How to save tomato seeds

Did you grow great tomatoes this year? Find an extra-tasty variety at the farmer’s market? Learn to save tomato seeds for next year’s garden.

Seeds are miraculous things. Inside a tiny and unassuming package, they contain the genetic material and energy stores needed to create new life. Seeds are patient. They know how to wait until the conditions are just right for growth.

Sometimes I look at my garden and marvel at how almost every plant was once a seed I held in the palm of my hand. It amazes me that we can feed people with such simple tools.

While seeds are easy to buy from a garden supply store or catalogue, one of the most exciting ways to take more ownership of our food sources is to save our own. With some crops, seed-saving is challenging. For others, like tomatoes, it’s easy and fun.

The hot weather we’ve had for most of the summer has meant an extra-bountiful tomato crop in our garden. This time of year, when the tomatoes are at their peak production, is a perfect moment to save seeds.

Heirloom tomatoes, unlike some other fruits, tend to “breed true”. This means that if you take the seeds out of a yellow cherry tomato, those teeds will turn into plants that produce more yellow cherry tomatoes. For the best results, you’ll want to stick with heirloom tomato varieties: seeds that have been saved and passed down for generations using the techniques below.

Did you grow great tomatoes this year? Find an extra-tasty variety at the farmer’s market? Learn to save tomato seeds for next year’s garden.
Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds.

Tomato seeds, like sauerkraut and yogurt, are a fermented product. The seeds of a fresh tomato are coated with a gel that inhibits growth. To remove the gel and allow the seeds to grow, we need to unlock the tomato’s power of decomposition. It’s going to get stinky.

HOW TO SAVE TOMATO SEEDS

You’ll need:

  • Tasty, very ripe heirloom tomatoes from your garden or a farmer’s market.
  • A knife and small spoon
  • Small cups or jars
  • Masking tape and a pen
  • A fine-mesh sieve
  • Clean, dry cloths
  • Non-chlorinated water

How to do it:

First, make sure that you have selected tomatoes that you really like. The tastiest tomatoes you can find. If the tomato looks really cool but doesn’t have awesome flavour, don’t use it.

If you don’t know whether or not the tomato is an heirloom, ask your farmer’s market vendor, or just take a chance. Remember that it’s an experiment. A science experiment!

Cut the tomato into quarters and use a spoon to scoop the seeds and surrounding goo out. Place these into a jar. Label the jar with masking tape, including the variety and date. If you don’t know the variety, use a descriptive name like “sweet orange grape tomato.”

Eat the rest of the tomato.

Add a spoonful or two of non-chlorinated water to the jar, just enough to make things juicy. We want to avoid chlorine because it could inhibit the growth or our bacteria and mold friends. Keep in mind that you won’t need many seeds, unless you’re planning to give some away for gifts (which is a great idea). In most cases, one or two tomatoes is plenty.

Leave the jar, un-covered, on your counter for a few days in a spot that’s warm and gets indirect light. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

Wait until the jar is really gross. Super moldy and stinky and covered in fuzz and all kinds of spots.

Now it’s time to rinse the seeds. Dump them into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse with cool tap water until most of the gunk has come off.

Place the seeds on a clean, dry scrap of fabric. Transfer your masking tape label onto the fabric so that you stay nice and organized. If you’re saving multiple tomato varieties, take care not to mix them up.

Leave them in a place with airflow for a few days, until the seeds are nice and dry.

Finally, transfer your seeds to small envelopes. Label them well and store in a cool, dry place until spring.

With these simple techniques, we can take the power of seed saving into our own hands.

Did you grow great tomatoes this year? Find an extra-tasty variety at the farmer’s market? Learn to save tomato seeds for next year’s garden.
Leave the seeds on your counter until they get nice and mouldy.

 

Did you grow great tomatoes this year? Find an extra-tasty variety at the farmer’s market? Learn to save tomato seeds for next year’s garden.
Once the seeds have fermented, rinse them with a mesh sieve and let them dry on pieces of fabric.
Did you grow great tomatoes this year? Find an extra-tasty variety at the farmer’s market? Learn to save tomato seeds for next year’s garden.

2 Responses to How to save tomato seeds

  1. Hi Rebecca! I planted a “mystery heirloom” variety from a local high school’s plant sale earlier this year, and the fruit is absolutely amazing. I must plant them next year. So, I want to follow your tutorial, but I have a problem…fruit flies!!! I am trying to rid my kitchen of them right now, and my guess is that leaving an open container of rotting tomato is not going to help my situation. Any advice?

    • Hi Beth – thanks for bringing that up! Fruit flies can definitely be an issue when saving tomato seeds. They aren’t harmful but are definitely annoying! My solution? Lay a double-layer of cheesecloth on top of the jar. We’re using that strategy for making home-grown wine (more on that later!) and it’s working pretty well. You can also make a non-toxic trap like this one: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-to-make-a-fruit-fly-trap-h-108577

      Let me know how it goes!

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