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?
Want to learn more about saving tomato seeds?
Check out these helpful websites:
Saving Tomato Seeds A PDF from Santa Clara County Cooperative Extension.
Saving Non-Hybrid Tomato Seeds from Oregon State University Extension Service
mary mcintosh says
I took a bounty napkin placed it out flat on a table cut the tomatoes up in water and poured the loose seeds on the paper towel .let it dry out. Do you think this will work?
fausto montoya says
I do the exact same thing! It works like just fine! When planting just tear a piece of the paper towel and bury it half an inch deep in moisten soil and place the planter in the partial sun! Replant when plants are about four inches tall! Do this towards the end of the day and give the plants the night to get started!
Thanks for evening hint for planting—- it worked great and they looked great in the morning!!
fausto montoya says
I just squeeze the tomato on a napkin let it dry and cut it into pieces when the time comes to planting them paper and all ! Practical and seed protecting !
this very useful thks
TUNJI BODE says
Very helpful and educative.
Philip H Ryan says
On the subject of saving seeds , like a fairly hardy cherry tom , that overwinters, or an unusual old variety , like heritage seeds sent to me here in Greece , from friends in France , the best way to store and transport them is how my father used to go about it . Get the tom you wish to save the seeds for , then use a sheet of kitchen paper,split it so youjust have the one thickness, or toilet paper,( not the germicide type) , or any tissue paper and just dob the seeds in rows like little soldiers one inch grid .Put the paper somehwere to dry , in the airing cupboard in winter or just on the kitchen window in summer, write the variety on the paper with a biro , fold the paper and store.When it comes to planting time just prepare a tray with a layer of compost , lay the whole sheet of paper over it and sprinkle some compost , just to cover the paper, and the little seedlings, when they germinate ,will go thru’ the paper and be in neat rows for transplanting !
Linda Cahill says
Saving 172 varieties of heirloom tomato seeds as above; can process 10-12 types in an hour. Fruit this year was slightly smaller than usual & I have late blight for the 1st time ever in 38 years. Can this fungus be transmitted through the seed or only through soil and leaf contact?
philip ryan says
The blight or tobacco virus is a devil , here it seems to proliferate in damp conditions , and the locals get round it by using the copper Bordeaux mixture , used on grape vines to stop the fungus .The load an old sock yp with a couple of tablespoons of Bordeaux powder and shake the sock over the leaves before any virus appears, as a preventitive measure …
I have not bought a tomato plant or seed for over 20 years. At the end of the season I take a few grape tomatoes and a few romas and several beef steak and throw them all in a zip lock and put them in the freezer. Spring comes around I get my big buckets out and put a layer of dirt and each type of tomatoes in separate buckets. Whole. No peeling no nothing. Cover with plenty of dirt. A few weeks I have plants to put in my garden. The plants are very strong and tomatoes galore. This year I even did yellow.
Friend Linda says
Hi, I’m Linda and I read the comment on how you kept your tomatoes for another season.I have some questions. 1. How big do the tomatoes have to be? 2. Do you let the tomatoes thaw before putting them in the ground? 3. Do you cut into it as you are putting them in the garden so the stems can come through? Thanks for this comment. I live in Duluth, MN near the Great Lakes and our season is somewhat short. I’m going to try this if you will reply to me the answers. Have a great fall and stay safe from COVID.