Growing Tomatoes Tomatoes

When Where and How to Save Tomato Seeds: The Ultimate Guide

A century ago, becoming a gardener was considered a seed saver. Our ancestors didn’t buy seeds from gardening stores or online stores. Instead, they grew plants and saved their seeds. Then they exchanged their saving seeds with friends and neighbors for more crop variation.

If you are a hobby gardener and have a little extra time for creative gardening, you may also try to save your tomato seeds. Saving tomato seeds is more accessible than other crops because they are self-pollinated, and you don’t need to bother about male or female flowers.

But there are some other factors you need to consider before saving tomato seeds.

Benefits of Saving Tomato Seeds

  • Saving tomato seeds means saving money; you don’t need to buy seeds yearly.
  • Moreover, your tomatoes gradually become more adapted to your particular microclimate every year. 
  • It brings you the opportunity to choose the healthiest, most flavorful, most vigorous, and early ripe tomatoes.
  • Ensure you have disease and chemicals free seeds.
  • No need to depend on seed companies.
  • Do gardening as our ancestors did and get the real taste of growing something.

How to Isolate Tomato Plants for Saving Seeds and Avoiding Cross-Pollination

When saving seeds of tomato plants, make sure they are not cross-pollinated and true-to-type. Tomato plants are self-pollinators, so isolate them to prevent cross-pollination. Besides, their pollen can move through wind, bees, insects, and other pollinators.

To get a true-to-type tomato variety, you can do the following things as a home gardener:

  • Plant tomato varieties keep a distance of at least 35 feet from heirloom tomatoes so that their pollen can’t contact each other.
  • Grow each tomato variety in screen cages separately.
  • You can cover with bags a little bunch of buds and flowers of the particular tomato plants until they produce immature fruits.
  • Plant different tomato varieties at different times so that they are flowering a different times and can’t pollinate each other. This method is particularly applicable for open-pollinated determinate tomato varieties.

How to Choose Tomato for Saving Seeds

Pick healthy tomato plants for collecting seeds. In that case, you need to consider the following things before collecting seeds from a tomato.

  • Ensure your tomato field is not affected by diseases.
  • Collect tomatoes from a disease-free healthy tomato plant to save seeds.
  • Ensure your tomatoes are mature enough and ripen properly to collect seeds.
  • Collect seeds from healthy, disease-free, bugs-free, and spotless tomatoes.
  • Make sure that you collect seeds from open-pollinated or heirloom tomato varieties.
  • Ensure the tomato plants are grown organically and do not apply any chemical treatment.
  • Never collect seeds from any hybrid tomato plants.

However, there are some other factors you need to keep in mind when saving tomato seeds, such as tomato growth type and shape.

According to growth type, tomatoes can be divided into two types determinate or indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes grow up to a certain length and produce fruits all at once for a few weeks. They are suitable for:

  • Small spaces garden or containers.
  • Short growing season.
  • When required, large amounts of fruits for specific purposes.
  • More disease resistance capacity.
  • When you grow commercially.

On the other side, indeterminate tomatoes continue growing and producing fruits until the frost kills them. They are suitable for:

  • Large growing season.
  • More flavorful tomatoes.
  • Suitable for your backyards.
  • Getting fresh fruits all through the season.
  • If you are a hobby gardener.

Then again, following to shape, you can find the globe, paste, beefsteak, and cherry tomatoes. Globe tomatoes are usually round in shape and use for common purposes. Beefsteaks are comparatively larger than other tomatoes. Besides, paste tomatoes are mainly used for canning or making sauces. And cherry tomatoes are eaten fresh or used in salads.

How to Save Tomato Seeds Without Fermenting

Tomato seeds are naturally covered with a slimy gel coating, which inhibits smooth germination. This gel coating also helps the seeds stop sprouting inside the mature tomatoes.

Usually, you can cut a tomato in half and squeeze out the tomato seeds onto a paper plate, coffee filter, or paper towel. Spread out the seeds a little bit and let them dry for a couple of weeks.

After fully drying out, put them into a tagged envelope or airtight seed pot and keep them in the dark, cool place. Some gardeners just fold the seed-bearing towel and put it into an envelope for the next season.

However, these unfermented tomato seeds best perform for one growing season. And don’t use them after two growing seasons from the seed-saving date. Besides, the germination rate of the unfermented tomato seeds is lower than the fermented seeds.

Typically, the shelf life of unfermented tomato seeds is not more than two years. So, this method will work best for you if you want to grow and save tomato seeds from one year to the next.

How to Ferment and Save Tomato Seeds

Fermenting tomato seeds is the smartest process that removes the gel coating of the seeds, which increases the germination rate, as well as the seeds last longer when stored. Besides this also sterilize the seeds, which kills the fungus or other germs in the seeds.

You may do the following steps for fermenting and saving tomato seeds:

Step 1Gather the Necessary Tools

Collect all the essential materials you need before start cleaning tomato seeds. Usually, you need a knife, small jars or cups or pots, a marking pen, paper towels or coffee filters, paper plates, teaspoons, hand gloves or hand sanitizer, zip-lock plastic bags, or airtight pots.

