How to Save Tomato Seed

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Saving your own tomato seed, is not only a more economical way to grow your favorite varieties, but it makes for stronger plants too! Today I will share tips for saving your own tomato seeds, so you can be more self sufficient! 

Why Should You Save Your Own Tomato Seeds?

bowls of saved tomato and pepper seed
Some tomato and pepper seed I have saved this year from my own garden.

Economical:

It will obviously be cheaper for you to save your own tomato seeds, rather than having to buy them. This comes into play especially if you are growing a lot of tomatoes. Or if you are selling the tomatoes. Less upfront costs means more profit in your pocket.

Self Sufficiency:

Well, it’s just a darn good idea to be able to grow your own food to begin with. Knowing how to harvest the seed, will keep you in good supply of that type of vegetable, for generations to come without having to buy the seed. After all, this is how our grandparents and great grandparents had seed to plant year after year!

Stronger Plants:

As a plant grows, and becomes accustomed to it’s current unique micro climate, it will adapt. As it adapts, these traits will be handed down to future generations of the plant, by passing them down through the seed it creates.

So by saving seed again and again, season after season, you will always have much stronger plants, than from buying seed from a location that is not in your microclimate. Those seeds, are probably ideal, for wherever they were produced, but not for your unique growing conditions.

This is probably the very best reason for saving your own tomato seeds. This goes for all plants, not just tomatoes!

Related Article You May Be Interested In:
Seed Starting 101: Planting Tomato Seed
How to Transplant Tomato Seedlings
How and Why You Should Prune Tomato Plants
Scroll down to see more of my tomato related articles at the bottom of this post!

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Can I Save Seeds From All Types of Tomatoes?

home grown heirloom mushroom basket tomatoes
A group of heirloom Mushroom Basket tomatoes I grew this year.

The answer to this is yes and no. You need to choose heirloom or open pollinated varieties of tomatoes if you want to save seed from certain varieties to grow them again in the future. Hybrid seeds will not grow true, and you won’t know what will come from that seed. Probably a tomato of some sort, but it won’t be exactly the same as what grew the year before.

If you don’t care what type of tomato you are growing, you can grow the hybrid variety of seed. You might not know what kind of tomato would come from it, but most likely you would happily still eat it.

But if growing the same variety of tomato over and over again is your goal, don’t use hybrid varieties, use the open pollinated or heirloom varieties. This goes for all types of tomatoes, whether it be cherry, roma/paste tomatoes or big beefsteak size tomatoes. Heirloom and open pollinated varietes of tomatoes, will breed true when grown from saved seed.


Will My Seed Be Pure if I Grew Many Types of Tomatoes?

Ideally, you should space different varieties a bit further apart if you are really trying to preserve the variety and want no chances of any natural cross pollinating by insects.

But tomatoes are self pollinating. This means that the pollen falls within the flower to pollinate itself. That is why you might also hear of people jiggling their tomato plants when they are in flower, because this helps to pollinate them.

But, there is still a slim chance that a bee could cross pollinate two varieties. This is why it is a good idea to save tomatoes from different plants of the same variety. and to save more than one tomato to harvest seed from. You will have more chances for a pure variety, than just saving seed from one tomato off of one plant.

I have harvested seed from my own tomatoes many times, and have not ever had a new or different type of tomato grow than what I expected, so I don’t really worry about it. My tomatoes are all planted about 2′ apart in pots, and I do jiggle the branches when I notice a lot of flowers have opened, which I think helps speed up the pollination process.

Choosing Tomatoes to Save Seed From

a pair of Barred Boar heirloom tomatoes
A pair of Barred Boar heirloom tomatoes I grew this year.

When you are ready to  save seed from your tomatoes, there are a couple of important considerations to think about. You want to choose the fruit, that best represents that variety of tomato to you, in size, color, taste, length of growing season, largest, smallest….whatever is important to you about that variety.

Maybe it’s the biggest one or it is the one with the best stripes. Maybe it is the best color or flavor. These can all be of your own opinion, as after all, these are your plants that you are growing for you! Choosing your favorite qualities, will help to bring them back again and again in the seed you save.

