Seed Saving Tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are probably the reason that most heirloom seed houses are in existence. The humble heirloom tomato is the backbone of the heirloom industry and there are many heirloom seed companies that specialise in selling tomato seed only.

The question remains though as to what the best way to save tomato seed is.

In this post we will share tomato seed saving secrets that we use every season to save our own seed, and that which we sell to you our valued customer.

Naturally, you have gone through the effort of making sure that the tomato fruit that you are going to be saving seed from is pure, if not you will be wasting your time. Who wants to go to the trouble of saving seed that has been contaminated and will not breed true next year?

So now that you have your fruit that is nicely ripe and possibly even slightly over-ripe, just squeeze the pulp and seed out into a container, do as many fruits as you like and save seed from the best producing plants that have fruit that is ‘true-to-type’. This will ensure that you save only the best seed every year.

Notice the lovely white mould developing on the seed.
Notice the lovely white mould developing on the seed.

Now add water to the container to at least double the volume of the pulp and now all you do is let it ferment. What you are looking for is a nice healthy white mould/fungus that covers the top of the pulp mix. This process is going to pong, attract fruit flies and generally just upset your spouse. I know mine has to put up with hundreds of little ‘bakkies’ on the dining room table every year for a few weeks.

They need to be there so that I can keep a watch over them, and thank fully it’s in summer so we get to eat outside when the dining room table is covered in mould generating, odour exuding and fruit fly attracting containers. Sometimes I just thank the Lord that he gave me a wife that is as longsuffering as mine is.

Ok so what’s the point of the whole fermentation process? Let me explain a little.

When you cut a tomato open the seeds are covered in a small gel sac that makes the little seeds slippery, this gel sac is a seed protection to stop it from germinating and it contains a germination inhibitor. The process of fermentation breaks this germination inhibitor down so that when you plant the seed, it actually grows. In nature the fruit would rot and fall to the ground and that rotting process breaks the germination inhibitor down.

Next, if there are any diseases that could be carried across with the seed, this process of fermentation creates an environment that is very hostile to disease organisms killing off most known diseases.

Lastly, removing the gel sac is achieved at the same time allowing for a clean seed that looks good.

A rainbow of fermenting tomato seed.
A rainbow of fermenting tomato seed.

So, now that you know a few secrets, lets get back to the seed processing. We use a very technical arrangement of a flour sieve and running water. The 3-4 day old miff smelling goo is rinsed in the sieve under running water to clean off all of the ‘miff’ and now you have clean seed that just needs to be dried.

Dry9ning is best achieved in shade using a glass or ceramic plate. Stir the seeds every few hours to make sure that they are dry all the way through. It generally takes 5-10 days to dry out the seed properly depending on the relative humidity.

Once the seeds are dry you need to do two things.

First, put some seeds away for yourself, it’s always good to have some ‘extra’ in case of a crop failure or germination disaster.

Next, share some seeds with a gardening friend(s) think about giving a gift of seeds instead of some cheap, just imported from China. A gift of seeds is probably the greenest gift you can give, especially seed that you have saved yourself.

8 thoughts on “Seed Saving Tomatoes

  1. Nicci says:

    Hi, once the seeds are dried and you are not planning on planting right away, how can they be stored?. What container? open or closed lid? in the fridge or just in a cupboard?

  2. We have a rather more pleasant saying: “As happy as pigs in clover”, meaning they are in something they really enjoy. I suppose that in days gone by the pigs would be allowed into a field of clover that had been sown as a Green Manure, and they would then root about in it, helping to dig it into the soil, much like you describe in your post.

  3. Interesting! Will this process work for gooseberries as well? Or do I just open the gooseberries up and let the seeds and pulp dry out before planting the seeds?

  4. Ginny says:

    I tried your seed saving process for tomatoes, and was amazed as how much easier it made the whole process. I ended up with lovely, seperate seeds to dry easily, instead of these stick little things, that i had to try and prise off the saucer or drying paper. I had no idea what i was supposed to be doing. A little knowledge goes a long way, thanks

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