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How to Save Tomato Seeds

Do you have a favourite tomato variety? 

Maybe your grandparents brought a variety over from a different country and you would like to perpetuate this variety for future generations? 

Or perhaps your favourite variety is difficult to find and you would like to save seeds from your harvest, to plant again in future years?

In the first post of my Seed Saving Series, I discussed the reason for saving your own seeds and walked you through the steps to follow for saving pepper seeds.  In the second post of my Seed Saving Series, I will be discussing the steps you would follow in saving tomato seeds. I will also compare the differences between heirloom and open-pollinated seeds versus hybrid varieties and discuss why it’s best to save seeds from the two former types.

I’ve been growing tomatoes every year since I began vegetable gardening and there are many varieties that are at the top of my favourites list. One variety that impressed me this year is ‘Gardener’s Delight‘.  Several allotment gardeners that I follow from the UK, choose this variety for their allotment gardens. So, I decided to give it a try.

‘Gardener’s Delight’ is an open-pollinated variety, that matures earlier in the season. Fruit are typically one-inch in diameter, bright red and resistant to cracking. The flavour is a mild, classic tomato flavour, with little sweetness. It is excellent eaten raw, in a salad, sautéed or cooked into a sauce.  I have been quite impressed with this variety and will definitely plant it every year. 

However, something interesting happened.  I grew three plants of this variety and the tomatoes emerged in a range of sizes, from typical cherry tomato to double that size. 

Although I have a good number of seeds left over in the seed packet, if I could plant this variety and only produce larger-sized fruit, I would be most happy.  Therefore, for the purpose of seed saving, I selected the largest of the harvest and set them aside. The larger fruit contains seeds carrying the larger size gene. If I continue to save seeds from the largest fruit, I will eventually create a stable variety that only produces larger-sized fruit, but also tastes delicious!

What is the difference between Heirloom, Open-Pollinated and Hybrid?

These words are often used in describing a variety, but many people are either unsure of their differences, or are confused by their meaning.

An Heirloom variety is one that has been around for at least 50 years. Often, heirloom varieties were brought over from a different country during immigration and passed down through the generations.  These varieties may carry historical significance to the seed saver, have a more pungent flavour or are more aesthetically pleasing.  They may also be less tolerant to pests and disease and more prone to cracking.

An Open-Pollinated variety is one that is pollinated by either insects, wind, birds, human hands, or by other means.  These varieties generally reproduce true-to-type, unless pollen is crossed with another variety.  The genes in these varieties are stable, meaning if an open-pollinated variety is planted, it will reproduce similar to the parent plant. 

A Hybrid variety occurs due to a controlled crossing of pollen between two parent plants.  This crossing occurs as a result of human intervention, whereby the aim for the plant is disease or pest resistance, preferred shape, size or colour, or for the desire to produce a higher yield.  Hybrid varieties are labelled as F1 and will not produce true-to-type if seeds are saved from these plants and replanted. In order to produce another identical F1 hybrid, parent plants need to be crossed again.  F1 hybrids are the exclusive property of the breeder and their parent varieties are kept top secret, to prevent others from recreating them. F1 hybrid varieties may be stabilized over time, by saving seeds from selected plants, replanting and saving seeds again over several generation, until the resulting plants produce stable results. 

If you plan on saving seeds, it is best to save seeds from either an heirloom or open-pollinated variety, or both. F1 hybrids have genetic vigor and will produce abundantly. However, if plants are reproduced from the offspring of F1 seeds, they will have unstable genes and will either produce fruit with traits of one of the parent plants or will result in a different combination of the two. 

How to Save Tomato Seeds:

When selecting tomatoes for seed saving, select the best looking fruit. Choose ones that are fully ripe and disease and damage-free. Also, choose tomatoes that are uniform in shape and size.  You want your seeds to have the strongest genes, in order to produce the best quality fruit.

Here’s What to Do:

Tools Needed For Seed Saving:

  • tomatoes
  • sharp knife
  • spoon
  • bowl
  • metal strainer
  • metal screen or large ceramic plate
  • paper envelope or small glass jar

Directions:

  1. Cut your tomatoes horizontally.
  2. Using your spoon, scoop out all the seeds and juice into a bowl. Alternatively, you may hand squeeze the tomato, to release the juice and seeds. This is especially effective when saving seed from small fruit.
  3. Leave your bowl to ferment in a warm location, out of direct sunlight.  This is an important step because the gelatinous layer around the seeds acts as a sprouting inhibitor. It needs to break down before seed storage, in order to allow the seeds to germinate when planted.
  4. Check your bowl of fermenting tomato seeds in two to three days, to see if a layer of mold has developed on the surface of the tomato pulp. Depending on the temperature in the room, a warm room will accelerate this process, while a cool room will slow it down. (Click image below for larger view.)
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  6. Once you see a nice layer of mold at the top of the seeds, add some water and stir your tomato slurry with a spoon. The tomato seeds will separate from the gelatinous layer and fall to the bottom
  7. Hold your bowl over the sink and carefully tip it, allowing the tomato tissues to drain out.
  8. Pour your tomato seeds over a metal strainer and run your seeds under a strong stream of water.
  9. Rub your seeds over the strainer, to release any membranes from the seeds. (Click image below for larger view.)
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  11. Once your seeds are clean of any membranes, drain the water and tip your seeds out to dry over a metal screen or plate.
  12. Spread the seeds out, trying to separate them from each other. (This doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as they are somewhat spread out.) (Click image below for larger view.)
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  14. Leave your seeds to dry in a low humidity room, out of direct sunlight.
  15. Your seeds are fully dry when they can be broken in half.  Test them by either breaking one in half or pushing your nail into one. If it feels hard, it is ready for storage. If there is give, leave them to dry for another week. (Click image below for larger view.)
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  17. Store your seeds in a paper envelope or glass jar. I prefer coin envelopes for their compact size.
  18. In order to increase the lifespan of your tomato seeds, store them in a cool, dry room, out of direct sunlight. (For more information on seed storage, please see the previous post in this series.)

After you begin saving your own seeds, you will love how easy it is to save seeds from your favourite vegetables and have the freedom of planting them again in future.  It feels great knowing that your favourite seeds will be safe to continue for generations, allowing you to pass on your favourites to your relations.

In the next post of my Seed Saving Series, I will cover the steps involved in saving squash seeds. Stay tuned!

Happy Gardening!

10 Proven Steps for a Successful Vegetable Garden

10 Proven Steps for a Successful Vegetable Garden

Having a vegetable garden that flourishes takes a big commitment. Learn how to create an enchanted kitchen garden oasis with these 10 proven steps.

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