Saving Tomato Seed is Easy
It’s the end of the garden season and, in taking stock of what you produced this year, you may have some standouts in taste and quality among the tomatoes included in the bounty of your garden. You may have received a really great heirloom tomato from a friend and wish you could get some of those seeds for yourself.
Or you may have a true heirloom, one tomato that has been passed down from generation to generation. There are many reasons to save seeds from year-to-year. Some other reasons that I did not mention above are that saved seeds are free and it is a lot of fun to do-it-yourself. To show you how to save seeds from every vegetable grown is nearly impossible in one article, so since tomatoes are the most popular vegetable grown, I will demonstrate saving tomato seeds.
One word of warning, saving tomato seeds can be kind of gross, but the following is the way it is done by commercial seed companies. It is also the way it is done for other kinds of produce with interiors that can be described as gloppy or gooey, such as cucumbers and cantaloupes. In fact, in nature these types of vegetables take advantage of the fact that an animal will carry its fruit away, but not eat the gooey part. Nature uses bacteria then to separate the seed from the glop.
To save tomato seed the first step is to pick out specimens that have qualities that you want to keep. Whether this is size or taste, choose what you want to see growing next year. Tomatoes are self fertile so what you save will more than likely breed true. That is to say, you will get the same variety when you grow the seeds again. This is not necessarily true of hybrids though. They may revert back to one of the breeding stock that they were derived from rather than their current form, but there is also a chance that you will get the same hybrid. This is called hybrid stabilization. Also, pick fully ripe fruit from healthy, disease free plants.
The seed from the tomato will be fermented to release it from the goop in the tomato. To start this process, cut the tomato across the “equator” of the fruit. Scoop out or squeeze out the “goop” with the seed that is encased within it into a clear container, such as a jar. (Cutting across the “equator” of the fruit makes it easier to squeeze out the seed). Add a little water to the jar to help suspend the seed; it does not need to be full. Too much water will slow down the action of the bacteria that are fermenting the fruit.
After a couple of days you will see mold forming on the top of the water. When you see this appear, gently stir the seed and water. If you do not stir, the mold may affect the viability of the seed. In a few days the viable seed will sink to the bottom. Skim off all of the material that floats, including any floating seeds. Dump the remaining seed into a strainer or colander that has holes that will not allow the seed to pass through.
Using a garden hose (preferable) or a kitchen faucet, spray the seed to wash away the remaining glop. The seed may stink at this point and you may want to do this outside. Once the seed is clean, you will want to place the seed on a coffee filter or on a wooden surface so it can dry. If you use a paper towel or a piece of office paper the seed may stick. Plastic surfaces may cause the seed to rot before it is dry. Put the seed in a warm dry place and let them dry until they break readily, instead of just bending. Store the seed in a cool dry place in an envelope or in a dry mason jar. Some people freeze seed but you really need to know the moisture content to do this as the seed may rupture if the moisture content is too high.
If you save only the best seed year after year you will have a true heirloom, totally acclimated to the climate of your garden location and you will have varieties of tomatoes you can call your own. As I said, the process above can be used for cucumber and cantaloupe seeds. You will have to let the fruit of these become very yellow and ripe and save seed from fruit after the vine has died. There are many publications and websites that show how to saves seeds from all possible vegetables grown.
The Seed Savers Exchange has a tutorial on saving tomato seeds here:
The author, Nancy Bubel, has written several books on seed starting and saving:
Another good book on saving seeds was written by Robert E. Gough: