band as a lid. This shaded the tomato gel, kept out contaminants, fruit flies and curious pets, plus allowed air and gas exchange during the fermentation process. It also provided a place to write the variety name — don’t forget to label your seeds so you know what you have!

Step three — Separate the good seeds from the rest

Let the solution sit for up to three days. Any longer and the seeds may start to deteriorate. At that time, you’ll see a distinct separation, with pulp floating at the top, while good seeds have sunk to the bottom in the clear liquid. A layer of mold is nothing to worry about — that indicates the fermentation was successful. The photos below show you how it will look, and it may also smell a bit funky.

Step four — Remove the scum

With a spoon, carefully skim off the top skin of mold and throw it away. As you do that, some of the viable heavier seeds that were tangled with the pulp will sink. Nonviable seeds will remain floating. Try not to disturb the tomato matter too much by shaking or bumping the jar so those bad seeds won’t get mixed in with the good.

Step five — Rinse & repeat

Next, add ¼ to ½ cup of water to the remaining liquid with seeds and stir, as at far left below. Let it settle a few moments so good seeds will sink again. Pour off the top half of the liquid and floating seeds, leaving what you see in the middle photo. Repeat this two more times until the water is clear when you rinse and seeds are clean, as in the third photo. Pour them into a kitchen strainer to drain. You could also rinse them under running water in a strainer but nonviable seeds would be retained.

Step six — Set out to dry

Spread the wet seeds out on a paper plate, coffee filter or screen to dry, scattering them as much as you can. Don’t use paper towels because the seeds will stick to that material like glue. They’ll cling together as well, so check them every day or two and rub the clumps of seeds between your fingers to separate them.

Step seven — It’s a snap

Leave the seeds to air dry for seven to 14 days in a warm, out-of-the-way spot, like on top of the refrigerator. When they’re dry, the seeds will appear a bit hairy or furry. Look closely to make sure that’s not mold, which would be white and damp. A properly dried seed will snap when bent in half. You can use a pair of tweezers to test this. Once they’re dried, place the seeds in a labeled envelope in a cool (40 to 45 degrees F), dark, well-ventilated place. You can also store them in an airtight plastic container, but be sure they are totally moisture-free to prevent mold from forming. Fermented and dried seeds will have a long shelf life—four to six years versus only one year for simple air-dried seeds.

See also How to store seeds

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Learn how to save tomato seeds – it’s so easy! – and watch as your tomato plants improve year after year! And stored properly they will last you for several years to come!

We have a large vegetable garden, berry patch and fruit orchard that we keep going every year and one of the benefits of growing your own produce is that you can save the seeds to plant again the following year. No further seed purchasing necessary. Today we’re going to talk about how to save tomato seeds.

Harvesting and storing seeds for many plants is very straightforward: Simply gather the seeds, dry them and store them. Tomatoes however require a little more work.

What Makes Tomato Seeds Different From Other Seeds?

Tomato seeds are enclosed in a gel-like sack that contains growth inhibitors. These growth inhibitors prevent the seeds from sprouting inside the tomato, which is a brilliant mechanism in nature. The ripe tomatoes then fall off the tomato plants, land on the ground and begin to rot. This fermentation process removes the gel covering, the seeds sprout and new tomato plants grow. The challenge for those of us wanting to save the seeds to plant at some future date is that if the seeds are stored with the gel sacs intact, these growth inhibitors can decrease germination. And so the process of saving tomato seeds involves first having to remove those gel sacs by inducing fermentation.

From Which Kind of Tomatoes Can I Save Seeds?

Choose what are known as open-pollinated (OP) tomatoes, not hybrid varieties. Open-pollinated tomatoes include all heirloom varieties. Open-pollinated plants are more genetically diverse, meaning there is a greater amount of diversity among the plant populations. As you plant the seeds that you saved from open-pollinated varieties, those plants will slowly adapt to your specific growing conditions and climate and improve year after year.

When Should I Pick the Tomatoes for Saving Seeds?

Tomatoes reach seed maturity at the same time as maturity for eating, so pick the tomatoes when they are very ripe. Under-ripe tomatoes will reduce the germination rate.

How Long Do Tomato Seeds Have To Ferment?

It’s been a long-held belief that tomato seeds have to ferment to the point of developing a layer of mold on top of the liquid in the jar. Recent studies have actually shown that fermenting tomato seeds that long is not effective and can negatively impact germination. They concluded that seeds do best when they’re allowed to ferment for 1-2 days and that any longer than 3 days can have a negative impact on germination. If mold does develop on the top layer you can still proceed anyway, you may just have a slightly lower germination rate.

