Saving Tomato Seeds


The seeds for our Fall ’12 and Spring ’13 garden; not counting the ones we already have in storage or are currently collecting and saving.

I’ve mentioned it before but it is worth saying again ~ I have a seed fetish.  Some women like shopping for shoes, hand bags, the like.

I shop for seeds.

I have been guilty of buying seeds that I don’t really need just because I thought they would be fun to try.

I have been guilty of buying a package simply because I thought it looked pretty.

Because seeds are so relatively inexpensive, I tend to load up my virtual shopping cart (I’m an introvert, I do all my shopping online) thinking it is no sweat.

After my last shopping spree,however, when all was said and done; I suffered a bit of sticker shock.

Quite a bit.

I won’t say how much or how many but I did decide then and there that it was time to start learning how to save my own seeds.

The zinnias and the lettuces haven’t been that difficult.  They are pretty straightforward and pretty easy to collect. Asparagus was a tiny bit tricky but easily mastered once I got the hang of it.

The tomatoes on the other hand were a bit of a challenge.

Tomato seeds, as you know, are surrounded by a jelly~like membrane that needs to be removed before the seeds can be stored.  In order to do this the seeds must be fermented.  A most interesting process to say the least.

In order to extract the seeds I cut two tomatoes in half: one of each variety that I wanted to save.  The halves were squeezed into two small glass bowls each providing about 2-3 tablespoons of seeds.

To ferment: I added enough water to cover the seeds, covered the bowl with plastic wrap, and made a small incision on the top to allow for a bit of air circulation.  Since they need a warm place to do their thing, I set them on top of the fridge and monitored them on a daily basis.

These are not pretty pictures I hate using flash, but they were the best I could do at the moment.
L: Squeeze tomato seeds into dish.
C: Pour enough water to cover.
R: Cover with plastic wrap.

Within about three or four days a thick, scummy mold had formed on the top.  I skimmed off the mold and gently shook the bowl to release any further membrane that might be clinging to the seeds.

Many of the directions and guidelines I had read for saving tomato seeds suggested flooding the viscous mess with clear water.  Since my containers were so small I was afraid of losing the seeds altogether so I opted instead to drain them through a small strainer and rinse.  It worked fine.

L: Ick.
C: Scrape off the mold from the top.
R: Drain through a small colander.

L: Rinse seeds to make sure residue is removed.
C: Clean seeds.
R: Spread on an absorbent surface to dry.


Once rinsed, I spread them out on a brown paper bag.  They needed a surface that would wick away any moisture. A styrofoam plate wouldn’t work, and they would end up sticking something awful to a paper towel.  A paper bag was what I had on hand, a paper bag was what I used.

After about 48 hours they were completely dry and ready for storage.  To ensure that the entire process was done correctly I decided to sprout one.  It sprouted beautifully and is growing quite happily in my fall garden.

This one is all ours.

If you would like to try saving your tomato seeds:

*Make sure you are using an open pollinated, heirloom variety.  A hybrid will probably sprout and grow but it will only revert back to the characteristics of the parent plant.  You can read more about hybrids and heirlooms here.

*Choose the fruit from your strongest plant to produce strong seeds that will produce more strong plants.

*If you choose to save more than one variety, make sure each is labeled properly so you aren’t playing any guessing games in your garden next season.

*Seeds should be labeled with the variety and the date and stored in a cool, dark, dry place away from moisture.  It is recommended they be kept in the refrigerator or freezer.  I did this for a time, but have since reverted to keeping them in envelopes stored in a covered box.  I’ve not had any problems.

*Seeds should remain viable for a few years.

Assortment of heirloom tomatoes

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Saving Tomato Seeds — 24 Comments

  1. A couple of additional pieces of information that I have picked up from seed-starting manuals:

    1. Even though tomatoes are self-pollinating, insects can cross pollinate different varieties if they are planted close together. So if you want to protect the integrity of the variety and be certain that you will get the same plant variety next year, plant each variety in a different section of the garden, or cover the plants with nylon netting to keep the insects away.

    2. In order to maintain the genetic diversity of the variety, save a few seeds from several different plants of the same variety, rather than all the seeds from one plant. I have some tomato seeds that have been passed down three generations in our family, but they have lost their disease resistance because one family member only saved the seeds from one fruit from one plant each year for decades. It’s a permanent loss. So sad.

    • I was familiar with the idea of covering plants with a nylon netting ~thank you for sharing that Cheryl, that is so helpful.

  2. I haven’t tried saving tomato seeds yet so this was a very helpful post. Thank you! Found you via the Wildcrafting Wednesday.

    Stop by my blog Friday for the next edition of the Carnival of Home Preserving! Would love to have you by and link up this post or other great preserving posts of yours.

  3. You are so clever. :-) I’ve started my own seed potatoes this year, but that’s the first time I’ve done my own seeds. Thank you for this GREAT tutorial. :-)

    • I haven’t done seed potatoes yet. I tried growing them last year, but wasn’t really very attentive to them and didn’t get much of a crop at all. I’m going to try again this year and work really hard at it. :?

  4. This is great…i collect seeds, but mostly beans and the like…they are so easy. I have about 10 volunteer tomato plants in my garden this year, mostly sungold and the like, which is great, but I would love to save some tomato seed as I have one plant in particular that has made a mammoth amount of fruit. thanks for the post!

    • Oh wow I didn’t know they would sprout on their own but that totally makes sense. I’ve just always ripped mine out when the spider mites got to them.

  5. I’m glad you mentioned the “no hybrids” disclaimer. Would hate for someone to go through all this trouble for nothing. Great post!

    • Yeah. Funny thing is though I have a hybrid petunia that self seeded in my yard and is growing like crazy. :?

      • It’s not that seeds from hybrid plants won’t grow. The problem with saving seeds from hybrid plants is that the resulting plants are not like the parent plant, they are more like the “grandparent” plants. The characteristics will be much more varied than the original hybrid and probably less desirable. Although some people have accidently found some real gems this way.

  6. Pingback: Your Questions About Vegetable Garden Seeds - How to Vegetable Garden · How to Vegetable Garden

  7. Great post. I wondered how to do that but had been too busy to look it up. You made it look easy:)