Tomato seed saving is both rewarding and cost effective. It will help connect you with your plants in a way that doesn’t happen if you buy seeds year after year.
If you are already gardening organically, then seed saving is the next logical step. Why waste those lovely open pollinated and heirloom tomatoes by just eating them!
Each tomato contains enough seeds to give you another crop next year.
- Read More: How to Save Seeds Guide
In this article, I cover how to successfully collect, save and store tomato seeds that will provide you with fresh, ripe tomatoes every year.
Overview of Saving Tomato Seeds
Tomato seeds are pretty easy to save, but not the easiest. The seeds will need a bit of work to make them suitable for storage, so if you’re starting out, you may want to opt for something more simple.
You can just let the tomatoes drop and the seeds inside will sprout when the weather is warm enough. The fruit that’s fallen will naturally dissolve once the fruit has dried.
However, you can start your tomatoes earlier if you collect and store the seeds. Extending the growing season is always preferable in more temperate climes.
Tomatoes are self pollinating, which means you can still get tomatoes and seeds from just one plant.
It also means that you can grow different tomato varieties in a relatively small space with little or no chance of cross-pollination. Because of this, tomatoes are great for seed saving, although you will need to do a little preparation.
How To Save Tomato Seeds
Step 1 – Choose the Tomato for Their Seeds
Wait for your tomatoes to turn red and you can then start choosing tomatoes you want to save seeds from in your garden.
Choose a ripe tomato that you like for its shape, size, and flavor. Then you can start collecting the seeds from those to try to grow similar tomatoes.
You can do this either by picking a few tomatoes just for seeds or by collecting a few seeds every time you cut a tomato to eat.
Step 2 – Soak the Tomato Seeds
You will notice that the seeds are covered in a gelatinous membrane. This will protect the seeds if the tomatoes naturally drop, but you will need to remove this and dry the seeds to store them successfully.
To do this you must soak the seeds for about a week.
Simply put the seeds in a jar with water, about a 3:1 ratio of water to seeds.
Cover the jar with cling wrap and leave in a sunny spot. After a while, mold will start to form on top of the water.
Step 3 – Check to See if the Tomato Seeds Are Ready to Dry
The layer of mold from the fermentation process is the smelly bit. Once the mold has formed take off the cling wrap and remove the mold to check the seeds.
If the seeds all sink to the bottom, then they are ready to be dried.
If they are still floating around then add a bit more water and cover again for a few more days. The water can get pretty smelly, but this is completely normal.
Another step you may want to take is to treat the seed with a bleach solution to prevent the spread of seed-borne disease.
Create a 10% solution with a 9:1 ratio of water to bleach. Soak the seeds for 30 minutes. Then strain and continually rinse the seeds under cool water for at least 5 minutes to remove the bleach solution and residual chlorine.
Step 4 – Dry the Tomato Seeds
Once all the seeds have sunk to the bottom, the drying process can begin.
Gently empty the water out of the container, taking care not to tip out any seeds. Bad seeds will still float, so you can pour off any seeds that are not at the bottom of the jar.
Tip the seeds and remaining water on to a strainer or window screen to dry. Drain off the excess water carefully and leave in a sunny, warm spot until the seeds are completely dry.
A paper plate, paper towel, or coffee filter can also work, but be aware the first two may stick to the seeds. You’ll just need to be careful with removing the seeds after drying.
Step 5 – Store the Tomato Seeds
When your seeds are dry, it’s time to store the clean seeds. Put your seeds into an envelope or paper bag, and label as needed. I like to put the tomato variety and the current year on my seed bags.
You can use plastic baggies or an airtight container if you like, but make sure your seeds are completely dry when storing. If there is any moisture, condensation will form inside the bag. Then take the seeds out and dry them for longer.
When choosing a location for where to store the seeds, pick an area that doesn’t have drastic changes in temperatures.
Seeds like cool and dry conditions with a consistent temperature. It’s best to store them inside your house and away from any heat sources.
How Long Will My Tomato Seeds Last?
Properly stored, the shelf life of tomato seeds can be up to 8 years. So you can viably build up a store of seeds and you won’t have to save seeds every year.
However, I would warn against storing seeds and not growing them. Growing and saving year after year helps you refine the process and teaches you a lot about growing successfully.
Practical experience in growing your seeds helps you to become a better gardener. Storing seeds in case you might need them one day isn’t much use in the long run.
Can I Save and Grow Hybrid Tomato Seeds?
This is a tricky subject, to which the answer is both yes and no. It is more risky saving seeds from hybrid tomatoes, but it is not impossible to grow from them.
Some people have found that seeds from hybrids won’t germinate at all, while others have been able to grow successfully from them. It probably depends on the type of hybrid. Most seeds available to buy will be F1 hybrids, unless otherwise stated.
If you’ve purchased an organic tomato from the store you may be able to successfully grow tomatoes from the seeds. However, chances are that the tomatoes you grow will not be like the one you brought from the store. This is because it will probably still be a hybrid tomato.
F1 hybrids are a combination of two different genetic lines that have been selectively bred and then manually cross pollinated. You may find the tomatoes you grow are different from plant to plant, or you may find they have not kept the desired traits.
The issue with growing from hybrids is that you don’t know what you will get until the plant fruits. The subsequent seeds from these plants may even be more inconsistent and continue to change through the generations.
If you have the room and you’re growing for the pleasure of it, then by all means experiment with hybrid seeds.
However, if you want a more consistent crop that won’t degrade over the years, then stick to open pollinated and heirloom tomato varieties.
- Read More: How to Grow Open Pollinated Tomatoes
Final Thoughts on Tomato Seed Saving
Seeds saving is a great way to save money, as well as get tomatoes that will consistently do well in your climate. By saving the seeds from the plants that thrive, you will ensure that the strongest and most productive genes are passed on.
The longer you save and replant the seeds, the stronger and more prolific your subsequent plants will be.
For more guides on how to save seeds: