Saving Tomato Seeds

There used to be a community garden behind our church building. One of the men of the church, an avid gardener, planted it and took care of it with the purpose of providing fresh vegetables to the congregation and community. People who stopped by for benevolence might receive fresh tomatoes or squash along with some shelf-stable pantry items. Church members knew to look for garden produce to be laid out on a certain table in the foyer; first come, first served.

Our beloved gardener was ill this spring and was unable to plant the church garden, but we still have church tomatoes. A cherry tomato plant came up volunteer behind our facility. The staff members were able to pick a few tomatoes and my husband brought home a handful. We enjoyed most of them, but there were a couple that were smashed a bit in transit, so I decided to try to save the seeds.

Saving heirloom tomato seeds is a great way to have a perpetual source of fresh produce.

Saving heirloom tomato seeds is a great way to have a perpetual source of fresh produce.

I’ve been saving tomato seeds for about three years now. I purposefully purchased heirloom seeds that would reproduce true to type. If you’ve read my other gardening posts or my comments and questions on social media or other blogs then you may know I’ve had a couple of rough years tomato-wise. This year bodes much better. We’ve picked our first few tomatoes and have lots of green ones still waiting to ripen.

It's so satisfying to harvest tomatoes you've grown from seed.

It’s so satisfying to harvest tomatoes you’ve grown from seed.

Due to my recent tomato woes I buckled and purchased some hybrid seeds this year in addition to starting the heirloom varieties I’d saved. The tomatoes in the picture are Burpee’s Early Girl. I also planted Burpee’s Better Boy and my own heirloom yellow tomatoes (variety unknown).

If you have heirloom tomatoes and would like to try to save tomato seeds, it’s fairly simple. Before you eat your tomato, remove the pulpy part with the seeds and put it in a bowl. Then do your best to remove as much pulp as you can from the bowl while saving the tomato seeds.

Add water to the bowl to cover the tomato seeds and remaining pulp. I’m not exactly sure of the science, but apparently there is a coating on the seeds that keeps them from sprouting in the damp guts of the tomato itself, and that coating must be soaked off before the seeds will sprout. What I do know is that the seeds need to soak, undisturbed, for a few days. The water should start to get pretty gross. I usually give it four days or so.

Be sure to label your tomato seed packet with the date and the variety of tomato seed.

Be sure to label your tomato seed packet with the date and the variety of tomato seed.

Once you’re totally grossed out by the contents of the bowl, rinse the tomato seeds in a fine mesh strainer to remove the remaining pulp and yuckiness. Spread the seeds on a plate to dry. Make sure the tomato seeds are completely dry, not at all pliable, before you put them in labeled seed packets or small envelopes.

Store the seeds in a cool, dry place until it’s time to start your seedlings for spring planting. Heat and humidity are the enemies of seeds! Start seeds saved from several different tomatoes and start more seedlings than you think you’ll need to give yourself room for a few not to germinate.

Be aware that heirloom tomatoes can cross-pollinate, so if you’re planting several varieties of heirloom tomatoes you need to keep them separate. (That’s more than I can cover in this post, but it’s worth additional study.) You should also be aware that hybrid tomatoes won’t reproduce true to type, so you don’t want to try to save those seeds.

You’ll want to attempt this process with several tomatoes to increase your chances of success. And when you’re choosing a tomato from which to save seeds, choose the one with characteristics you want to reproduce. In other words, don’t select the puny tomato that didn’t develop well.

This is all anecdotal material, shared in the spirit of chatting with a friend over coffee, not as professional advice (obviously). If you like to save seeds, please share your tips in the comments or provide a link to your post on the subject.

I moderate comments manually but will get them posted as quickly as possible. Please keep your comments kind and if you must disagree please do so without being disagreeable. Rude or inappropriate comments will obviously not be published.

4 responses to “Saving Tomato Seeds

  1. Good info. I started tomatoes from seeds this year for the first time. It has not gone well. I think I’ll try it your way next year.


  2. Pingback: Something to Smile About: Little Victories | A Chat Over Coffee·

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