If you’re wondering how to save tomato seeds, then chances are you’ve fallen in love with growing tomatoes. And when you save seeds from your favorite tomato plants, you don’t have to worry about buying seeds next year.
There are other benefits to saving tomato seeds like:
- being able to save seed from the healthiest, most vigorous plants and earliest ripening fruit
- knowing your seeds are free of disease and chemicals
- curating a collection of seeds from your favorite varieties
How to save tomato seeds
I used to think that the process for saving tomato seeds was complicated, but it’s actually a lot easier than I thought. And don’t worry. If you don’t want to go through the process of fermenting, I’m going to show you a quick and simple trick that skips that whole step.
3 ways to save tomato seeds.
First I’ll talk about fermenting the seeds because that’s the ideal method.
Fermenting is the preferred method for saving tomato seeds.
The fermenting process removes substances within the tomato gel that inhibit germination and can decrease the chances of passing on any bacterial or fungal disease to the next generation.
It takes about a week, but going through the steps to ferment tomato seeds, makes sure you’re saving the healthiest, highest quality tomato seeds.
Benefits of fermenting tomato seeds:
- higher germination rates
- last longer in storage
- cleaner and prettier seeds
How to save tomato seeds by fermenting
Step 1: Remove the seeds from your tomato
Slice the tomato along the bottom to expose the seed cavities.
Squeeze the seeds into a cup. Any cup will do. You can mix tomato seeds out of fruit from the same variety, but use a different cup for each different type of tomato.
Plastic cups are convenient because you can write the variety name right on them, and they can be washed and reused.
Step 2: Let the seeds ferment
If the tomato wasn’t particularly juicy, add a little water to the seeds and juice in the cup. You need just enough liquid to cover the seeds and meat in the cup.
Cover them with a towel, and set them where you can keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out.
Let them ferment for 3 to 7 days. They may get a little mold growing on the top. That’s okay.
Step 3: Rinse and let dry
When they’re done fermenting, rinse the tomato seeds by adding more water and stirring. Then carefully pour off the mold and excess water. Repeat until the water is clear and the seeds are free of debris.
When they’re clean, lay them out to dry on a paper towel. Give them a full week to dry out before you store them to prevent mold growth during storage.
Gather the seeds into a labeled envelope and keep them in a cool dry place.
How to save tomato seeds without fermenting
Saving tomato seeds without fermenting is absolutely doable, and if you’re short on time this is the way to go. All you have to do is slice open your tomato and squeeze out the seeds while you smear them across a paper towel.
Let them dry on the paper towel for a week or so. Once they’re completely dry, you can simply fold up the paper towel and place it in a bag or envelope.
The only negatives we have observed about saving seeds this way is that sometimes the seeds are slow to germinate, and if you leave any bits of paper towel on when you germinate them you can get some mold growth.
The third way to save tomato seeds
Just leave a few tomatoes to rot in your garden, and the fermentation process will occur naturally outdoors. You totally skip the step of harvesting tomato seeds, but in the spring, you’ll still have some tomato plants sprouting.
You won’t have control over when they come up or be able to plant them deep for good root structure. And there’s always a chance they’ll pop up too early and get killed by frost.
So it’s not the best way of preserving tomato seeds for planting. And I don’t recommend relying on this method of saving tomato seeds, but it does work.
We had a cherry tomato plant pop up in a crack in the concrete next to our porch. We used the porch railings to tie it up all summer and it made for convenient snacking. 🙂
Issues with fermenting tomato seeds
Since the seeds need to ferment for about a week, they will start to grow some mold and may even get a little smelly. And if you’re saving seed from a lot of tomatoes, they can take up a lot of space.
If it starts to bother you and it’s been more than 3 days, just go ahead and process them.
The worst thing, honestly, is if your tomatoes start to attract flies. Tiny fruit flies will go nutty for fermenting tomato seeds, and they can be really annoying if they get inside your house.
Make a homemade trap by mixing some raw ACV with a drop of dish soap and a drop of syrup in a little jar or cup and set it next to your fermenting tomato seeds. It helps trap any little flies that might come around.
These ready-made fly traps also work really well when placed among the cups of fermenting seeds. It lasts a long time, and the package comes with 6 refillable traps.
How many tomatoes should you save for seed?
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 usually only needs to save seed from one tomato of each variety.
However, you can save as many as you want and share your bounty with good friends!
Storing tomato seeds
Tomato seeds will store for several years if kept dry and cool.
Once they’re completely dry, you can save them in paper envelopes, plastic baggies, empty prescription bottles, or small jars. Store them in their container in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place.
You can expect them to germinate pretty well the first 3 years after they’re saved. After that, the germination rate will start to decline, but they’re still worth a trying to grow even up to 8 years in storage.
Here’s a pretty cool thread on Tomatoville about starting tomato seeds that are over 40 years old!
Will you be saving tomato seeds this year?
When you’re ready to plant your tomato seeds, make sure you read our guide to starting tomato seeds indoors.