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Tomato seeds being soaked to remove the membrane around them.

Saving Tomato Seeds – Not So Terrifying

It’s January, and one might assume that tomato seed-saving should have happened in …oh…September, but when one puts a couple of tomatoes in a Snaplock container in the refrigerator, way in the back, and is afraid to attempt to save the seeds for the first time, January is a good time to get over the fear.  Thus we begin our adventure in saving tomato seeds.

It presents itself as a task that involves fermentation, allowing mold (yes, the fuzzy smelly kind) to grow over the surface of the liquid containing the seeds.  That alone is enough to put off many a squeamish gardener.  As it turns out, the jar of rank liquid doesn’t, in fact, stink up the entire house as I suspected it would. It relegates itself to the jar mostly.

What you need:

Tomatoes (hopefully not as “aged” as mine were), Jars with lids that can fit loosely, and labels


I pulled out my trusty Rodale’s Complete Book of Garden Answers and flipped to the handy diagram of what to do.  First, squeeze the seeds and some juice into a jar, discarding the solids.

We’re saving Kelloggs Breakfast and the magical volunteer tomato that is still growing (as of Jan. 2012)

Add water:

Add about a 1/2 cup of water to the seeds and put the lid on loosely (no exploding tomatoes in my kitchen, thank you very much).



Place the jars out of direct sunlight and wait 3-5 days for mold to start forming over the top – yum!

Why do we need to do this?  The fermentation process dissolves the membrane around the
tomatoes, making them viable when planted.

Skim and Rinse:

Now we get to the fun part.  Scooping off the layer of mold isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  It almost comes off in one “piece” and the smell isn’t so offensive.  Even if it is, it’s over before you know it and your on to rinsing.

The seeds will sink to the bottom, making the process of skimming very easy.  Next pour off the excess liquid without losing the seeds.  Then add water, swirl, and pour off. Do this until the seeds are free of debris.

This is the first rinse.  We poured off and added fresh water, resulting in clear liquid and clean seeds.

At Last:

The final step is to drain and dry the seeds on screens.  Many people report that drying seeds on paper towels makes the seeds stick to the towels.  I left them in colanders with paper towels underneath to absorb the runoff.

When they are completely dry, they will be stored in envelopes in a jar in the fridge.

That’s it. The whole thing took about 10 minutes on hands-on time.  It was not nearly as off-putting as I expected it to be.  Fears be dashed, I’m excited to try again this summer (before next January).

Got any seed saving tips to share?  Post them here.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Holly

    I don’t ferment. I just dry my seeds on waxed paper or scraps of freezer paper and leave them attached for storage in regular #10 envelopes. Easy to write on, both content info and growing instructions. When ready to plant, I just peel off what I need. Works well enough for me that I always have starts to give away.

    1. Christy

      Yes, eventually the membrane (which has is in place to prevent the seed from sprouting) will wear away. Fermentation is just the sure way of making sure it’s gone. Glad to hear other methods are working for you. I know some people just squeeze the seeds from the tomato into a paper towel, and store them in the freezer until next year. Then they plant the paper towel.

      1. Holly

        Interesting. I was taught to never refrigerate tomatoes, and often see vivipary.

        1. Christy

          The idea is to freeze the seeds, not the tomatoes. Vivipary – great word!

  2. Christy Wilhelmi

    I confess that I, too, like to keep seed companies in business but it’s fun to step in the direction of self-reliance too.  We’ll be starting our tomato seeds soon, so we’ll see how well our seed saving techniques paid off.

  3. Chris

    Cool! My husband was just asking why I don’t save seeds. I like to try new varieties and hey, the seed people need to make a living too!

    I started my seedlings last week and have had a great germination rate with seeds from Renee’s Garden (some 2 year old) and Tomato Fest. Alas, I also have many “volunteers” from the compost from my worm farm 🙁 that I mixed in with my seed starter mix. Those seeds had been in with the worms for well over 1 year. Persistant little buggers!

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