Colleen Vanderlinden

DIY: How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds for Annual Growing

by , 08/24/13
filed under: DIY, Gardening, Sustainable Food

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So you’ve grown that perfect heirloom tomato in your garden, or you’ve bought a tomato at the farmer’s market that you absolutely must grow. Why not save tomato seeds from those perfect tomatoes, so you can grow them again next year? It’s a simple process, and you’ll have plenty of seeds for your garden, as well as to share with your gardening friends.


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Image via Shutterstock 

Saving Seeds from the Right Kinds of Tomatoes

Before you try to save tomato seeds, it’s important to know which type of tomato you’re saving seeds from. While knowing the variety is nice, what you really need to know is whether your tomato is open-pollinated or hybrid. Open-pollinated tomatoes will grow true from seed, meaning that the offspring of any seeds you save will be the same as the tomato you saved the seeds from. Hybrid seeds, on the other hand, are bred from many different types of tomatoes, and won’t grow into the same type of tomato you saved the seeds from, but will result in one of the varieties bred into they hybrid.

How can you tell if it’s an open-pollinated variety? If you grew them from transplants or seeds, you can look on the plant tag or seed packet for this information. If you’re interested in a tomato you purchased, and want to save seeds from, you have a bit more guessing ahead of you. Farmers’ markets are usually really good about letting you know what variety you’re buying. Of course, if you’re not sure, you can always try it anyway, and see what happens!

Start Saving

So, you’ve got your tomato, and you’re pretty sure it’s an open-pollinated variety. Once it is perfectly ripe, it’s time to save the seeds.

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STEP 1:

Slice your tomato across the equator (horizontally). This gives you easier access to the seeds than slicing it in half from stem to blossom end would.

STEP 2:

Squeeze the seeds, along with any gel and juice that happen to go with them, into a container. Jars and large cups work well. Something that is tall and narrow works better than something shallow; you need to be able to pour at least a few inches of water over your seeds.

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STEP 3:

Once your seeds are squeezed into the container (one type of tomato per container, obviously; you’ll want to be able to label these later) pour at least three inches of water over them.

STEP 4:

Label the container and cover it loosely. My favorite way to do this is to write the variety on a paper coffee filter, then secure it to the top with a canning jar ring. You can also secure it with a rubberband or some twine. The coffee filter works well because it allows for airflow, is easy to label, and you can use it later for drying your seeds.

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STEP 5:

Set the jar aside. The reason we put the water in the jar is so the seeds can ferment. The seeds are encapsulated in a gel coating. They sit in the jar, and the water helps break down that coating. If you don’t follow this fermentation step, you could end up with seeds that won’t germinate, because the gel coating is what keeps the seeds from germinating in the moist environment inside a tomato.  This step takes around ten days, depending on how warm it is (warm weather makes it faster.)

STEP 6:

Once you start seeing mold on the surface of the water, it’s time to drain and dry your seeds. Use a mesh strainer, and dump the seeds, pulp, and liquid into it. Rinse everything under cool water, until the seeds are clean, and no pulp or gel clings to them.

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Image via Shutterstock 

STEP 7:

Now, it’s time to dry your seeds. They need to be perfectly dry before you store them, so they don’t sprout in storage. Spread them out on some newspaper, a paper plate, or the coffee filter you used as a lid for the fermentation step. This drying stage also takes a few days, based on how humid it is. Be sure to label your seeds, especially if you are saving a few different varieties.

STEP 8:

Once the seeds are perfectly dry, store them in a small paper envelope or other small container, in a cool, dry place. I like to store my seeds in the refrigerator. They will keep for at least five to seven years if stored properly.

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Image via Shutterstock

So, now that you know how to save seeds, you will be able to grow and enjoy those perfect tomatoes, year after year!

Images © Colleen Vanderlinden unless otherwise noted

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