Confession: Until very recently, I’ve never really had any interest in saving seeds from my garden.
A homesteading lifestyle is about being self-sufficient and having independence, so you would think that saving seeds would be a common activity by all of us. The truth is, however, that until recent years when seeds were scarce (aka the 2020 Seed Shortage), it hasn’t really been taken very seriously by many gardeners and homesteaders. Including myself.
I know that I have been guilty of moving seed saving down my priority list over the years. I have always been more than happy to support small seed companies, like my go-to True-Leaf Market. They have a great supply of heirloom seeds and different gardening needs.
However, there are so many different reasons to consider saving seeds from your garden. And I absolutely love how homesteaders and home gardeners are now becoming more aware of how seed supplies can be impacted in our vulnerable modern systems and why seed saving is important. If you are interested in saving seeds, then a great beginner-friendly option is to save tomato seeds.
Some Reasons Why You Should Save Your Tomato Seeds:
- You will always have the seeds you need when you need them (no more worries about seed shortages!)
- Tomato seeds are easy to save for beginners
- Independence & also frugal because you will not need to buy your tomato seeds
- You know the seeds will do well in your area
- Preserves specific traits from your best plants
- Develop a new homesteading skill (find a list of more homesteading skills to learn here)
If you are a first-time gardener or would like to read a little more about growing tomatoes before you jump into seed saving, here are a few helpful articles to take a look at.
- Best Tips for Growing Tomatoes
- Top Reasons For Tomato Leaf Curling
- 4 Ways to Save & Ripen Green Tomatoes
What Type of Tomato Seeds Can You Save?
Open – Pollinated Seeds
When you are looking at what plants you can seed save from, you will want to make sure they are open-pollinated. Open-pollinated plants are pollinated by natural means like the wind, bees, and birds. These plants are identical to their parent plants and will pass on the same traits.
The awesome thing about tomato plants is that they are not only open-pollinated but self-pollinating as well. Tomato plants have complete flowers which means they have both male and female parts. They can pollinate themselves and it makes them a great option for first-time seed savers.
Heirlooms are examples of original-open pollinated plants. These plants have been passing on identical traits for 50 years or more. These seeds have been saved and passed down through generations producing true-to-type vegetables. There are many reasons why you should plant heirlooms, and seed saving is just one.
Hybrid and GMO Seeds
Hybrids have been cross-pollinated by humans and GMOs (genetically modified) have been created in a lab to produce plants with specific traits. These plants will not produce true-to-type vegetables every year, so your seeds will need to be purchased and planted every season.
So when you’re getting ready to do some seed saving from your tomato plants, if you can, double-check your seed packet to make sure that your tomato plant is an heirloom. If it’s not an heirloom plant, you can still try to save the seeds, but just realize that you run the risk of not growing the exact same type of tomato plant.
When to Harvest Tomatoes for Seed Saving
Most vegetables that are being used for seed saving can be left in your garden until they are completely ripe. For example, cucumbers should be left until they are the size of baseball bats, and peas are allowed to dry on the vine.
So, when is it the right time to harvest a tomato for seed saving?
Tomatoes, like other vegetables, should be quite ripe before you remove the seeds for saving. This means letting the tomato stay on the vine slightly longer than if you were going to eat them. Leaving them a little longer will allow the seeds more time to mature inside the tomato.
Why You Need to Ferment Your Tomato Seeds
I often see the question “Do you have to ferment your tomato seeds to save them?” The best answer I can give is that if you don’t want mold and you want viable seeds, it is best if you don’t skip the fermenting step in the seed-saving process.
The difference between tomatoes and other vegetables is the slimy stuff surrounding the seeds. This slimy stuff is known as locular gel. Locular gel is there to inhibit germination and prevent the seeds from sprouting inside the tomato.
In nature, tomatoes would be left on the plant until they are falling off and rotting. The rotting process is when the gel would be removed, and the seeds would become viable. To speed up the process for seed saving, the seeds need to go through fermentation. The fermentation process removes the germination inhibitors and helps prevent mold and bad bacteria from growing on the seeds.
How to Save Tomato Seeds
Before starting the seed-saving process, try to pick the nicest and brightest tomatoes you have from your best-producing plant(s). This is important because you are saving seeds to replicate this year’s tomato plants and pass on those great traits.