Step 2Pick the Tomato

Take some diseases free, fully ripened, clean, and spotless tomatoes. You can even take a bite to confirm the flavor of the fruits you select for collecting seeds.

Step 3Extract Seeds

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the pulp and seeds and put them into a jar. Then fill the jar with water at the same level or a little more of the seeds and pulp.

After that, leave the jar in a warm (temperature in-between 70° to 80° F) dark place for 1 or 2 days for fermentation, depending on the room temperature. But never ferment your tomato seeds longer than three days due to avoid negative effects on seed germination.

A Study on Seed Extraction Methods found that tomato seed germination performs better when they are soaked for 24 to 48 hours before being rinsed and dried.

Cover the jar loosely with the cloth to protect them from flies and other insects that may transmit diseases. Stir them up once a day so that the viable seeds can easily settle down at the bottom of the jar.

If you ferment tomato seeds for more than 2 or 3 days at a high temperature, you may notice some mold appear on top of the water and release a bad smell. When the mold appears, quickly remove the surface layer of the mold.

Usually, this is a natural process and an old method of fermenting tomato seeds. However, I recommend you don’t let the mold begin. It changes the color of the tomato seeds, and extreme mold and a long fermenting process may reduce the germination rate.

Step 4Pour Off

After 2-3 days of fermentation, you will see the healthy tomato seeds settle to the bottom of the jar and no gel coating surrounding the seeds. Due to temperature variation, the fermenting process may extend, at best, one day.

Now you can gently pour off the surface mold if they appear. You should also pour off the floating seeds on the tomato matter because they are not viable.

Try not to shake or bump the jar so that the floating seeds don’t get mixed in with the healthy bottom seeds. Then put the bottom seeds in the liquids into a strainer.

Step 5- Rinse Seeds

Give the seeds in the strainer a rinsing under the faucet and clear off all the unusual substances stuck to the seeds. Wash them until they are fully cleaned.

Step 6- Sterilizing Seeds

After rinsing, soak the cleaned tomato seeds in 10% antibacterial bleach solutions for 30 minutes to kill the germ of any seed-borne diseases that exist.

Then rinse them for seven minutes under cold water and stir them properly to reduce the total residual chlorine level below the National Organic Program (NOP) standard.

You may skip this step if you don’t produce tomato seeds commercially and your garden is not susceptible to some diseases.

Step 7- Dry Seeds

After rinsing them off, just drop them onto a paper towel to moisture off. Then spread out the seeds on coffee filters or paper plates to dry them off for 1 to 3 weeks in a well-ventilated room with proper room temperature.

Avoid direct sunlight during the drying process of the tomato seeds. You must stir and crumble the tomato seeds through your hands once a day to prevent them from clumping together before they completely dry up. 

Don’t forget to sanitize your hands before touching the tomato seeds.

Step 8- Tagging Seeds

Don’t trust your memory. Tag the saving materials in every step of processing and save seeds if you process several tomato seed varieties at a time. Finally, it preserves the dry tomato seeds properly for next year. 

How and Where to Store Tomato Seeds

Once you get the fully dried tomato seeds, then your next mission will be stored properly. There are two major things to be considered when storing or saving your tomato seeds.

1: Condition of the Place Where You Are Storing Seeds

  • A dry, cool, and dark location is the perfect place for storing tomato seeds. 
  • Don’t save your tomato seeds in a moist and hot climate. If so, they will have shorter viability.
  • The de-humidified room is also suitable for saving seeds.
  • You can also store them in a plastic vial in the refrigerator but don’t freeze them. If you store the seeds in the freezer, allow them to thaw and become normal as the outside temperature before opening the container.

2: Storing Materials

Selecting storing materials may depend on the condition of the place where you save tomato seeds. Zip-lock plastic bags, glass jars, airtight pots or snap-lid containers, plastic coin envelopes, plastic vials, paper envelopes, and such things are suitable for saving tomato seeds.

You can use any storing materials for saving seeds when the place is cool, dark, dry, and de-humidified. However, airtight pots or containers and sealed zip-lock plastic bags keep the seeds viable longer than other materials.

Besides, a plastic vial or snap lid container or airtight pot with a pack of silica gel performs better when stored in the refrigerator.

Don’t forget to tag the seeds properly with the name of the tomato seed variety and storing date. If you process, dry, and preserve tomato seeds accurately, they will remain viable for several years (from 5 to 10 years or more, depending on the condition of the place and storing materials). However, the seed germination rate gradually decreases when they become older after three years. 

How to Confirm My Tomato Seeds Are Dried Out Properly?

  • Dry tomato seeds for about three weeks in a place where you get enough air exposure and easily avoid direct sunlight. 
  • Dried seeds will become harder.
  • A fully dried seed makes a crackling sound when you are going to break it in half.
  • If the seeds become bent when you are trying to break them in half must need to dry longer.
  • Tomato seeds can’t bite or smash easily when fully dried out.

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Sources and Citations:

John Michael
John Michael is a self-help writer and a hobby gardener. Michael’s passion in writing is to inspire the beginner gardeners to not just “hang in there” or “make it through” but to thrive. He does this through blogging.

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