Did you know that you don’t have to purchase your tomato seeds every year or every few years?
Well, you now know that you don’t have to. You want to know why?
Because if you have tomato plants, then you have seeds and probably more seeds then you really need.
But how do you get seeds from your tomato plants? And how do you preserve them?
You are in luck because that is what this post is about. There are actually multiple methods to save tomato seeds, and we are going to cover each one of them.
Here is how to save your tomato seeds:
Method 1: Fermenting
Fermenting tomato seeds is a little more complex method in my opinion. But if you like it, then you should go with it.
You’ll begin by picking your ripe tomatoes and then rinsing them. You can do this simultaneously by picking them in a larger bucket and then running water into the bucket. You’ll swish the tomatoes around to knock the dirt off.
If you prefer to pick and then wash, you can do that too. Just make sure that your tomatoes are on the cleaner side.
Next, you’ll cut open your tomatoes. Again, make sure they are ripe. The trick to this step is to separate them out by variety.
So if you are cutting open beef steak tomatoes, you’ll need to do all of them at once so you don’t intermix your seeds.
After you cut the tomatoes you’ll need to squeeze them so all of the juice, pulp, and seeds come out of the tomato.
Now, if you are stronger you could leave the tomatoes whole and just squash them in the bucket. But if you are like me and can’t quite do that, just make sure that you squeeze the sliced tomatoes over a container so you don’t make a mess everywhere.
After you finish squeezing, you’ll want to place all of the pulp, juice, and seeds in a container with a lid. As tempting as it might be to add water to this mixture, don’t. It will slow down the fermentation process. Set the container aside for 3 days.
However, be sure to store it in a location where the temperature won’t be above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll need to stir the mixture every day at least once or twice a day. The idea is to submerge the pulp back into the juices so the mixture will continue to ferment.
Word to the wise, if you’ve ever fermented foods before then you know that mold can be an issue. Resubmerging the pulp back into the juice helps keep the mold issue at bay.
But if mold does indeed form on your mixture, know that it won’t hurt your seeds beyond changing their color.
After the three days have passed, you’ll need to pour the fermented mixture into a container that can hold three times the amount of water of the container it was just in.
Then you’ll pour off the pulpy water that your seeds were fermenting in. Be careful not to pour off your seeds. The good seeds will sink to the bottom of the container.
Next, rinse your seeds and repeat this two or three times until your seeds are pretty clean.
Finally, you are going to place the seeds onto a plate and allow them to completely dry. Once they are completely dry you’ll need to store them in a sealed bag in a cool dry location. A refrigerator is a good idea but do not freeze your seeds as this can harm them.
Method 2: Sun Dry
Sun drying is probably my all time favorite way to preserve any seeds. The reason is because it is simple and there is very little fuss about it. The drawback is that you’ll have seeds sitting around your property.
So if you are a super clean person you might find this annoying. I’ll be honest in telling you that I am one of those super clean people, but after realizing how much money I was saving by following these few steps, I forced myself to turn a blind eye for a couple of weeks a year.
You’ll begin this method by picking your tomatoes. What I usually do is prep my tomatoes for canning. This means I wash them, slice them, and then process them into crushed tomatoes so I can utilize them for lots of different canning recipes.
However, the upside is that when doing this, it takes a lot of the work out of it for me because the food mill will separate the pulp and seeds for me.
Then I take that concoction and place it on a plate with a paper towel. I’ll pat the mixture dry as much as possible and then put them out on my covered back porch. This works to protect them from the rain, and I just let them sit for a few weeks until I walk by and remember them again (usually.)
During this time you might see some mold form on the seeds. As mentioned above, this doesn’t hurt them, it just changes their color a little bit.
Finally, when I know the seeds are good and dry, I bring them in and place them in a sealed baggy or an old medicine bottle. Whichever I have on hand.
But I do have one tip. I usually process my tomatoes one variety at a time. So be sure to label your paper plate while the seeds are drying so you’ll remember what type of tomato it was.
Otherwise, you could think you were planting a bunch of beef steak tomatoes and have a ton of cherry tomatoes pop up. Organization is key with this method (and most any other method) of saving your tomato seeds.
Method 3: Dry Them Out
You might be thinking, “Isn’t this what the whole article is about?” Well, it is.
But I mean using a dehydrator to dry and save your tomato seeds. You can purchase a dehydrator, or you can build your own. We actually have done both so it is all about what you are most comfortable with.
This method is very similar to the one mentioned above with the exception of the drying process. It is much faster than sun drying the seeds, and the dehydrator takes the place of the actual sun.
So you’ll begin by picking your tomatoes. I recommend picking different varieties in different baskets or buckets.
Then you’ll need to wash them. As mentioned above, I usually save my seeds at the end of canning season. When I know I won’t be canning much more I divide out my canning by varieties so I can kill two birds with one stone.
So I’ll slice the tomatoes, cook them, and then run them through my food mill. At the end of this process, all of the pulp and seeds are left at the top of the food mill while the rest has run into the pot below it.
Then I’ll take the mixture and pat it dry with a paper towel.
Next, I slide the whole mixture into the dehydrator. I love this because I’m actually doing two things at once here too. The seeds are drying in the dehydrator but so are the skins.
Now, unlike when you sun dry them, the skins don’t mold. They just dry up. This is great because then I use a coffee grinder to crush the skins and turn them into tomato powder. This is a great substitute for tomato paste or a great addition to soups or sauces as well.
But at the end I’ll also have all of my seeds dried out. I usually let mine run for a day or so to make sure that they are really dry.
However, you can feel them and keep a close eye out to see when you think they are dry enough. Your dehydrator might require more or less time. My time varies depending upon if I used our store bought dehydrator or the homemade one. I usually go with the homemade one because it holds more.
So when everything is dried you’ll just place the seeds in a sealed baggy and keep them in a cool, dry location. Remember that refrigeration works well. I actually store my seeds in old pill bottles that my family members save for me.
Then I label them and place them in a dark drawer. That way they are easily organized but out of the way.
Method 4: Volunteer Them
I usually end up using this method every year though it be unintentional. At the end of the grow season if you don’t pull up your tomato plants and all of the fruits the plants produced, you’ll probably end up with what we call ‘volunteer plants.’
However, some people use this method every year so they don’t have to save seeds or plant a garden. It’s actually a pretty cool idea.
So if you don’t practice crop rotation very often and like to plant things in the same location year after year, then this method might work wonderfully for you.
You’ll begin by planting your garden that year. Pick your harvest and utilize them as you would anyway. The fruits that you see fall on the ground off of your tomato plants, just let them stay there.
Basically, what will happen is the tomato will begin to compost. With that composting process, the seeds will get buried in the dirt.
Then the next spring, germination will take place and a volunteer plant will pop up. If you allow this to happen all down the row of tomatoes, then you’ll end up with quite a few volunteers (usually).
But you might even end up with a few too many volunteer plants. With this being said, keep an eye on your garden as plants begin to pop up. You may have to go out and thin your population a little bit.
Then you’ll begin to nurture the plants you keep as you would any plant that you planted yourself. That is all there is to saving your seeds with volunteer plants. It may not sound as organized as some of the other methods, but it doesn’t take any extra time either.
So I leave it up to you to weigh the pros and cons and see if it would be a viable method for you. As I said, I end up with volunteer plants each year without even trying. I can’t imagine how many would grow if you have good soil and you actually try to encourage volunteers to pop up.
Well, now you have four methods to saving your tomato seeds. Some are more extensive than others, and some are much more laid back. It is all about your preference and how you choose to organize your gardening supplies.
Now that you know how to save tomato seeds, here's where you can learn how to grow tomatoes.