Now, when it comes to choosing the actual tomato to save the seeds from, choose one that if fully ripe, or even slightly over ripe, as you want to be sure to harvest fully mature seeds from it.

The Process of Saving Your Tomato Seeds

cutting board with 2 tomatoes a knife and a ball jar, in preperation of saving some tomato seed

Once you have chosen the tomatoes you want to save the seed from, you will need a knife, a glass jar or bowl and some water, a rubber band and a paper towel. Cut the tomato in half or quarters. Use your finger to scoop out the gelatinous covered seed from the fruit and place in a jar or non-metallic glass bowl.

Add an inch or two of water to cover well. Stir. Cover the jar with a paper towel and rubber band and let sit for a few days in a warm location.

a tomato cut into quarters
Tomato quarters before removing any seeds.
tomato quarters with gelatinous seeds removed
Tomato quarters with the gelatinous seeds removed.

The gelatinous bit around each seed, will begin to ferment and will cause a moldy layer to form on top of the water. This is to be expected! This act of fermentation, is replicating what would happen in nature, if the fruit was to fall from the vine and rot on the ground.

tomato seeds in jar
Place the gelatinous tomato seed bits into the jar.

This process removes the gel coating around the seed. The gel coating inhibits the seed from germinating, so you want to remove it before saving the seed.

tomato seeds in jar covered with water
Add enough water to cover the seeds well.
jar with tomato seeds in water covered with paper towel with rubber band
Place a paper towel over the jar with a rubber band, and let sit in a warm spot undisturbed until you see a layer of mold on top.

Saving Your Tomato Seeds

moldy layer formed above tomato seeds in jar
Moldy layer has formed above the seeds and water in the jar.

Once you see the layer of mold form on top of the water, it is now time to save the seed. First, I pour off the mold gently, then add water and stir well. Allow all the mature healthy seed to settle again to the bottom. All the yuck stuff will float to the top!

close up of moldy layer that forms on top of water and tomato seeds
Close up of moldy layer. It is good and fuzzy.

Pour off the yuck from the top gently. Add more water and repeat, being careful to not pour off any of the seed from the bottom. Repeat until the water is clear.

clean tomato seeds in water
After all the yuck has been rinsed off, and the good seed are left at the bottom of the jar.

Now you will need to use a fine mesh colander of some sort to pour all the contents through. Rinse well, and you will be left with a colander full of healthy tomato seed.

tomato seeds in fine mesh colander
Rinse the tomato seeds well in a fine mesh colander.

I like to dump the seeds out onto a paper towel temporarily, just to remove a lot of the moisture.

tomato seed on paper towel
The paper towel helps to remove some of the excess moisture on the tomato seeds.

 

Pour the seed into a glass or ceramic dish and try to separate the seed from each other as much as possible. It is easier to separate the individual seeds now, than after they have dried.

Place the seeds in a warm area, and stir a few times over the next few days, separating the seed each time until they are very dry. Usually by 4-5 days they are dry enough to store.

tomato seed drying in bowl
The tomato seed is spaced out well in the bowl to dry so as not to clump together.

Be absolutely certain they are dry or they will mold and that will make them not germinate next year.

Storing the Tomato Seed

Store your saved tomato seed in a cool dry place until you are ready to plant it.

You can see how I store my seed in this article: How I Organize My Seed Stash

My Other Articles on Growing Tomatoes:

See my article here about How to Plant Tomato Seed.

Or, see my article her about How to Plant Tomato Seedlings.

Before planting your tomato seedlings out, do not forget to Harden Off Your Seedlings!

See how to get Free Tomato Plants from Cuttings

If you need a good tomato support system, see how we do it: DIY Tomato Support System

Learn How and Why You should Prune Tomato Plants

Learn all about The Benefits of Freezing Your Tomato Harvest

And lastly, see How I Make Money Selling Tomato and Pepper Plants

I hope this was helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions on saving your own tomato seeds!

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tomato quarters and tomato seed in a colander with text overlay Tips for Saving Your Own Tomato Seed

 

 

 

 

 

 

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