Before I met hubz, saving tomato seeds is something that I would never have done. The summer after we met, I would come to his house, and he would have tables covered with jars of moldy tomato seeds.
After witnessing that, I always thought there were too many messy, stinky steps involved in saving tomato seeds, and even though he taught me how to do it, I was happy to leave the chore to him.
But this year, we are working really hard on our tomato breeding and need to save seed from as many as 30 varieties of tomatoes. Since we both have day jobs, I had to pitch in to make it happen this year.
Then once I did it I realized it was no big deal. It’s really just three easy steps.
Three Steps to Save Tomato Seeds
- Collect the seeds
- Slice the tomato along the bottom to expose the seed cavities.
- Squeeze the seeds into a cup. Any cup will do.
- We use plastic cups so we can write the variety name on the container, and they can be washed and reused.
- Ferment the seeds
- Add a little water to the seeds and juice in the cup. Not a lot, just enough to cover the seeds and meat in the cup.
- Set them somewhere you can keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out, and let them get moldy.
- Let them ferment for about a week.
- Dry the seeds
- First, rinse them by adding more water and carefully pouring off the mold and excess water.
- Lay them out to dry on a paper towel. They’ll need another week to dry out.
- Gather the seeds into a labeled envelope
Saving tomato seeds is messy
It can be messy. I have been known to spend several minutes digging every tiny seed out each individual seed cavity with a tiny spoon from my daughter’s tea set. That’s a really messy way to do it, but it satisfies my need to not waste any seeds.
It’s much easier to just squeeze them, but tiny spoons also work. Watch hubz squeeze nearly every seed out of a tomato without making a mess in this quick video tutorial.
Saving tomato seeds is stinky
The seeds do need to ferment for about a week. During that time, they will grow mold and probably get a little funky. It’s not enough to really bother me, personally, but I can see it being gross for some. It’s only a week, y’all.
The worst thing, honestly, is if your tomatoes start to attract flies. Those tiny flies will go nutty for moldy tomatoes.
I mix apple cider vinegar and a drop of dish soap in a little jar to set next to my tomato seeds. It helps trap any little flies that might come around.
Eww. Just look at these moldy tomato seeds.
Rinsing and Drying tomato seeds
To rinse the seeds add fresh water to the fermented seed mixture and carefully pour off the mold. Just like it says on your shampoo bottle, rinse and repeat until the water is clear and without debris.
Then pour off as much water as you can. A mesh strainer will work to catch seeds if needed.
It is really important to make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing. Any moisture can cause mold to grow and ruin the tomato seeds.
Spread the seeds out onto a paper towel, and don’t forget to write the variety of tomato on the paper towel. They’ll completely dry out within a week. If the seeds are stuck to the paper towel, no big deal. Just roll it up with the seeds and store it all in a paper envelope.
You won’t have to peel stuck seeds off the paper towel. It’s okay to plant little bits of paper with the seeds in the spring.
How many tomato sandwiches have to be sacrificed to save enough tomato seeds?
The number of seeds per tomato varies a lot depending on the variety. But it’s a good guess that you can get at least 20 seeds from one tomato. So a home gardener only needs to save seed from one tomato of each variety.
How long will they store?
Tomato seeds will store for several years if kept dry and cool.
That doesn’t seem too hard, does it? So do you think you can handle these three easy steps and save your own tomato seeds this year?
Ready to plant your tomato seeds? Read our step by step guide to seed starting.