Many people are intimidated to harvest tomato seed. Nothing could be easier!! Select fruit from a desired variety that you have maintained by proper isolation distance or caging. Keep the varieties separate and labeled to eliminate the possibility of mixing seed varieties.
Harvest when fruit is fully colored and ripe. Tomatoes may be individually harvested as they ripen. It is not required for seed fruit to be harvested all at one time.
Make sure you harvest fruit that comes from healthy plants and fruit (disease free).
Fermentation of tomato seed is required prior to drying. Fermentation removes the gel coat around each seed. The gel coat may inhibit germination.
Let’s get started!
Cut tomato in half or quarter and crush tomato fruit into a jar or bowl. Add a small amount of water to the pulp.
Allow pulp to ferment for 2-4 days (2 days if 80°-95° (F), 4 days if below 80° (F)). The fermentation process loosens the jelly around the seed. The jelly contains compounds that inhibit germination.
Add water to the fermented pulp and agitate. Viable seed will stay on the bottom while the fermented material and bad seed will float to the top. Strain mixture to remove the pulp and fermented material.
Place the moist seeds on a labeled and dated paper plate and allow to dry for 2 weeks. Paper towels, unbleached coffee filters or framed fine screens will work as well.
Scrape seed off of the paper plate and place in a labeled paper envelope (place envelope in a freezer zip lock bag) or small glass jar with a desiccant*. Place saved seed in a cool, dark and dry place or your freezer. If properly stored the seed will last 4 to 6 years.
Saving tomato seed is easily accomplished and low tech. Plus, the saved seed will last for many years. The following year try other varieties as the current years seed will be viable for up to six years!! This will be your one-of-a-kind tomato seed collection.
- *Desiccant – is a substance that removes humidity/moisture.
As heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers are losing ground by an estimated 10,000 a year, seed saving has become a race for time and the home gardener has a place in this race.
I met a man in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed store who lost his personal family heirloom seed in a house fire. He was saddened he could not replace those beloved seeds. All the more reason to embrace the heirlooms we can grow and make them our own.
The beginning seed saver will have great success when saving seed harvested from vegetables where seeds mature and dry on the plant. The distance required between varieties is ten (10) feet therefore the possibility for cross pollination is very slight.
Beans (green, dry/fresh shell out beans, lima beans, long beans, soybeans, tepary beans, Asian winged beans, runner beans, fava beans), cowpeas/southern peas (Crowder, black-eyed, purple hull, field peas) and peas (garden, snow and sugar snap peas) are the simplest seeds to save!!
- Beans require 10 – 20 feet spacing between varieties to prevent cross pollination as they are self pollinating. 10 plants are needed for sufficient seed quantities and seed diversity (color, texture, flavor and acclimated to your garden). You have now grown seed for your particular growing needs. No one else will have this unique seed. Harvest when the pods are dry on the plant, shell/thresh the pods and save the seeds. Seeds may be saved in paper envelopes, placed in a zip lock bag with a desiccant and placed in a lidded glass jar in the freezer. Remember to write the name of the seed and date on the envelope. If harvested and dried correctly the seed will be viable 3 to 4 years.
- Cowpeas require 10 – 20 feet spacing between varieties to prevent cross pollination as they are self pollinating. Ten (10) plants are needed for sufficient seed and seed diversity (color, texture, flavor and acclimated to your garden). You will posses seed unique to your area and it is one- of- a- kind. No one else can claim your seed as theirs. Harvest when pods have dried on the plant, shell/thresh the pods and save the dried seeds. Make sure the seeds are completely dried (should feel like pebbles/rock) and placed in a paper envelope with the name of the seed and date stored. Place the envelope in a zip lock bag with a desiccant and seal in a lidded glass jar. Store the jar in a freezer until the seed is needed. If harvested and dried correctly the seed will be viable for 3 to 4 years.
- Peas require 10 – 20 feet spacing between varieties to prevent cross pollination as peas are self pollinating. Ten (10) plants are needed for sufficient seed quantities and seed diversity (color, texture, flavor and acclimated to your garden). Your saved seed is now unique to your garden and region. No one else will have this one-of-a-kind seed. Harvest when the pods have dried on the plant, shell/thresh the pods and save the dried seeds. Make sure the seeds are completely dried (like pebbles or stone) and place in a paper envelope with the seed name and date of storage. Place the envelope in a zip lock bag with a desiccant and seal in a lidded glass jar. Store the glass jar in the freezer until the seed is needed. If the seed has been harvested and dried correctly the seed will be viable for 3 to 4 years.
Remember only harvest dried seed pods from disease-free plants. Dried seed from diseased plants will infect healthy seed and may cause crop failure in future gardening projects.
Tomatoes need a special process prior to drying. Stay tuned to learn the how-to’s.