So once you have your selected tomatoes, it’s time to start seed saving.
What You Will Need:
- Cutting Board
- Mason Jar
- Non-Coated Paper Plate (optional)
- Wire mesh sieve
- Envelope or seed storage container
Step 1: Slice your harvested tomato in half, and squeeze out the seeds and pulp into a mason jar. Cover the jar with a cheesecloth or towel. You can also just lightly put the top on the mason jar and just don’t screw it tightly. You basically want a little bit of air circulation but a way to keep the bugs out.
Step 2: Put the jar in a warm place, like on top of your refrigerator. Try to find a good place that’s at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the seeds and pulp sit in the jar and ferment overnight (about 24-36-ish hours) until it is bubbly (aka fermented). Depending on the temperature of your home (the warmer your home, the quicker it will ferment), this step might take up to 3 days. Just wait until it’s bubbly (aka fermented) before continuing to the next step.
Step 3: Once it’s bubbly/fermented, fill up the jar ¾ of the way with water. Put on a lid and shake it very well. This will help separate the seed from the pulp and it also removes anything on the seed coat that you don’t want (which will help with germination and storage).
Step 4: Remove any seeds that float to the surface (they are not viable seeds for planting and should be thrown into your compost pile). Put the jar (that is now filled with water and seeds) back into a warm place, loosely covered for another 24-ish hours.
Step 5: The next day (aka after 24-ish hours), take off the lid and skim off any seeds and gunk that floated to the top. Pour off the liquid and debris down to about 1 inch and then fill it up with water again to ¾ of the way to the top of the jar. Put the lid on again and shake it again.
Step 6: Pour off the floating debris again. Continue repeating Steps 3, 4, and 5 until the water in the jar remains clear and no more debris and seeds floats to the surface. This can take anywhere from 3-7 days.
Step 7: Drain the remaining seeds through a wire mesh sieve and remove as much water/moisture as possible. Let these tomato seeds dry on a surface that allows some air circulation. I like using a cheap non-coated paper plate because it’s easy to tell when they are dry (see more on that in Step 8).
Step 8: Consider running a fan over them to help speed the drying process. In 2-3 days, they should be dried. I know mine are dried when they easily come off the paper plate. Scoop them up and put them into an envelope or jar and make sure you label what type of tomato variety they are.
How to Store Your Tomato Seeds
Once your tomato seeds are dry, it is time to store them until you are ready to start your seeds next gardening season. I have found that envelopes and small spice jars work great for storing seeds.
No matter what container you decide to use make sure they are labeled with the type and date. Your seed containers should be stored in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. If your seeds are stored correctly, they can last for at least 2 years and still be very viable for planting.
For long-term storage, you will need to be sure your seeds have been dried correctly, and then you can place them in a refrigerator or freezer. To use this method of storage, you will need a dry airtight plastic container. Your seeds can then be stored in a refrigerator or freezer for up to 5 years and they will still be viable (though you might have to test their viability first).
Note: If your seeds still contain any amount of moisture, placing them in the refrigerator or freezer can cause them to rot or be damaged from the cold.
Do You Save Your Tomato Seeds?
When you are saving seeds, you need to scoop the seeds out, but you don’t have to let the rest of the tomato go to waste. This is especially true for paste tomatoes that tend to have a little more flesh than pulp. You can still make other tomato recipes like these:
- Homemade Tomato Paste Recipe
- Simple Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- How to Make Dehydrated Vegetable Powders
- Fast Tomato Sauce Recipe
If you aren’t interested right now in saving your tomato seeds, no worries. You can find great-quality tomato seeds from my favorite seed store True Leaf Market.
Seed saving is a great way to become more self-sufficient and not worry about if you will have your seeds for your next gardening season.
You can also learn a ton about seed saving from my favorite book: The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Fruits, Flowers, Trees, and Shrubs by Robert E. Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough
More Tips about Tomatoes:
- Top Reasons For Tomato Leaf Curling
- How to Freeze Tomatoes
- 40+ Ways to Preserve Tomatoes
- How to Can Tomato Sauce (My Favorite All-Purpose Version)
- 4 Ways to Save & Ripen Green Tomatoes