How To Save Tomato Seeds From Prized Heirlooms

When saving seeds from this year’s harvest for next year’s, you’ll find best results with heirloom tomatoes rather than hybrids (hybrids are typically the ones you purchase in grocery stores and regular greenhouse seedlings). Once you make your initial purchase of heirlooms, you’ll be able to do this year after year. Farmers markets are a great place to find them.

Bull's Heart VarietyHere’s how you do it:

  • Cut tomatoes in half then squeeze out the pulp into a clear glass container (wide mouth mason jar or small bowl for example).
  • Add a couple tablespoons of water (double the amount if there isn’t much juice) then cover jar or container with a piece of cheesecloth (a coffee filter will work well too), secure in place with an elastic band.
  • Leave the container to sit at room temperature for about 4 or 5 days until you notice a layer of white scum/mold form on the top (this process is fermenting).
  • Skim off the white scum then pour into a large bowl, fill with cool water and let sit for a minute or two. Pour off the water, keeping the seeds that are resting on the bottom and allowing the ones floating on top to pour off (the ones floating on top are not viable).
  • Pour the saved batch into a fine sieve or strainer and rinse under cool running water until they are clean and no pulp or gel remains (stir and shake the sieve while doing this to help speed up the process).
  • Tap the sieve a few times to remove excess water then pour them onto a paper plate or coffee filter. Arrange them so that they are in a single layer.
  • Allow to dry for about a week to 10 days, stirring the batch every day gently with your finger to help promote an even drying process.
  • Once they’re fully dry, store them in a glass jar (sealed), envelope or packets and keep in a cool, dark location until ready to use.

A few tips:

  • Don’t mix different varieties…make sure to save only one variety of tomatoes per container (if saving more than one variety, make sure to label the container). Wash all tools and hands well before moving on to the next variety.
  • Select healthy and prized specimens that are really ripe for the best results, this will give you a better chance of preserving quality seeds for next season’s crop.
  • Removing all the gel/coating before drying is necessary because this is what prevents them from germinating.
  • They can last for quite awhile when properly stored and can still produce impressive yields up to 5 years after being first dried.

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    • E

    You mention that it’s important to get the gel off. Is the 4-day soak what does it?

      • TipNut

      Hi E, yes that’s the result of the soaking/fermenting process. You’ll still find a bit of pulp needing to be rinsed away but the gel-coating around the seeds should be dissolved by the time it’s ready to rinse them (after the soaking period).

    • Anna

    Good instructions! I’ve always wanted to try saving seeds from my garden tomatoes and this is the year I’m going to try it.

    • Penny Pincher

    I just soak them for 24 hours and the pulp pours off leaving the seeds in the bottom. They seem to work just fine. If you want to soak them longer you can, but I would recommend pouring off the pulp and putting new water or it will stink.

    • Tracy A

    I’ve always been confused by all this fermentation business. What purpose does it serve?
    I’ve been saving tomato seeds for years by simply squeezing the tomato seeds out of of the fruit and into a fine mesh sieve. I rinse the wordy of the pulp and gel off, then put the seeds on a glass plate to dry.
    When dry, I store.

    The whole process takes about ten minutes rather than days and I have a high germination rate and wonderful, prolific yield on my plants! No mold, no real time, etc. So why should I botherz?,

      • connie k

      Last year I purchased tomato seeds that only grow to the size of a pea. There was only 20 seeds, I used the same method of saving the seeds as you described and this year the plants climbed like ivy and produced thousdands of sweet fruit. It worked very well so I will stick with this and spread the joy (seeds) to family and friends. Thanks for the post.

    • Cyndi

    After this process, how long can you wait before planting?

    • Gayle

    do they have to be red can you do the green ones

      • Jackie

      Gayle, green tomatoes are unripe tomatoes, therefore, the seeds won’t be mature. Save mature seeds from the red, ripe tomatoes.

    • Cyndi

    Thanks a mill. I am fixing to save seed’s this year and had no idea about the gel coating. Was just going to do like my marigolds and other flowers, dry them out.

    • Michaelb

    I’ve been lucky. I rub them in my palm until clean and then place on towel until dry. After dry, keep in an airtight container. Plant next year and enjoy. Why is this procedure necessary?

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