How To Save Tomato Seeds

Remove the Seeds: Select very ripe tomatoes and wash them. Slice the tomatoes in half and squeeze the seeds and juices into a glass jar. BE SURE TO LABEL THE JARS WITH THE VARIETY OF TOMATOES. If you have plenty of tomato juice in the jar with the seeds there is no need to add any extra water; otherwise add a little non-chlorinated water. Remove as many of the big chunks of pulp as you can. To prevent fruit flies or other things from falling into the jar, cover the jar with some cheesecloth or a napkin and rubber band.

Ferment the Seeds: Let the jars sit at room temperature (ideally between 70 to 80 degrees F) for 1-2 days to let them ferment (if the room temperature is cool it may take an extra day or two. Swish the seeds around in the jar a time or two each day. The seeds are ready when the top layer has begun to develop a very slight film on the top and the seeds have sunk to the bottom of the jar (don’t over-ferment; see section titled “How Long Do Seeds Have to Ferment?”).

Rinse the Seeds: Pour off the top layer along with the pulp and any seeds that have floated to the top. Pour the remaining liquid and the seeds at the bottom of the jar into a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the seeds thoroughly, swishing them around constantly to help remove as much of the remaining gel sacs as possible.

Dry the Seeds: Shake and tap the strainer a few times to remove excess water and dump the seeds onto a paper towel to remove more water. Do not let the seeds dry on the paper towels or they will stick to them. Immediately shake the seeds onto a tray or plate (paper plates work well or a tray lined with parchment paper) to dry. BE SURE TO LABEL THE JARS WITH THE VARIETY OF TOMATOES. Once they start to dry use your fingers to crumble the seeds each day to break them up and prevent them from clumping together.

How To Store Tomato Seeds

Scrape the seeds into paper envelopes or plastic ziplock bags. To ensure the seeds remain dry you can add a small packet of silica gel crystals. Store the seeds in a cool, dark, dry place. Refrigerating them is not necessary but that will ensure these conditions to enable your seeds to last the longest (that’s if you need them to last beyond a year or two). Do NOT store seeds in the crisper drawers in the fridge.

How Long Do Tomato Seeds Last?

If the process of saving and storing seeds is followed correctly, tomato seeds can last for 4 years, sometimes longer. People have reported successfully germinating tomato seeds after 10 years!

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Do also have asparagus plants? Read our tutorial on How to Save Asparagus Seeds!

How to Save Tomato Seeds and Store Them

Learn how to save tomato seeds – it’s so easy! – and watch as your tomato plants improve year after year! Stored properly they will last you for several years to come. Author: Kimberly Killebrew

Instructions

  • Step 1: Remove the Seeds: Select very ripe tomatoes and wash them. Slice the tomatoes in half and squeeze the seeds and juices into a glass jar. BE SURE TO LABEL THE JARS WITH THE VARIETY OF TOMATOES. If you have plenty of tomato juice in the jar with the seeds there is no need to add any extra water; otherwise add a little non-chlorinated water. Remove as many of the big chunks of pulp as you can. To prevent fruit flies or other things from falling into the jar, cover the jar with some cheesecloth or a napkin and rubber band.
  • Step 2: Ferment the Seeds: Let the jars sit at room temperature (ideally between 70 to 80 degrees F) for 1-2 days to let them ferment (if the room temperature is cool it may take an extra day or two. Swish the seeds around in the jar a time or two each day. The seeds are ready when the top layer has begun to develop a very slight film on the top and the seeds have sunk to the bottom of the jar (don’t over-ferment; see blog post section titled “How Long Do Seeds Have to Ferment?”).
  • Step 3: Rinse the Seeds: Pour off the top layer along with the pulp and any seeds that have floated to the top. Pour the remaining liquid and the seeds at the bottom of the jar into a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the seeds thoroughly, swishing them around constantly to help remove as much of the remaining gel sacs as possible.
  • Step 4: Dry the Seeds: Shake and tap the strainer a few times to remove excess water and dump the seeds onto a paper towel to remove more water. Do not let the seeds dry on the paper towels or they will stick to them. Immediately shake the seeds onto a tray or plate (paper plates work well or a tray lined with parchment paper) to dry. BE SURE TO LABEL THE JARS WITH THE VARIETY OF TOMATOES. Once they start to dry use your fingers to crumble the seeds each day to break them up and prevent them from clumping together.
  • Step 5: Store the Seeds: Scrape the seeds into paper envelopes or plastic ziplock bags. To ensure the seeds remain dry you can add a small packet of silica gel crystals. Store the seeds in a cool, dark, dry place. Refrigerating them is not necessary but that will ensure these conditions to enable your seeds to last the longest (that’s if you need them to last beyond a year or two). Do NOT store seeds in the crisper drawers in the fridge. If the process of saving and storing seeds is followed correctly, tomato seeds can last for 4 years, sometimes longer. People have reported successfully germinating tomato seeds after 10 years!

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