Friday, February 13, 2009

Saving Tomato Seeds

After posting that I was saving some tomato seeds I had a few comments saying I should do more posts on seed saving. After the suggestions I snapped a few photos of the process to share with everyone.

First of all tomatoes are self pollinating so you will most likely end up with a very similar tomato as the one you collected the seed from. The exception to this rule is potato leafed tomatoes which will cross pollinate with each other and should be separated if you want to collect the seed. Hybrid tomatoes will also not come true unless they are a stable hybrid. With that said, tomatoes do require a pollinator to vibrate the flower, this is called Sonication. This is most often done by bumble bees or solitary bees as honey bees are not very attracted to tomato flowers. The vibration from the wind or a gardener is also said to aid in the pollination. Now for the seed saving:

To save tomato seeds you need to ferment
the seed. This is done to remove the seed
gel that is problematic to remove and
inhibits germination.

Save seed from the best looking fruit,
you should save seed from a few
fruit and if possible
from more then one

Start by slicing the tomato through the
center and squeeze/scoop the seeds into a bowl.

Once all the seed has been scooped into the bowl
add a little bit of water and cover with plastic wrap
or something similar to bump up the humidity. Add
a few hole for air.

In 3-7 days you should notice that the fluid has
turned cloudy, this is an indication that fermentation
has occurred and it is time to clean & dry the seed.
Don't be alarmed if mold is growing on the surface.

Pour the fermented seed into a strainer and then
rinse well with clean water. Any seed gel left at
this point should easily wash away.

With the seeds all cleaned it is time to dry them.
I use a few layers of coffee filters, you can also
use paper plates. Paper towel should be avoided
as the seed will stick to it. Leave them in a dry spot,
out of direct sunlight until they are fully dry.

Once they are dried transfer them to a labeled
envelope and store them. This is now a great
opportunity to trade your excess seed with other


  1. Good post and pictures. I have never saved tomato seeds. Last summer Zach from the Organic gardener posted on this very subject and I found it quite interesting-but too much work for this non-seed type gardener.

  2. Very good post, Dan! I'll have to refer back to it later. Thanks!


  3. Dan, keep your fingers crossed that some, if not all, of the varieties I'm trying actually grow and produce this year. So far I've only planted four seeds (Tumbling Tom) but I have 100% germination! I'm anxious to get home where I can start the other varieties. I'm looking forward to saving the tomato seeds.


  4. Dan, you should pitch a gardening book! These instructions and photos are very clear. I'm not one for saving vegetable seeds, but maybe this summer with your help I might try.

  5. Dan, Very informative post and the photo's are really very good. I follow the same process as you described with just a few minor differences. I have discovered even after three years, I get a very high rate of germination. I store mine in small baby food jars in a cool dark place. Good post.

  6. Great post Dan on saving tomato seeds! I love frementing tomato seeds... and it's so cool when you plant them and they grow. It's a sense of achievement for me :-)

  7. Tina - non-seed type gardener? You should jump on the band wagon :-)

    EG - Glade I could help

    Granny - Wow, 100% germination is as good as it get. I am sure everything will flourish for you this year. I am also going to try and save lots of seed this year so I have less to order next season.

    Sally - You should try, I am fairly new to seed saving and it seems pretty easy to do. Best of all the seed is free.

    Koyote Hill - good idea, I need to set up a seed storing system, maybe I will use glass too.

    Judy - It is exciting when you save & germinate your own seed. This will be the second time I have saved tomato seed. The first was the yellow pear cherry tomato. I scooped a couple fruit for a municipal display gardener and saved the seed. Now that's urban gardening! I wish I had saved them again after growing them.

  8. Great post Dan. Looks useful.

    Not sure i'll get to the seed saving this time around, am still getting used to growing from seeds (baby steps over at the balcony garden)

    Still maybe just maybe i'll give it a go - at least you provided idiot proof pictures


  9. I did not realize the process of drying seeds! Great info Dan and hopefully, some of those seeds will turn into purple tomatoes in my garden... Again, thanks! :-)

  10. Dan, that was much better a description than the last several I've seen. Frankly I'm glad you did yours without using Ajax or Commet. There's just something wrong about putting poison on tomato seeds that you want to eat what they produce... Great pics too. Very well done. I too will bookmark this post for six or eight months from now.

