Monday, September 21, 2015

How to Save Tomato Seeds

I remember an old friend of our family who, every time he ate an especially yummy tomato, would squeeze out a few seeds into a bowl to save for next year. In the spring, he had a bowl of "who-knows-what-kind" of tomato seeds to plant.

I enjoy trying new things and this year, just for fun, I decided to save some of my own tomato seeds to plant next year. But I chose to be a little more deliberate about my seed saving than our friend.

First I chose a lovely Amish Paste tomato from the garden. 

Amish Paste is an open-pollinated (sometimes called an heirloom) tomato. This means that it is not a hybrid. A hybrid is created by crossing to different parent plants to make seed for a new hybrid variety. Seeds saved from a hybrid tomato will not produce tomatoes like the tomato they were taken from so choose an open-pollinated tomato.

Tomato flowers will generally fertilize themselves so even if you grow several kinds of tomatoes, you should have pure seed. It is possible, especially for larger flowering varieties, to cross pollinate and make their own hybrid, but from what I've read, it is not likely.

Choose a tomato that has the characteristics that you want. I chose a tomato from a plant that had been slow to catch blight, in hopes that it has some genetic resistance to blight. You might choose your earliest, tastiest, largest, healthiest, or other characteristic that you wish to select for next year.

You will still get to eat the tomato, so it is not a sacrifice to choose the best.

Cut open the tomato and squeeze some seeds into a jar. If you have several varieties of tomatoes, be sure to label each jar.

At this point I chose to ferment the tomato seeds. This is not absolutely necessary but it helps the tomato seeds to separate from the gel and can help get rid of the bad seeds.

Make sure the seeds are covered with liquid. If the tomato did not have enough juice, just add a little water to the jar.

Set the jar in a dark place for 3 to 5 days.

The seeds will probably grow a layer of mold on top. That is normal. Just remove the mold and add some more water and stir. Wait a few minutes. The good seeds should sink. Carefully pour off the water and the bad seeds and bits of pulp.

I used a sieve to help pour off the remaining water.

I rinsed the seeds until none of the pulp remained.

Then place the seeds on a paper plate or piece of newspaper. Don't use a paper towel because the seeds will stick and be nearly impossible to remove. But don't use a plastic or glass plate as you want the water to be absorbed. 

Let the seeds completely dry for a day or two. Then place the seeds in an airtight container or bag. Tomato seeds will last for years at room temperature and will last even longer if kept in the refrigerator or freezer - as long as they are kept completely dry.

Next spring, I'll let you know how these seeds grow.

Have you ever saved tomato seeds?


  1. A thought: if you get absent-minded and use a paper towel anyway, don't despair. Once the towel and seeds are dry, snip the paper towel into small - - even tiny - - pieces. You can plant the seeds stuck to the paper towel bits because the paper will disintegrate.
    Love your blog, especially the post on food and camping.

  2. This year we seemed to have good success just leaving the rotting fruit in the garden and tilling it in this spring. I had tomatoes coming up all over... like weeds. We shared with others and kept a few and they all had fruit this year. I even had one come up in the flower bed right outside our bedroom door and I can just walk out and grab a few cherry tomatoes whenever. I know it's not reliable, but worked this year even if it was just an oversight.

    1. I had a lot of volunteer tomato plants this year too, especially in my compost pile. Maybe that is one reason I decided to save seeds this year. If they are that easy to start from seed, I should be doing it instead of buying plants!

      I was scared to save any of the volunteer plants because I didn't know what variety they were. I didn't want twenty cherry tomato plants!

  3. Hi Gina,

    No, I've never saved tomato seeds, but thanks to your tutorial I think I'm going to give it a try. Thank you for sharing.


  4. My husband likes to save seeds of all sorts. He does the tiny ones like tomatoes, I usually do the squash,pumpkins,beans and such. Just today,I put the watermelon seeds in the freezer. He couldn't remember the variety,but they produced a small,dark green melon that did well in our northern garden. As Mrs. Doug indicated,sometimes stuff comes back from last year in odd places. I have dill everywhere!! We often have nice tomato plants by the pig pen..from them eating the scraps from making sauce. It always tickles me to see them here and there!

  5. I've never saved seeds, but I have wanted to. I always started my own tomato plants from seeds that I bought. They are easy to start that way, so I imagine this is no different. I am going to try it next year when I have a garden again. I saw a book at the library about saving seeds- I figure there must be some other veggies that are easy too...pumpkins and squash must be simple!

    1. From what I've read, squash and pumpkin are easy to save - but hard to keep pure. If you plant more than one kind of vine plant (watermelon, cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini, etc) a bee or the wind can easily spread pollen from one bloom to another. This does not affect the fruit this season, but it will affect the seed. I've heard of some crazy pumpkin flavored watermelon that has resulted from cross-pollination.

      Unless you only plant one kind in your garden, or are willing to bag a bloom and hand-pollinate, I would avoid saving seeds from vine plants.

    2. This is true of vine crops. We save seed,but we also try to keep those individual plants far from one another. I did have jack-be-little pumpkins cross with large ones this year..they produced a medium size pumpkin that looks like the little ones! I cooked them up for pies. Keeping the vines far apart has worked for us,but we do have the acreage to do so. I realize not everyone does.

    3. Hi..just for a clarification..I was cooking our butternut squash yesterday.and my husband told me not to save the seed. He feels that 2 years of the same seed might be "iffy",so he plans to start fresh next season. I thought I should let you know in case anyone was trying to save squash seed!


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