If you have never previously thought about the need to save tomato seeds then it is time to change your opinion. You see, if you save seeds that have come from a strong plant that has also produced a healthy crop of tomatoes then you can pretty much be sure that you will have the same outcome the following year. However, that is going to depend on you doing things in the correct way when it comes to saving the seeds and you may not be aware of how this is done. If not, then these steps are going to save you a whole lot of problems.
Step 1: Choosing the correct tomatoes.
The first step is to obviously make sure that you choose the correct tomatoes and it is not a case of just picking a plant at random. Instead, what most growers will tell you is that it is better if you save the seeds from heirloom varieties because these tomato plants are seen as being far more stable when it comes to their characteristics and you basically know what you will be getting the following year. You will struggle to get the same reaction when you use the hybrid versions as they are already combining two different origin plants together and you are unable to determine how effective that combination is going to be further down the line.
In other words, if you choose hybrid versions then there is every possibility that you will end up rather disappointed.
The final point with this step is that you need to choose the healthiest plant out of the ones you have grown. If one has some disease or performed poorly, then it is best to look at taking the seeds from a healthier one to improve the chances of you having strong plants in the following year.
Step 2: Getting the process started.
After choosing the tomatoes you need to start the process and, once again, this is rather easy to do. First, you need to extract the seeds and clearly you need to know what to do in order to not screw it up right at the very beginning.
Clearly you have to get into the seeds first and what we recommend is you choosing tomatoes that are ripe and where you have already tasted some and love the flavor. Pick the tomato and then slice it into two by cutting through the middle. Once it is cut you then have to scoop out the flesh and do this either with your fingers or a spoon.
With this, you will then have the seeds and the gel like substance that surrounds them but at this point do not worry about trying to pull these two things apart. Put it all in a bowl or some kind of container as the next step is going to involve you starting the fermentation process.
Step 3: The importance of fermenting the seed.
Now, you may never have heard of fermenting the seed but it is actually a rather important step. By doing this, you are going to vastly improve the potential rate of germination so by all accounts you should have more seeds that are capable of producing plants in the following year rather than everything just becoming dormant.
Some argue that you do not have to actually do this part, but generally speaking it will make life easier for you when it comes to taking the seeds out of their gel later on. Also, it is known to help eliminate the possibility for certain diseases in the seeds and it can also eliminate other issues connected to their later germination.
In order to correctly ferment the seeds you should cover the container that you have just placed the seeds and their gel like substance and instead of putting a normal lid on it you should cover it in plastic film. You should then pierce the top with a couple of holes as this is going to allow for some air to circulate and this is going to really help the entire fermentation process. However, prior to doing this, you should add around half a cup of water to the solution and then leave it alone to allow this entirely natural process to then develop.
What should then happen is you will check the seeds in a couple of days time and you may see some mold appearing on the plastic film but that is actually a good sign and it is certainly nothing to worry about. The only other thing that we should say is that you need to keep this container out of sunlight so do not place it near your window or you will mess up the process.
However, you do need to make sure that the process is working and that is the step that we will deal with next.
Step 4: How to check the seeds.
During the fermentation process, which only takes a few days, it is important that you go ahead and check the seeds every single night. Now, you are probably wondering how on earth you check something that contains tomato seeds, gel, and some water but it is nothing too complex for you to worry about.
Each night, remove the plastic film that is over the container and give the solution a quick stir. After this is done, remember to put the plastic film back over it and if you have to replace it then add those air holes once again as air is such an important aspect. You will then really know when the fermentation process is complete when you see what can only be described as a layer of scum sitting on the top of the solution that is in the container. It may not look that nice but it is going to let you know that you can then move onto the next part of the process where you separate the seeds from their gel in order to prepare them for storage later on.
Step 5: Correctly cleaning the newly fermented seeds.
Once you are happy with the fermentation part of the process it is then important that you look at cleaning the newly fermented seeds if you are serious about getting the best possible seeds to germinate the following year.
As with the rest of this process there is nothing special or difficult about this part. In actual fact, all you need to do is to take the plastic film off the container and with a spoon scoop off that layer of scum that has formed on the top of the solution. Once that is done get a very fine kitchen sieve and pour the solution onto it. Remember and just make sure that the mesh is fine so that none of the seeds can fall through.
Once it is in the sieve you need to gently rinse through them with water and this may have to be done several times in order to really get rid of the gel that surrounds the seeds. You should also seek to stir the seeds gently to help the separation process. However, the important word there is ‘gently’ as you do not want to damage the seeds which is always possible if you are trying to be too forceful in getting rid of the gel that surrounds the seeds.
After you feel that the seeds are thoroughly rinsed, then give a couple of taps to the sieve just to try to remove as much of the water surrounding them as possible. This will then make the drying out process that bit easier for you to do.
Step 6: Correctly drying the tomato seeds.
At this point you are starting the process of preparing the seeds for storage and a key part of that is to dry them out before you even think about packing them away. If you fail to dry them then any moisture that is left is going to slowly rot the seeds away and you will be left with seeds that are useless and unable to germinate at all in the following year.
In order to effectively dry them out you need to make sure that you are using a place where there is not a lot of excess moisture. What we recommend is to use paper that would normally be seen in a coffee filter and lay it down on a flat surface. Place the freshly rinsed seeds on the paper and make sure that they are spread out so that they are not sitting on top of one another. You should then place the paper in a safe place where it can sit undisturbed for a few days.
However, each day you should look at stirring the seeds and moving them around on the paper. This is going to increase the chances of each surface being given ample opportunity to dry as it makes sense that if you leave them as they are then the upper surface will dry while the bottom will remain wet. This would then lead to all kinds of problems when it comes to you being able to store the seeds over winter.
The drying part is going to take some time. Tomato seeds tend to be quite thick so you are looking at it taking at least a week as a minimum. However, if the weather outside is cold and damp then you are going to have to add on several days for the drying out process but there is no rush so do not get anxious about it.
But how do you know when they are dry? Well, that is simple. Tomato seeds that are dry will be able to move around the plate quite easily and will not stick to one another. If they continue to do either of those things then they are not as dry as they should be and you will have to come back the following day and check to see how they are progressing. If they are not dry after checking, then just make sure that you move them around so that they are back in a single layer since this helps the drying process.
Step 7: Storing them for the following year.
The final step for you is to then store the seeds for the following year and, once again, you need to be careful with how you do this. The best way to store your tomato seeds is to place them in an airtight container but the most important thing is that they are dry. Some growers will actually include packets of silica gel in the container in order to absorb any excess moisture but this is not always necessary.
In addition, you can store them in your refrigerator or even your freezer but it is important that you then bring the seeds and container back up to room temperature before you open them. However, they will keep for years when they are just stored in a dry place as that is undoubtedly the most important part.
But what kind of container? Well, you can either use paper or plastic and most people do prefer to get an old paper envelope and keep the seeds in there. If you do decide to go down the route of a plastic container then just remember that the moisture could cause a problem so take the tip of the silica gel just to help stop that problem in its tracks. The main thing is that the container has to be absolutely bone dry and stay that way for however long you are planning on storing the seeds for. Any moisture is going to have a profound impact on the ability of the seeds to then germinate.
So, that is how you can successfully save tomato seeds and as you can see there are no real special requirements or a complex understanding of horticulture at any point. Instead, if you just follow those seven simple steps then you should run into no problems whatsoever and it really will make your life so much easier.