What’s better than tasting the perfect tomato? Saving seeds from that tomato plant to replicate next year! Learning how to save tomato seeds allows you to grow organic, healthy fruits that you started in your own garden. It’s a rewarding process that lets you call the shots on how your tomatoes are grown.
Keep reading to learn more about how to save tomato seeds and store them properly!
Why Save Tomato Seeds?
If you love growing tomatoes, learning how to save tomato seeds is a cost-efficient way to garden. Full-size tomatoes contain anywhere from 150 to 300 seeds per fruit, so you could stock your garden for the next season from the seeds of just one tomato. If stored properly, you can save tomato seeds for seasons to come.
You also won’t have to pay several dollars per potted tomato plant at the nursery. That can add up quickly when planning a large garden!
Another great reason to learn how to save tomato seeds is that you can grow tomatoes to your preference. You have the opportunity to be selective with what kind of tomatoes you grow and how you grow them.
If you prefer organic gardening, you don’t have to worry about harmful chemicals in herbicides and pesticides that are used when growing commercial tomatoes.
Getting the Right Tomato
Before I go over how to save tomato seeds, it’s important to know how and when to choose the perfect tomato!
Isolating Different Types
When it comes to the details of how to save tomato seeds, if you have heirloom tomatoes and want to avoid cross-pollination, you can take a few steps to isolate your tomatoes. Tomatoes usually self-pollinate before their flowers are fully open. In the rare case that a bee or other pollinator was to transfer pollen from another tomato plant, you could end up with hybrid tomatoes.
Tie roomy mesh bags around your tomato flowers to prevent pollinators from coming in contact with the blooms. You can gently shake the mesh bags to help the tomato flowers self-pollinate.
Another option is to put different varieties of tomato plants on opposite sides of the garden with competing flowers in between. Tomatoes have a low-nectar count, so bees are usually more drawn to other flowering plants anyway.
When to Pick your Tomato
Take inventory of your tomato plants. You want to look for the largest, healthiest fruit that looks true to type for whatever variety of tomato you have. Avoid choosing tomatoes from any wilting, sick, or diseased plants.
The tomato should be fully-ripened and slightly squishy before you save its seeds. If it’s not edible, it’s not ready! If you choose your tomato before it is fully ripe, tie a flag or marker around the stem to come back to later.
How to Save Tomato Seeds
Now that you’ve chosen your tomato, it’s time to learn how to save tomato seeds!
Fermenting your tomato seeds will remove the germination-inhibiting gel that surrounds the seeds. Removing the gel helps prevent any bacteria and fungus from growing on your seeds. It also helps you determine which seeds will be viable for growing in the coming season. When it comes to how to save tomato seeds, fermenting is the best process for storing tomato seasons for a long period of time.
To ferment tomato seeds, follow these steps:
- First, wash off your tomato to remove any dirt. This will reduce any chances of spreading bacteria.
- Cut the tomato in half. Squeeze all the seeds, gel, and any liquid from inside the tomato into a bowl.
- Pour the contents of the bowl into a quart-sized mason jar. Make sure the seeds are completely covered by juice to help the fermentation process. If there’s not enough juice, add water until the jar is half full.
- Put a paper towel or piece of cheesecloth on the jar, and secure it with a rubber band. (Make sure to label the jar if you’re fermenting more than one type of tomato!)
- Keep the jar in an area that maintains a temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Shake or stir the contents of the jar once a day to help the seeds out of the gel.
- After a few days, you will notice seeds sinking to the bottom and mold forming on the top. This is normal, so you shouldn’t worry! It also means it’s time to remove the seeds.
- Dispose of the mold, then pour the rest of the contents through a fine-mesh strainer to get the seeds out.
- Wash the seeds off, and lay them out to dry on parchment paper or a paper plate. Once they’ve dried completely, you’re ready to store your seeds.
Did you know you can learn how to save tomato seeds without the fermentation process? You can simply dry your seeds out. This method usually gives seeds a shorter shelf-life, but if you plan to use your seeds the following year, this may be for you!
To save tomato seeds through drying out, follow these steps:
- Remove the seeds from your tomato of choice and spread them across a paper towel.
- Let the seeds sit on the paper towel for a week or two.
- When the seeds are completely dry, simply fold the paper towel and place it into a plastic bag or envelope.
- Label what type of seeds are in your envelope, and keep them in a dry place until next year!
Saving in the Soil
This is the third method for how to save tomato seeds. Saving your tomato seeds in the soil is a riskier method, but you can often get good results from it. Just think of how easy things grow in the compost bin.
This method specifically refers to burying tomato seeds in the ground in hopes that they will germinate and sprout next year. This may seem like an unpredictable method, but there are steps you can take to see that your seeds have the best possible chance of growing.
For how to save tomato seeds in the soil, follow these steps:
- Remove the seeds from your chosen tomato, and set them aside in a jar or bowl.
- Dig a hole in your garden about two inches deep. Place the seeds in the hole and re-cover the area with soil.
- Place a marker where you buried your tomato seeds. If you can, label the marker with what variety of tomato seed you buried.
- In spring, remove some of the dirt on top, so the seeds are able to germinate. Now you can wait for tomato sprouts to appear!
Storing Tomato Seeds
Once you’ve fermented and dried your tomato seeds, the next part of how to save tomato seeds is storing them in an airtight container at room temperature in a cool, dry area. Your seeds should keep for anywhere from three to eight years if they were dried and stored properly.
You can also keep your tomato seeds in the refrigerator. If you do this, put a gel silica pack in the container with the seeds to absorb any possible condensation. If the seeds have access to any moisture, they may germinate. Another trick is to wait until the container comes to room temperature before opening it to avoid condensation.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can I save seeds from hybrid tomatoes?
Yes, you can! While you may not have a tomato that’s exactly like its parent plant, it’s fun to see what characteristics a hybrid tomato plant displays. If having heirloom tomatoes isn’t as important to you, try some fruits from different tomato plants to see just what you get!
2. How do I know for sure that my seeds have dried properly?
Completely dried-out seeds will be very hard. You shouldn’t be able to bend, squeeze or dent dried-out seeds. If you were to break the seed, it should snap in half.
3. When is the best time to start my tomato seeds?
To start tomato seeds indoors in the spring, sow them in plastic pots six to eight weeks before your last average frost date. Depending on what size pot or cell container you use, you may need to bump your tomato plants up into a larger pot before planting out.
Two weeks after the last frost, you should be good to move your tomato plants to the garden. Don’t risk setting them out any earlier, as tomatoes are not frost-tolerant.
Before setting them out completely, you can help your tomato plants acclimate to the outdoors. Start at one hour the first day, then slowly leave the plants out longer each day for a week. This technique is called hardening off.
Wrapping Up How to Save Tomato Seeds
Learning how to save tomato seeds can save you time and money in the future. It’s also a great thing to know, so you can replicate your favorite tomatoes in the garden. Whether you choose to ferment, dry out, or bury your seeds, you can contribute quality tomato plants to your garden without ever having to visit the plant nursery.
Excited for more tomato content? Then visit our tomato page for growing tips, comprehensive guides, and tasty recipes!
Getting started on your seed growing journey? Use my seed starting guide to find care guides, helpful tips, product suggestions, and more!