Save seeds from your favorite tomatoes with this easy guide.
Homegrown tomatoes are hard to beat when eaten fresh off the plant, but they're also endlessly useful for making sauce, juice, salsa, salads, and so much more. The best tomatoes in your garden this year also can be your key to a delicious harvest next year when you know how to save tomato seeds. Collecting the seeds takes a little know-how and time but it's a simple process you can do with items you've likely already got in your kitchen. Follow our tips for picking out the best tomatoes for seeds, and then follow the 8 steps below for saving tomato seeds for next year.
Seeds from Heirloom vs. Hybrid Tomatoes
Not all tomatoes have seeds that will grow into plants that look (or taste) like their parent. Modern hybrids, such as 'Big Boy' and 'Celebrity,' are created from two unique parent plants. The seeds that a hybrid tomato plant produces will not result in another 'Celebrity' tomato plant, for example. Instead, the seed will likely yield a small, inferior fruit on a rangy plant. Avoid disappointment and don't save seed from hybrid tomatoes.
Heirloom tomato plants, on the other hand, do produce seed that is exactly like the parent plant most of the time. Heirloom tomatoes rarely cross-breed with other tomatoes so they create uniform fruit from generation to generation. If you are unsure if your tomato plant is an heirloom or a hybrid, do a quick online search of the variety name.
How to Save Tomato Seeds
An individual tomato often has 100 or more seeds. Time spent saving seeds from your favorite fruit will yield enough seed for you and some for your neighbors too. Save seeds properly, following this simple step-by-step plan, and you can expect your collected seeds to produce robust tomato plants for several years after the seeds are initially harvested.
Tomato seed saving involves fermentation. The fermentation process prepares tomato seeds for storage by producing antibiotics that help control seed-borne diseases. Fermentation also promotes a protective seed coat that will prevent the seeds from germinating until they are planted. Don't skip the fermenting step because it's a vital part of saving tomato seeds.
Step 1: Choose a Perfect Tomato
The best fruit will yield the best seeds. Allow tomatoes to fully ripen on the vine and select a fruit that is large, unblemished, and has a pleasing shape and color.
Step 2: Wash and Cut
Good hygiene will go a long way toward a giving you the best tomato seeds. Thoroughly wash the tomato and allow it to air dry. Cut the fruit in half along the center.
Step 3: Remove the Seeds
Using a small spoon or your fingers, gently scoop the seeds out of the tomato cavities into a small jar. The seeds will be coated with a jelly-like material. Pulp and liquid will likely end up in the jar too. The seed-pulp mixture is perfect for fermentation.
Step 4: Cover the Jar and Ferment
Cover the jar of seed-pulp mixture with a paper towel or coffee filter secured with a rubber band. If you are saving more than one variety of tomato seeds, label the jar. Leave the jar in a warm location, ideally between 60 and 70℉ for three days.
Step 5: Stir Mixture Once a Day
Gently stir the mixture once a day to begin dislodging the jelly-like material from around the tomato seeds. Don't be surprised if a white fungus begins to appear on top of the mixture after a couple of days. This helpful fungus will consume the jelly, preparing the seeds for storage.
Step 6: Separate the Seeds From the Pulp
After three days, fill the jar with warm water and allow the seeds to settle to the bottom of the jar. Gently pour out the water along with tomato pulp and any seeds that float. The viable seeds are heavy and will sink to the bottom of the jar. Repeat the process of filling the jar with warm water, allowing seeds to settle, and pouring out the water and debris until the discarded water is nearly clear.
Step 7: Dry Seeds
Pour seeds into a strainer, allowing excess water to drip out. Then, spread the seeds on a paper plate or newspaper. Allow seeds to dry at room temperature in a well-ventilated place for several days. Stir the seeds daily with your fingers to separate them and promote even drying.
Step 8: Store in a Cool, Dry Place
Place dry seeds in a labeled container or bag. The best storage place in cool, dry, and dark. A cabinet is ideal. Seeds don't need to be refrigerated.