Harvesting Tomato Seeds

Harvesting Tomato Seeds

We are right in the middle of tomato season here in Colorado which is the perfect time to harvest tomato seeds for next year. Harvesting your own seeds is a great, cheap and completely organic way to get tomatoes. Plus I get so much more excited to know the tomatoes I eat each year have come full circle.

It was in late summer 2011 where I first started harvesting tomato seeds. I had moved to a place on Long Island where I could finally have a garden and fortuitously stumbled a upon a blog post about harvesting seeds from heirloom tomatoes. It was the perfect time to do it, tomato season the year before I wanted to plant. I thought why not! Worst case, I didn’t get any tomatoes from the plant…which would have sucked but I was only growing a side garden so I thought why not risk it. The risk was way worth the reward.

My husband and went out to our local organic market and rummaged through the heirloom tomato bin. We picked out many different tomatoes we liked based on color and size and took them home. Fast forward five years later and I am still using this method. This year I planted third generation seeds I collected in 2013 and I can say that this method works! My tomatoes this year have been amazing.

It is now time to collect seeds from this years crop and a perfect chance to share this method with you (it isn’t that much different from the one found on GardenTherapy.ca so I give most of the credit to that site):

  1. Select the tomato you want to collect seeds from. It can be an heirloom from the store or one you grow in your own yard. I cannot stress enough the heirloom part. Most tomatoes at the stores and some you grow from pre bought seeds and plants are hybrids. Hybrids are a combination of a different plants and the problem with collecting seeds from hybrids is that you never really know what you are going to get the next year. Heirlooms on the other hand are a variety that have been grown from seeds for generations and you should get something close to what the mother tomato was.
  2.  Get your components together. To harvest the seeds you need: a knife, a 1/2 pint or other jar, 1 mason jar ring (no lid needed), half of a paper towel sheet (or other breathable fabric), and of course your tomato.
    A tomato, Ball jar, water and a paper towel is all you need to harvest seeds.
    Disclaimer: It is possible that hybrids can screw up heirlooms from the same garden. My mom collected seeds which were some odd combination of who knows what. We don’t know how it happened but it is worth mentioning that this method isn’t 100% perfect, though I personally have never had this problem.

*Some tips for choosing the tomato:

  1. Pick the size tomato you want to grow. Of course this doesn’t mean you will get all the same size tomatoes but if you pick a smaller tomato you might be picking a variety that produces smaller tomatoes.
  2. Choose a tomato with solid skin. You will be growing these outside after all. You want a pretty hardy tomato.

*Some tips for choosing a tomato from your plant:

  1. I read somewhere that you should not harvest the first tomatoes on the plant. I am not entirely sure why and part of me thinks if you wanted to create a variety of early producing tomatoes this would be the way to go. Either way, I always select from somewhere in the 2nd and 4th cluster on the plant.
  2. Harvest the tomatoes when they are ripe or even closer to overripe! You are collecting seeds and if you pick too early you might not have the seed development you want.
  3. Cut the tomato open and taste it. This is an important step. I would like to think you are growing your tomatoes to eat them!!! Do you like the flavor? Do you like the texture? What are you going to use the tomato for?Taste that tomato.
  4. Pour filtered water halfway up a labeled mason jar (make sure to label especially if you are doing many varieties at once). Use a spoon or your finger to remove all of the seeds from the tomato and place in the water. You can leave all the gross bits floating around in there.
    Seeds sink to the bottom of the water in the jar. Don't worry about the gunk also in there.  Another view of the tomato seeds from the open jar top.
  5. Place a paper towel over the top of the jar and screw on the lid. I use a mason jar because you want the jar to breathe. Mason jars allow you to screw on a lid to keep the paper towel locked in place but not covered.Cover with a towel but let the air pass through then set in a dark place.
  6. Place the jar in a dark, dry place. I use one of my kitchen cabinets.
  7. Check on the jar ever so often. We are looking for mold. I know this sounds gross but this decomposition of the tomato seeds is going to help them be awesome in the future! Mold can grow faster or slower depending where you live, just keep watching it. Once the entire top of your water has molded over the seeds are ready!

    This is what the jar looked like after a week. It isn't quite there yet. I will post a new picture when it is!
    This is what the jar looked like after a week. Pretty much ready to go!
  8. Remove the mold and any gunk or seeds at the top of the water. The seeds you want, the viable ones, should sink to the bottom. Dump out the water until you have just enough to contain the seeds. Dump this bit into a paper towel or very fine sieve.
  9. Rinse the tomato seeds a little. No need to go overboard cleaning them.
  10. Place on paper towel, cloth, or sieve until dry.
  11. Once seeds are dry, place in air tight container and store in a dark, colder place until you are ready to plant them next season!

That is it! Pretty simple right? I will update this post with pictures of the steps as they happen with my current seeds. I wanted to get the directions out to you so you can start collecting right now, and not miss the perfect time to harvest tomato seeds.

Of course don’t waste the tomato! It has no seeds in it but it is still delicious because that is why you are harvesting the seeds in the first place. We used ours to make this yummy salad.Don't waste the tomato, it is delicious, eat it!

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