Saving tomato seeds

Saving tomato seeds for next years heirloom plants

TOMATO SEED DRYING GARDEN   I had issues with my tomatoes this year and so I am only saving tomato seeds from two of my seven varieties. They started out great and I grew them all, but for one, from seeds I had bought the previous years. Tomato seeds preserve well if kept dry.  But in the Pacific Northwest this summer we had a longer than normal dry season.  And it was hotter than normal for a longer period of time, not just dry. So in part I think my tomatoes just didn’t have the perfect growing conditions earlier on. I also grow my tomatoes in big containers and although I added some additional compost I think I should have fertilized more. But there was one variety, the one I did not grow from seed myself, that was a great tomato. It was called Bloody Butcher.

Blood Butcher and Stupice   

I got Bloody Butcher at the Snohomish Master Gardener sale in May and really I just bought it because of the name. But it ended up being the most disease resistant variety I had. Its indeterminate and produces tomatoes in clusters of 5-9 fruits which initially made me think I had mistakenly bought a cherry tomato. It also was the second tomato to produce decent size fruit… the first was Stupice, which is the other tomato I am saving seeds from for next year. Stupice is a potato-leaf indeterminate variety that produces smaller tomatoes but is good for short summers because they produce earlier and for the entire growing season.

Why saSaving tomato seeds red harvested fruitve these seeds?

So I want to save the seeds form these two varieties for a couple of reasons. The Blood Butcher isn’t a very popular variety yet so I’m not sure I will be able to get it next year. The Stupice I don’t have any seeds left and I am experimenting with trying to grown vegetables that are specifically tailored to my growing environment. They both were the more disease resistant of the seven varieties I grew this year. Both are heirloom seeds which mean they are not hybrids (a mixture of two different parents) so the seeds from these plants should grow the same as the parent plant. It is possible that because these are open pollinated and I have tomato plants within 20 feet of each other that I may have a problem. Many tomato plants are self fertile though so I am hoping it wont be a problem. I do note in my research that the potato-leaf varieties (I.e. the Bloody Butcher) have blossoms with longer styles which allow insects to pollinate them more readily than other varieties. This could lead to cross pollination. On the other hand I have done a lot of computer research and spoke to other Master Gardeners and word of mouth wisdom is to not worry about it! So on to actually saving the seeds…

Steps and tips for Saving Tomato Seeds

    I did my research on how to save tomato seeds and I have found a many different way to do it. That does seem to be the way gardening is… many ways to the same result. So I though I would write the way I did it and will follow up with results next year.
1. I started out with very ripe fruits. In fact for the bloody butcher I had two fruit that had recently fallen off the vine and were sitting in the container. Some resources would say to pick your fruit during the year and pick the biggest and best. There is definitely some logic to that advice. But I am fine with the size of the fruit I’m using.
2. I cut the tomatoes and squeezed out the seeds the best I could. One of the pulp and more fibrous stuff came out also which is fine. Just try to keep the skins and the “meat” of the tomato out. I put this mixture into two glass bowls, but I have seen people on the net using those clear plastic cups which I think is a great idea also because you can write the variety on the cup with a sharpie and see through the cup.
3. The down side to saving tomato seeds is the fermentation process. Because it smells and will invariably attract fruit flies.  But its a necessary step because tomatoes have a substance that inhibits therr growth.  In nature the tomato drops and ferments slowly over time and the gel around the seeds is neutralized.  So we are mimicking that process in the home.  Let your mixture ferment for 3-5 days in a room temperate site out of the light. I put a small amount of water into each of my mixture at the start. Some resources say not to do that and only do it later if your mixture starts to dry out. My Bloody Butcher was a little dry to begin with so thats why I did it. Don’t cover it with anything that will stop air from getting in. Cover with a paper towel or coffee filter. It will smell and gross out the squeamish of the family so move it if necessary.
4. A white film of grossness will grow on the top. But its good to see this as you know fermentation is happening.  It started pretty early in the procSaving tomato seeds white fermenting moldess, like on the second day, so I scrapped it off. After I scraped the white goop off I stirred the mixture. Some resources say to do this and some don’t.  Some say to shake the jar once or even twice  a day.  I only did the stirring once and my thought is that by mixing (and also perhaps by adding a small amount of water initially) I am helping the separation between the seeds occur and encouraging the fermentation.  Note also that the White film grew back strong and I had to scrape it off again when I went to the rinsing step.
5. Rinsing. Having a container you can see through is helpful for this step because in theory whats happening in this fermentation process is the good seeds are dropping to the bottom and the seeds that lack viability float to the top.  You are also getting rid of that growth inhibitor gel on the outside of the seed.   Don’t wait too long after you see the white mold because the seeds will begin to germinate and that’s not what you want.

    I don’t need a huge amount of seeds and I would prefer quality, so I don’t have a problem only leaving the very bottom layer of seeds. In fact, I took off the top layer of pulp/bad seeds and then added a good layer of water, stirred, and allowed a final separation to happen over a 20 minute period. This Saving tomato seeds rinsing seeds after fermentationagain separated out some of the seeds. So I took the bottom layer and put it in a fine metal mesh strainer and just rinsed the seeds until they were clear of any pulp or stickiness.
6. Dry. I dried the seeds on a paper plate. The paper plates absorb water and will avoid the seeds sitting in water on a ceramic or non-porous surface possibly allowing bad things to grown on Saving tomato seeds dried bloody butcherthem. After about 4 weeks they were clearly dry… but do remember I was doing this in the fall in the Pacific Northwest where its pretty humid. Your time to dry may vary.

Some tips: Only do one seed a variety at a time because those little guys get stuck everywhere!  Under my fingernails, I used the end of a pen to spread out the seeds to dry and there was little divot one got stuck in.  Use a paper-towel to dry the seeds but place it under the strainer (if using one, which I recommend) to soak up the seeds.  They are very sticky and will stick to the paper-towel if you try and dab them dry. Next time, I will use canning jars to ferment as I think they are more practical than bowls.
    We will see next year if the seeds were viable!  I think they will be fine.  What seeds did you save this year and how did they work out???


How to save Heirloom seeds by A Way to Garden

YouTube video on fermenting and basic seed saving

Article: Home test found fermenting had no impact on germination



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