How to save tomato seeds

Published 5:45 am Saturday, October 14, 2017

After last week’s column about saving bean seeds ran in your newspaper, no fewer than a dozen people have requested that I rerun the column from several years ago that explained how I saved tomato seeds.

Trouble is that I can’t find that particular column because it is stored somewhere on an old backup hard drive that I didn’t bother transferring to the newest computer. Which means it predates 2014. Which means that I am too lazy to look for it because it’s easier to simply write a new explanation than it is to find the original.

And, besides that, your newspaper might frown on paying me again to rerun a column they’ve already paid for once and I need the money. A new column will make everybody happy except for those of you who are tired of hearing about anything related to gardening.

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Let me begin by saying that, prior to the mid-1980s, I saved my tomato seeds by simply raking them out of the fruit, spreading them out on a piece of paper towel and letting them get completely dry. Of course, they stick like glue to the towel but come planting time you simply plant towel and all and the viable seeds will still come up. Many, if not most, gardeners still do it that way and it certainly works.

However, if you like for your tomato seed to look like, or even better than, the ones that come out of your mail-order or store-bought seed packets, you have to put a little more work into saving them even though it probably does nothing to improve upon the plants you’ll get from the paper towel method.

I learned this “new to me” method from the late Molly Helton in 1983ish and I’ve stuck with it ever since.

Fill a quart jar about 2/3 full of tap water. Push the seeds out of a slice or several slices of tomato with a fork or teaspoon handle into the jar of water. Stick your fingers and whatever handle you’re using down into the water to rinse off any seed that may have stuck to them. Pay no mind to the bits of tomato flesh or peel that fell into the water with the seeds.

After you have as many seeds as you think you’ll need — one tomato will usually have a few hundred seeds — fill the jar nearly full, screw a lid onto it and shake it vigorously for a few seconds. Sit the jar in a window sill or someplace warm and let it sit for four or five days. Your seed will sink to the bottom of the jar but the flesh and peels etc. will rot and rise to the top of the jar.

Pour off all the water and floating residue you can, without pouring out any seeds, and refill the jar with fresh water. Shake it vigorously and let it sit for a few minutes until the seeds have settled to the bottom yet again. If any residue is still down there let the jar sit a few more days until it floats. Any seeds that are not viable will also float. Repeat the pour off process, then rinse the seed again by pouring in fresh water, shaking the jar and letting them settle and then pouring off the water.

I use a tablespoon to dip the seeds out of the jar and put them in an aluminum pie tin. I actually use the tins that come with the little fifty cent pies I’m hooked on from the Walmart Bakery Aisle. They’re a dollar everywhere else but surely you know what I’m talking about.

Pay no attention to what little water might get into the pan when you scoop the seeds into it. It will evaporate within a few hours if you sit the pan on top of your refrigerator. At least it does on mine.

Let the seeds dry for about a week or 10 days then use your thumb or finger to loosen them from the tin, store them in a zip-lock baggie, make sure you label it and stash them in your freezer. Come next spring you will have easy- to-individually-handle, very clean, fuzzy little tomato seeds from which you can count on nearly 100 percent germination.

Do make sure that the fruit from which you are saving seeds is not a hybrid variety. If you save seeds from a hybrid tomato they will come up but the fruit won’t look anything like the original. You probably will not be pleased with the result unless you are crazy about very sour tommy-toes.

In other words, do not try this with a store-bought tomato. Even if you find one that actually tastes like a tomato, chances are very high that it’s offspring will be villains.

Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.