How to Save Tomato Seeds
You found it, your perfect favorite tomato. You grew it and enjoyed it.
Now it’s time to save the seeds so you can enjoy it year after year.
Why seed save? Seeds have memory and learn from their growing conditions year after year. They learn if it was too wet or too dry or even too hot and these memories help them protect the plant year after year. Therefore, seeds that do well in your climate are the ones worth saving. It is especially important in our hot (moldy) tropics to save the pumpkins, eggplant and tomato seeds that do the best. Usually peppers have no problem and all the fruit trees have long learned their climates, but the good organic heirloom tomatoes can be harder and harder to find.
There are some amazing local groups saving seeds and I respect the efforts of Muul Mayab who has a store in Centro Merida right in front of Parque Santa Ana. They are rescuing seeds from all types of corn, beans, tomatoes, fruits and even herbs, that would otherwise be going into extinction. Not only the seeds, they sell all these delicious foods and fresh produce so we can eat real local food. That is the goal, to protect the biodiversity of our region, and the food history instead of bringing in GMO or hybrid seeds from other areas. That’s why seed saving is important and even you in your small backyard garden can be part of it.
Seed Saving Tomatoes
Tomatoes take a couple of steps to seed save and it’s a process you don’t want to forget about or else your seeds will mold. Some other plants you can simply cut open a ripe fruit, scoop out the seeds and dry them. Tomatoes unfortunately are not as easy and you need to ferment them so the seed gets fully removed from the pulp. It’s much easier than you think, but is a 2-3 day process.
Pick your best, biggest fruit and let it ripen completely. You will not want to put these in the fridge, let it ripen on the windowsill or on the plant itself. It can be tempting to eat that big juicy fruit but you always want to seed save from the best and brightest of your plant.
When fully ripe cut open the fruit and carefully scoop out the juicy seeds and pulp. Leave the solid fruit shell behind (you can actually eat that if you want, or compost it.)
Place the pulpy seeds into a cup and cover them with water. Stir to start releasing the seeds from the pulp.
Leave this in a safe place (if you have curious pets or children) that is room temperature and not in direct sun.
The next days stir the pulp gently to help release more of the seeds. Over the course of the next 2-3 days the seeds will start to fall to the bottom of the glass but sometimes they need a little help. You don’t want to completely mix up the mixture again, only stir the top part of the cup, leaving what has already fallen to the bottom alone. The pulp will continue to float on the top, and unfortunately not all of the seeds are going to release from the pulp but focus on the majority.
Strain. You don’t want to leave these seeds more than 3 day or else they will start to mold, usually 2 days is enough but depending on how tough your pulp is 3 days may be needed. It’s okay if a small amount of white film is forming on the top of your pulp but you don’t want all out fluffy mold. Before you strain, use a spoon to remove the floating pulp and any white film. Then strain in a fine mesh colander and rinse well with water.
Dry them. You will want to spread the seeds onto a towel or cloth of some sort to dry them. Tomato seeds can be small so choose your cloth accordingly. I like to use a paper napkin because then I can label the seeds by name and year. I save a lot of different seeds at the same time and need to keep them organized.
It will take about 5-7 days for them to dry completely. Usually on day 2, I separate the seeds so that I don’t end up with clumps of multiples. It’s harder to separate them the more they dry but if you forget it is still possible later.
Store them like you store all of your seeds, make sure you are safe guarding against mold and that the seeds are completely dry. Don’t forget to label them with the name and year, tomato seeds last about 3 years in normal storage and even longer if you store them in specific temperature conditions. My seed stash is too big for the fridge and lives under my bed where it doesn’t get too hot or too cold. I save seeds yearly to not have problems with seeds dying or molding in my storage.
Enjoy your planting.