How to Save Heirloom Tomato Seeds

I’ve been thinking a lot about biodiversity lately. You know, the diversity of plant and animal life on Earth. This sounds like one of those deep hippie dippy areas, but really the benefits of maintaining a biologically varied ecosystem are no different than investing in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.

Simply, a diverse portfolio reduces the risk of a single investment being wiped out by market fluctuations while a diverse ecosystem can survive in the face of unexpected disease epidemics and extreme weather fluctuations. You don’t want your retirement funds to become extinct and you don’t want your food supply to be wiped out either.

tomato heirloom brandywine black krim

So what about heirloom tomatoes and seeds? Since I’m all about finding ways to save money while being an environmental steward, I’ve discovered that saving heirloom seeds meets both the money and environmental mark.

A heirloom tomato (called a heritage tomato in the UK) is an open-pollinated (non-hybrid) cultivated variety of tomato that can be grown from seed. Conventional hybrid tomatoes bought from your local grocery store, however, cannot be grown from the seeds you would save from them.

I figure, what’s the point of paying for and supporting parts of the food chain that are not self sustainable? Besides, heirloom tomatoes are very tasty fruits that are easy to grow and it’s free to save the seeds for the next growing season.

Choosing the Right Heirloom Tomato Seeds

When saving heirloom tomato seeds there are three simple rules you should follow for success!

1. Save seeds from only open-pollinated heirloom varieties.

Saving heirloom tomato seeds is easy, but you must choose seeds from only open-pollinated varieties. Here are a few heirloom tomato seeds I have successfully saved!

heirloom tomato seeds

  • Brandywine
  • Black Krim
  • Cherokee Purple
  • And many more!

2. Save seeds from fully ripe heirloom tomatoes.

Do yourself a solid and save your seeds from fully ripe, but not over-ripe heirloom tomatoes.

how to save seeds heirloom seeds

I know the green tomatoes need love too, but the best seeds for growing are from the fully ripe heirloom tomato fruits.

3. Save seeds from your best looking heirloom tomatoes.

There’s a reason the ladies all love Brad Pitt right? It’s ’cause he’s one hot specimen of a man. Well, you want to use the same logic when saving seeds — choose seeds from the best looking and tasting plants to ensure you grow the best tomatoes.

How to Save Your Heirloom Tomato Seeds

All you need is a sharp knife, a container, some water, a paper plate, and a few heirloom tomatoes to get going on this fun frugal task. Ready?

1. Choose a ripe, gorgeous heirloom tomato. You want to breed only the best.

seeds heirloom tomato seeds

2. Using a knife, slice across the equator of the tomato. Cutting the tomato in this way easily exposes the seeds.

heirloom seeds tomato seeds

3. Squeeze the seeds, gel, and juice out into a small container. No need to separate the seeds at this point.

seeds heirloom tomato seeds save

how to save seeds heirloom seeds garden seeds

4. Cover the seeds and tomato guts with an inch of water. The water helps to grow mold and separates the seeds from the gel.

heirloom seeds vegetable seeds

5. Label your container so you don’t forget the tomato variety. It’s hard to tell seeds apart without labels.

seeds heirloom vegetable seeds

6. Put the contrainer in an out of sight spot and wait for mold to grow. Unless you enjoy watching mold grow.

seed germination seeds heirloom seeds

7. After 3 to 5 days white mold will grow on the surface of the tomato water. This mold dissolves the gel coating from the seeds. When you see mold (don’t scream), just plug your nose and drain the water. Yes, it’s a little stinky. Be sure to keep only the seeds at the bottom of the container and discard all floating seeds. The floaters will not germinate.

seeds heirloom seeds save

8. Use a fine mesh strainer to rinse the remaining gel from your seeds. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to get those seeds clean.

9. Place your rinsed seeds in a single layer on a paper plate. The paper plate wicks the water away and will not stick to the seeds. The idea is to dry the seeds fast and prevent them from going moldy. Be sure to label your plate. Set the seeds aside for a few days until fully dry.

heirloom seeds how to save tomato seeds

10. Place your dry heirloom seeds into a labelled baggie. Store in a cool, dry place. Heirloom tomato seeds keep well and germinate for years if stored correctly. I keep mine in the refrigerator. Just don’t let your spouse use them in a salad. ;)

how to save seeds heirloom seeds

So there you have it! Saving heirloom tomato seeds is a simple way to stash some cash, get involved with biodiversity, and eat healthfully for less.

More great gardening stories:

Your Thoughts: Got any tips for saving seeds? Do you save your heirloom tomato seeds? Share your seedy skills!

Your two cents:

  1. marci357 October 21st, 2009

    I do much the same – excepting I dry the seeds, spread out, on a paper towel on a cookie rack. Once I am sure both the seeds and the towel are dry, I put paper towel with the seeds stuck to it and all in a small window envelope (which I got a box at a garage sale years ago) and label the envelopes. Then the envelopes go several at a time into ziplocks, which I keep in the mudroom – which is cool and dry.

    I realize the paper towel could be a problem planting, but I plant the seed even if there is a bit of towel stuck to it. The upside is that the seeds are easier to handle and don’t spill all over.

  2. Stephanie October 21st, 2009

    Very cool. I’ve been wanting to get my husband to start saving seeds, and he loves tomatoes. The hard part is that he also loves shopping for seeds.

  3. Bill McDorman October 21st, 2009

    Good job, especially the pictures. Now organize an annual potluck dinner in your area and invite all the seed savers. Price of admission; a dish for dinner and seeds to trade. In a few years your region could be self-reliant in its own seed production once the word gets out how easy and rewarding seed saving really is. You can find seed saving instructions for all the vegetables on the website of this 20 year-old non-profit: http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html

  4. vered | blogger for hire October 22nd, 2009

    It would never have occurred to me to do this. Interesting!

  5. Doris July 18th, 2010

    Now that we have the seeds saved and ready to plant in the spring, are they to be planted in little peat pots so that they can be moved about more easily as they grow? Does it take about two months or longer for them to be large enough to plant in the garden? As you can see I am new to this but love to try new things. Thanks for your help.

  6. Jared Wolney October 24th, 2010

    Before saving seeds, make sure they are not patented. Many seed companies have patents on the DNA and any second generation vegetables you grow are legally the property of the seed company. Anything labeled “heirloom” probably isn’t patented. If you buy drought resistant or pest resistant seeds, they are probably patented.

  7. Carol Christie June 16th, 2011

    Awesome post. There is so much convergence between frugality and sound ecological practices. I love it.

  8. will6659 September 12th, 2011

    I am saving my seed this year as I got some of the prettiest and tasties tomatoes. Does one have to ferment them? I realize my volunteer plants that come up on thier own each spring are from rotted tomatoes.

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