Easy Seed Saving Method for Tomato Seeds
Some gardeners use a quick and easy seed saving method for tomato seeds, “The Baggie Variation,” which takes about 15-20 minutes.
The advantage of The Baggie Variation is that it lets you save time when you’re saving seeds.
Tomato seeds (along with a few other types of seeds, including cucumber and melon seeds) are enclosed in gel casings. Fermentation helps remove the gel casing before saving the seeds, leading to a stronger germination rate in the spring.
Traditional tomato seed saving calls for a fermentation step, which adds several days to the process. The Baggie Variation relies on household cleanser to dissolve the seed gel casings. Germination rates for this easy seed saving process are excellent.
The Baggie Variation: Easy Seed Saving for Tomato Seeds
Step #1: Choose tomatoes
Save seeds from “open pollinated” (OP) or heirloom tomatoes. These are tomato varieties are true to their type from their own seed, which means the next season’s plants maintain the same characteristics as they previous one. Hybrid tomatoes, on the other hand, are bred from two parents of different varieties. Because of that, it’s questionable whether or not they produce seeds that keep their characteristics from season to season. Select your tastiest and healthiest heirloom (OP) tomatoes from which to save seeds.
Saving tomato seeds: which varieties should you save for next year?
Step #2: Extract seeds
Slice the tomato in half on its equator.
With a spoon or your finger, scoop out seeds.
Place them in a zippered plastic bag, available at grocery or discount department stores under brand names including Ziploc® and Glad®. (Generic baggies work fine, too.)
Step #3: Rinse seeds
- Add ¼ - ½ cup of water to the baggie.
- Hold baggie on a diagonal. Work the seeds to one corner of the bag.
- Drain the water and add more. Repeat this rinsing procedure 2-3 times.
Step #4: Cleanse seeds
- Add ¼- ½ cup of water to the baggie once more. Stir 2-3 teaspoons household cleanser (such as Ajax® or Comet®) into the mixture.
- Massage the seed mixture thoroughly.
- Place the baggie in an empty sink or in a bowl to rest. Allow seed mixture to sit for about 15 minutes. The cleanser works to loosen gel casings from the tomato seeds.
- After 15 minutes of rest, massage the seeds once again to help the seed gel casings to release from the seeds.
Step #5: Rinse again … and again …
- Add water to the bag until it is about half full. Seal bag tightly and shake.
- Allow seeds to settle. Good seeds will sink to the bottom of the bag; bad seeds will float to the top. Maneuver good seeds into one corner of the baggie.
- Pour off the liquid and bad seeds. Add clean water to the baggie. Massage the remaining good seeds to dislodge debris and seed coatings. Drain.
- Repeat this rinsing process 10-12 times. (Each rinse takes just a few seconds.) Be careful to help good seeds stay lodged in the corner of the baggie.
- When seeds have been thoroughly rinsed and water is clear, pour them into a fine mesh strainer or sieve over the sink. Rinse seeds thoroughly with running water. Stir them to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned.
Step #6: Dry seeds
Monitor seeds carefully to make sure they dry thoroughly before you store them.
- Stir and dry: spread rinsed seeds in a single layer on a paper plate, glass dish, mesh screen placed over a plate, parchment paper, waxed paper, or coffee filter to prevent sticking. Avoid drying seeds on ceramic, metal, or plastic, which don’t breathe and don’t allow water to wick away from seeds. Label each tomato variety.
- You can also save tomato seeds on paper towel to save time and produce your own seed tape. Find out how to create your own tomato seed tape.
- Set seeds in a warm area to dry, away from direct sunlight, such as on top of a refrigerator.
- Shake plate or stir seeds daily to prevent clumping and allow even drying. Spread seeds in a single layer after stirring. When seeds are exposed to air, they dry quicker.
- Seeds will dry in 1-2 weeks.
- Seeds have difficulty drying in high humidity and high temperatures. If exposed to those conditions during the drying process, wet seeds may sprout.
- Do not heat seeds as they dry. Never place them in an oven.
Step #7: Store seeds
- Store dry seeds in either paper envelopes or zipped plastic bags.
- Make sure seeds are 100% dry before storing them, especially if using plastic bags. Otherwise, extra moisture will be locked into plastic bags and spread to all seeds, allowing mildew and rot to spread and ruin the whole batch.
- Add silica gel packets to saved seed bags as an additional moisture deterrent and to increase shelf life.
- Label seeds with variety and date.
- Store seeds in a cool, dry place. Many gardeners store tomato seeds in the refrigerator or freezer.
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By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source for growing tomatoes and using them.
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