How to Save Tomato Seeds
28. September 2017
We grow tomatoes every year. This is in large part because my husband has an unhealthy addiction to homemade salsa. Some years our tomatoes are gangbusters and some years they’re a bust. This year we lucked out with our super-tasty Sungold Cherry tomatoes. I most definitely want more of these suckers in the future. So here's a refresher on the art of saving tomato seeds.
First you need to find fruits that do not have diseases or harmful micro-organisms. This means that they need to be free of splits or insect holes. Choose the most perfect examples you have so that next year’s plants will work with the best genes possible. Also don’t forget to wash off your fruit before cutting them open.
When it comes to saving seeds from your favorite and most tasty tomatoes, there are 3 routes you can take:
1. Basic Drying
This is (almost) the easiest method. Slice the tomato open and squeeze or cut out the largest seeds onto a plate. Then arrange the seeds in clusters of 3 or 4 onto a paper towel or coffee filter. Let them dry naturally for a week or two until there is no moisture. Store as-is or cut the towel apart into individualized little seed starters. You can store these in an envelope until next spring. Using the basic drying method, seeds keep for one or two years. Use the fermenting method (step 2 below) if you want to store them longer.
The fermentation process allows tomato seeds to store for up to 6 years and still be viable. This is because you're removing the gelatinous sac that encompasses each tomato seed. The gel is what stops germination from transpiring until the seed is planted in the ground. But, the gel can also contain diseases that may damage the growth of the plant. So removing the residue is essential to long-term seed storage.
To remove the gel, slice your fruit in half and squeeze or scoop the seeds into a bowl or jar. If the seeds are not floating in enough tomato liquid, add some water to help separate the seeds from the pulp. Cover the jar with cloth and let the mix sit uncovered in a warm, out of the way place for 24 to 48 hours. Fair warning, this will start to smell funky which is normal. If you are saving several varieties at once, don't forget to label each jar so you can identify the seeds later. The seeds are ready when they are sitting on the bottom (if using a glass jar, you will be able to see them). Skim off the pulp and whatever funk has developed on the top of the jar. Then strain the seeds at the bottom and rinse them with water. Any remaining gel should come off in the rinsing process. Allow the seeds to dry using the paper towel method from the “Basic Drying” section above.
NOTE: Older seed saving methods suggest fermenting seeds for up to 4 days or longer. A newer study indicates that it's best to soak seeds for only 1-2 days. Fermenting longer than 3 days decreases the seed germination rate. You do not need to have a layer of mold on the seeds either.
3. Forced Volunteer
Now this method IS the easiest. All you have to do is select the spot in your garden where you want your tomatoes to be next year. Bury cut tomatoes or the gel/seed mixture 2 or 3 inches deep, then place a layer of mulch over that. Wait until springtime to remove the mulch, gently stir up the soil, water and wait. You could also let your tomatoes naturally drop in the garden and seed themselves wherever they darn well please. If you grow tomatoes, you already know how easily volunteer plants spring up. The benefit to doing forced volunteer plantings is that you know what variety is growing where. But there's something very fun about having "Mystery Plants" too! With any luck, you’ll have another round of your favorite and most tasty tomatoes next season!
We designed these FREE Printable Seed Saver Packets just for you! Our free seed saver packs are great for saving seeds from your garden. Store seeds for yourself or use them for gift-giving seeds to your friends. Just print, cut, fold, and glue the seed packets to store your vegetable, fruit, or flower seeds. We hope you enjoy using these free packets. And PLEASE, share these with your fellow gardeners and seed savers.
Be sure to read our other blog posts on tomatoes to increase your yield in the garden (and the kitchen).
Have you saved tomato seeds from your garden before? If so, which method did you use to save the seed? Let us know in the comments below.