Seed saving is a rewarding activity and is especially important if sustainability is a goal. Growing healthy organic food for your family is just one aspect of sustainable living. Learning to save your own seed is equally important.
Not only are you helping to protect the genetic diversity of Heirloom varieties but you are also developing seed strains that are best suited to your soil and climate.
Another advantage to saving your own tomato seed (and other types of seed) is that you can select fruit from the healthiest plants and seed from the tomatoes that have the best flavor and other characteristics that you prefer. In choosing the best seed you increase the likelihood of next years crop being similar.
This can be a double-edged sword, if you make an incorrect choice you can lose valuable traits, rather than gaining them. Don’t just go for the biggest tomato without first evaluating other factors such as the taste and color, or consider the plant’s overall vigor and hardiness. Is it cold, drought, pest and disease resistant? Another consideration is crop yield (do you want larger sized fruit or smaller ones?), harvest season (all at once or spread out?, early or late harvest?), and don’t forget storage qualities. Storage may be important if you’re growing for market or need extra time to get them processed for canning.
Tomatoes offer the beginning seed saver the best chance for successful seed saving. They produce seed the same season as planted and are mostly self-pollinating, minimizing the need to be mindful of preventing cross-pollination. Always harvest seeds from the best plants available. If possible choose healthy disease-free plants with the most desirable qualities.
How to save seed from tomatoes
If possible, allow tomatoes to completely ripen before harvesting for seed production.
Slice open the tomato, scoop out the pulp and seeds into a glass jar or other container (we use quart size yogurt containers), add about a cup of water, and set aside for a day or two.
This will begin the fermentation process. It shouldn’t take more than 2-3 days before a residue collects on the top of the water as well as some of the seeds (these are dead seeds).
The water will clear and the viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the container. After this happens carefully scoop out the residue from the top and throw it away.
Pour the water and seeds into a fine mesh strainer and rinse with cool water. Pick out any bits of tomato skin and pulp.
Then, spread the seeds on a sheet of paper towel folded to fit on a paper plate. Set in a breezy area that’s protected from rain, bugs or high winds. (we don’t want our precious seed to blow away!) Otherwise, the kitchen counter also works just fine. Leave it for several days until completely dry and ready to store.
Storing Tomato Seed
We put each batch of seeds, with a note containing their essential details, in a small paper bag or envelope. Several of these are then put into an airtight Mason jar and stored in a cool, dark place such as the basement, if not too humid.
We have found that if stored properly tomato seed will remain viable for many years. Some people we know store their packaged seed in ziploc bags in the freezer. This works well too but be sure that there is no moisture that will rupture cell walls and kill them. Also, when you take them out allow them to return to room temperature before you open their container or water will condense on the cold seeds and activate them.
Good luck with your tomato seed saving and check back soon for more seed saving information for the rest of your garden favorites!