Save Your Own Tomato Seeds for Next Year's Garden
Introduction to Seed Saving
Seed saving can be added to your gardening rituals to ensure that quality is maintained year to year in your home garden. Saving seeds from your strongest plants, your best tasting tomatoes or even your favorite flowers can also save a few bucks and only costs a little time. Additionally, saving seeds is an important aspect of becoming self-sufficient and can ensure that the foods you are eating are organic/pesticide free seeds.
Depending on the plant, saving seeds may be as simple as removing the seeds from a vegetable or fruit, lying them flat to dry and storing them. Some seeds take a bit of special attention in order to separate them and activate them in order to ensure growth in the season to come. One such seed is the tomato seed which needs a bit of fermenting in order to increase production. Other seeds may be stored, then may need to be heated, frozen or some other form of preparation to use the seed for the next season. Most, however, are simple to save and reuse.
Saving Tomato Seeds
The Simplicity of Saving Tomato Seeds, The First Steps
Saving tomatoes is a fairly simple process. First pick a tomato that is totally ripe to ensure that seeds are fully formed. Check the tomato for bug bites, desired color and disease. The goal is to pick a well ripened tomato that is the best of what you have in your garden. Strong tomatoes this year will be the most likely to yield strong tomatoes next year.
Once you have chosen your best tomato or tomatoes, it is time to begin your seed saving adventure. Begin by simply splitting the tomato in half or breaking it open with your hand. Squeeze the juice and seeds from the tomato into a small mason jar. Once you have squeezed the contents of the tomato into the jar (it is okay if some of the particles are not seeds and juice but include other tomato pieces/pulp), add about 2 tablespoons of water to the contents. If you have seeded more than one tomato, add more water accordingly. I do not suggest more than three tomatoes per jar. It may increase the time the mixture has to ferment and is more difficult to separate seeds from pulp later in the process. Yes, I did say it has to ferment; this process helps increase yields in your garden the following year and is an important part of the tomato seed saving process.
Once you have added the appropriate amount of water (2 tablespoons per large tomato; 2 tablespoons per 10 cherry sized tomatoes) to the juice, pulp and tomato seeds, place a piece of cheese cloth or other material that will allow air to flow over the jar and tighten a lid over it. Make sure whatever type of cloth you use has holes big enough to allow air flow but small enough to keep debris and small insects such as gnats out of the mixture. Additionally, any size mason jar may be used according to your preferences.
Once you have the mixture covered and sealed, place the mason jar with the mixture somewhere a bit warm such as the top of your refrigerator. The heat helps to ferment the mixture. This mixture should be stirred one time per day for a period of about 3 days or until it has a fairly strong fermented smell. It should also have a white, foamy substance on top of the mixture. It will look a little like white bubbles. If this is not present, make sure that the seeds are not rotting, that you have been stirring daily and that there is enough water in the mixture. If the foam is gray or darker and has a rotten smell, I would not recommend using it to seed from and begin again. If your mixture does not smell fermented and/or is missing any foamy substance (this could be on top the mixture or floating inside the mixture) then you may want to let the mixture set a couple of more days. Make sure you continue stirring each day.
Cleaning the Seeds
Washing Your Tomato Seeds for Storage
After you recognize the white foamy substance and fermented smell which typically takes about three days, it is time to wash and store the seeds. Recall that the mixture will have a fermented smell which is completely normal.
Cleaning tomato seeds is an easy process. Simply dump the contents of your mason jar into a wire (or some other type with tiny holes) drainer and wash with cool water separating seeds from the pulp and juice. Wash until the only thing left is the tomato seeds.
Helpful Resource for Seed Saving
Washing the Seeds
The Final Tomato Seed Storage Step
Rinsing and drying are the final steps in a successful process in saving your seeds for the following growing season. To separate the pulp and other parts of the mixture, rinse, gently rub and rise, repeat until the foamy residue and pulp is separated from the tomato seeds.
Pulp should rinse easily away if the fermenting process has been done correctly. Once the seeds have been cleaned they must be dried completely before storage. Not allowing seeds to fully dry can damage seeds and even prevent them from growing when you plant them in your garden. Drying is done simply by placing the seeds on a piece of cloth or paper. I prefer cheese cloth or material from an old sheet that I cut into squares large enough to dry seeds on. If you use a dishcloth or some other that is not as smooth, seeds tend to stick and may be damaged when you remove them from the cloth. Lay seeds out flat on your chosen material to dry. Many recommend 2-3 days of drying but I tend to leave my seeds out for about a week to ensure that the seeds are completely dry. Refrigeration or room temperature is okay for tomato seeds. They last longer when chilled. I do not recommend freezing as seeds may be severely damaged when frozen depending on what type of seed. There are types of seeds that must be frozen in order to grow correctly but tomatoes are not one of those.
Good Storage Ensures Longer Seed Life
Storing seeds properly will ensure higher seed production and save money. I recommend using a mason jar large enough to hold several different types of seeds. Depending on the size of the jar place 4 - 8 teaspoons of dried milk in the bottom of the jar. Store dried seeds in plain white envelopes with the type of seed and date on them so that you use the oldest seeds first. Place the envelopes inside the mason jar and close the lid. The dried milk will keep moisture from building up in the seeds. Moisture can damage seeds and lower yield. Recall: Always store seeds in the refrigerator instead of the freezer.
Seed Storage & Growing Techniques
Anyone can save seeds by devoting some time to it. There are many different methods to seed saving depending on the type of plant. The method described in this article works well for cucumbers and tomatoes.