    Grrr, now you went and made me have to go check to see if any tomatoes I'm planting are potato leaf. I read that term someplace but it didn't mean anything to me. If one of mine is that way, I'm up a creak because I'm planting 2 different varieties per SWC. I was going to cover one tomato with a mesh bag to help get a non-cross strain. Not sure if it's right or not, I read it somewhere.

    Lastly, I don't think I saw a bee near my tomatoes last year. My plants were 100% shaken, not stired to pollinate... hehe. Every chance I got I would shake the cages. Smelled good too.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. prue - You should try to save some seed, just think of the rewards from growing your own tomatoes from seed you have grown.

    Skeeter - Tomatoes are a little more tricky to save seed from then most plants. I can see your purple tomatoes growing already, they are going to do great!

    Sinfonian - haha, shaken not stirred. I remember reading about your tomato shaking last summer. The potato leaf tomatoes have wide leaves without alot of segments unlike your average tomato that has thin segmented leaves.

    If you have any you could just put a paper bag over a few blossom clusters before they open and then remove the bag once the fruit starts to develop. The only thing I am not sure of is if the potato leaf ones will cross pollinate with regular leafed ones or how far away they need to be from the others to avoid this. I will have to look into it as I have a few potato leaf varieties.

  12. Good Job Dan....I guess it was a good thing I did not dump them over...LOL>>>>>

  13. This is a great guide. I always just put them in a foil pan and scraped them off, but I can't argue with better germination.

  14. juniperberry - your welcome, thanks for stopping by

    hendria - thanks for not dumping them!

    red - I have heard that fermenting kills any pathogens on the seed so that is why I use the method. I am not sure if it has any merit though.

  15. Dan, I am so excited! Of the 4 seeds I planted inside, I have 2 baby tomato sprouts today! I took those two pots out of the covered container to breath a bit. Hopefully, the other two will pop up for me....

  16. Wonderful Post, I have never done my seeds this way. i am not sure if I would be very good at this, It is very similar to what I do excpet a few extra steps. I will definatly have to give this a try.

    Here is the link to a post I had on saving tomatoe seeds.

  17. Skeeter - Now that is exciting, I hope I don't start a seed starting addiction :-). When ever I send someone seed there is always the thought that they may not grow so good to hear they are.

    Organic Gardener - The benefit of fermenting tomato seeds is that it removes all the seed gel. If all the seed gel is not removed it can cause fungal/disease problems in storage and in germination. Although most of the time skipping the fermenting may not cause any problems it does raise the risk of losing your seed.

  18. I like how you have the steps clearly explained, and your envelope looks good too, lol!

    Great post!

  19. Parsec - the envelopes are coin envelopes, you can find them at any office supply place if you are interested.

  20. hi

    great and informative post Dan! i didn't save tomato seeds. I want to planted Italian Tomatoes seeds can any one suggest me how can i do this or the process for these tomatoes will be same, thx in advance and great work Dan for great post..

  21. Do tomatoes cross-pollinate with each other? I have half a million different toms and only about a dozen of each are the same.
    I will use your info to save the seeds this year, but it will be *really* interesting to see what comes up next year...

  22. kiwinewt - Most tomatoes will not cross, they are self pollinating. The only ones that need isolation for seed saving is potato leaved tomatoes.

  23. This is an awesome seed saving method! Thanks for the tip Dan!

  24. This is the way I save tomato seed also. It is my understanding that there are some heirlooms that don't self pollinate until after the blossom is open and have the potential of cross pollinating.

    Have you every used a small tulle fabric bag as soon as the bud emerges to prevent this?

    Am enjoying your blog. We seem to have the same interest.