Most gardeners are content to purchase seeds or plants, grow them, and then reap the harvest. An intrepid few prefer to keep the full cycle of nature going and will also save seeds from their plants in order to keep the line going the next year. Tomato gardeners are the most common seed savers of this group.
Why? Because once you’ve found the right variety or even created your own that is particularly well-suited to your area and methods, you don’t want to lose it. So you keep the seeds germinating year after year.
Which Tomato Seeds to Save
Most commercial and many non-commercial hybrid varieties are not likely to breed true from generation to generation. Most hybrid producers are combining the same two base stocks year after year to create the seeds or are breeding specific seed plants that are not meant for or sold to the general public. Likewise, most hybrid varieties are bred to have fewer seeds per tomato, making it less economical to save the seeds from them.
Nearly all heirlooms and commercial non-hybrid varieties are great for seed saving, however. Because they are more stable and have a longer history of stability, heirlooms are usually the type of choice for seed savers.
Pollination is not an issue since all varieties of tomato are self-pollinating, though some hybrids are sterile and cannot pollinate or be pollinated at all.
Process of Saving Tomato Seeds
The process can be very simple or complicated, depending on your preferred method and how long you’d like the seeds to last. Whatever the method, the beginning steps are basically the same.
Start by cutting the ripe tomato into halves or quarters and pulling out the pulp or squeezing to remove the seeds and pulp. Leave the seeds in their juice for two or three days to ferment. This mimics the process in nature where the fruit rots around the seed, triggering the seed’s dormancy.
Separate the seeds from the pulp by carefully pouring off the liquids. Filter them through a rag, cheese cloth, or a fine mesh screen. Hand pick any pulp chunks. Then spread the seeds onto a dry cloth or paper towel. Let them dry, turning and/or replacing the cloth/towel at least once. They should be dry in a day or two at room temperature.
Place the seeds into bags or pouches and in a cool, dry, mostly-dark place free of insects and pests. Make sure to label the container with the variety and year stored. They should be good for 2-5 years if kept free of moisture and will germinate at a good rate (70% or better) in most cases.
Another method is similar to the above, except by placing the dried seeds into a jar or sealed container and freezing. This makes them last longer and is believed to improve germination rates.
Saving seeds is a completion of the full circle of natural gardening and is a great way to ensure that you have excellent produce from your garden year after year. If your favorite tomato variety is doing well in your garden, why not save the seeds so that you can have the same great tomatoes every year?