Saving Seed

mommaval(9)May 22, 2009

I am so sorry to post this question as I am sure it has been answered so many times, but please bear with me. I searched the seed saving forum first and read through several pages...couldn't find it and the search function isn't working!!! So, I have a couple of heirloom tomatoes I want seeds from for next season, mostly Mr. do you save seeds and when...are the seeds ready when the tomato is or do I need to leave a couple on the vine longer just to seed??? Again, so sorry to have to ask this!! But all help is so appreciated!!

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austinnhanasmom(5 CO)

No bad questions here!!

This is what I found last year on Google (THANKS whoever posted this on Google - stupid me did not save the name) and it worked great for me:

By preserving seed from plants that did well in your garden, youll develop a sub-group that thrives in your conditions and may well grow better then store bought seeds.
* Preserve seed only from nonhybrid (open-pollinated) tomatoes. They produce offspring just like themselves, with only slight variations. On the other hand, hybrid tomatoes, which include most modern varieties, produce offspring that won't necessarily look or taste the same as the parents.

Preserve seed that hasn't been cross-pollinated. All tomatoes are self-pollinating, but a few kinds (currant or potato-leaf types like 'Brandywine') can be cross-pollinated by some insects. If you're not growing currant or potato-leaf types, or you're growing just one of these in addition to other types of tomatoes, you can save seed from this year's harvest. To prevent cross-pollination in the future, cover flowers with a bag made from cheesecloth or spun-polyester fiber (available at nurseries) before blossoms open. Tag the covered flower stem with brightly colored yarn. Remove the cover when fruits are developing.
* Harvest fruits when they're thoroughly ripe and soft.

Tomato seeds are enclosed in a gel sac; to remove the sac and to help destroy seed-borne diseases, put them through a fermentation process:

1. Wash the fruit, then cut it in half across the middle (not the stem end). Gently squeeze seeds, pulp and juice into a labeled jar-like glass container  tall and skinny works well. Add a few tablespoons of water to the seeds then cover with saran wrap or foil and rubber band. Poke a hole in the center and set the jar out of direct sun in an area where you won't be bothered by the ripening odor or fruit flies. Each night, stir the mix.

2. Allow the seed mixture to sit until the surface is partially covered with whitish mold (in 3 to 5 days). In warm climates, you may need to add a little water midway through the process to keep the seeds afloat. Scrape off the white mold with a spoon, being careful not to remove seeds. After 4-5 days, the seeds may begin to sprout.

3. Fill the container with water, then stir (or cap the jar and shake) vigorously; the good seeds will sink to the bottom.

4. Pour off and discard floating seeds and pulp. Repeat until the good seeds are clean. Pour the cleaned seeds into a fine strainer; rinse and drain.

5. Sprinkle seeds onto a heavy plate, lined with a coffee filter and allow them to dry for one to three days, depending on the weather. Keep them out of direct sun. To make sure they dry thoroughly and don't stick together, stir twice a day. If drying indoors, a fan helps to dry before mold can develop (no heat). Seeds are dry when they move freely across the plate. Store dried seeds in a cool, dry, dark place in individually labeled airtight containers such as glass canning or baby food jars until planting time next spring.

Note - In my super dry CO locale, I don't need the coffee filter, but I do use the fan so they dry quicker. I just placed the seeds to dry on a glass plate and then gently scraped the seeds up with my fingernail.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 4:52PM
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If you want to do it well in 35 minutes from start to finish, with a half hour break in there too, then see the link below.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 5:08PM
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OK so your question has been answered...but can I post a link to my Web site with photos and instructions on seed saving? I hope this helps:

Saving Tomato Seeds - Grow Your Tomatoes

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 5:08PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Many people use organza wedding favor bags to cover blossoms (I think I've read that they can be found at Walmart). Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells drawstring muslin bags in their Supplies section, and I think I've seen them at other vendors too. I don't know how the prices compare.

Ideally, you want your saved seeds to look like the ones in catman's picture: pale and hairy. If your seeds are dark and hairless, they may not germinate well. You can test for germination to see if you've done it correctly.

When I've saved seeds, I've usually been interested in eating or dehydrating the tomatoes, so I haven't sacrificed the entire fruit, just removed the seeds and gel, plus the bit around the stem and some core area. Fermentation is slower, but the seeds I saved had a good germination rate this spring!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2009 at 8:00PM
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Well, I guess I can add my process to this thread. Mine is based on someone who has never saved, or is a novice at saving tomato seeds. It is a beginner's guide with lots of pictures.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 9:08AM
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austinnhanasmom(5 CO)

Pictures are great - I was confused the first time I did it:)) And there is probably a better process then the one I followed.

I have noticed that saved seed seems to germinate better then purchased, especially with peppers.

I did trade for some REALLY dark seeds and held my breath, but they sprouted too!! The seedlings all died but that may be from my growing habits and not how the seed was saved.

I am excited to save seed and eventually have strains suited to my garden. I am also saving seed to swap and share. I noticed last fall that, for particular varieties, I thought there were few seeds in the jar, only to packet a bunch when it was all done.

I bought some tulle (sp) and ribbon to try and sew my own bags, since I had no idea I could buy them premade!! Must get on that this weekend since my plants are ready to flower.

A rewarding part of the process was sprouting my own seeds and now watching the plants ready to bear more fruit from those!!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 10:16AM
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jessicavanderhoff(7 Md)

The part about PL and currant tomatoes cross-polinating is interesting- I hadn't known. Can anyone confirm from experience? How many tend to sprout with this method? I soaked mine just two days, I think. I have heard it recommended several times to use overripe fruit. I used regular ripe fruit and still got good germ rates- almost 100% I think, so it may work either way.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 12:15PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


I think the thing about overripe fruit is just so the seeds are definitely mature enough to germinate. But like you, I save seeds from what I'd call "eating-ripe" tomatoes, not soft, and they germinate just great.

In fact, what I do is save the seeds from particularly tasty tomatoes that we eat. There are usually a few left on the serving plate!

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 1:20PM
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To shake or not to shake. That, is the question. I have been saving seeds for several years. Some I have shaken daily during the fermentation process and some I have not. I have had excellent germination following both "shaken and still seeds". I guess the question for some chemist out there is " Is fermentation an aerobic or anaerobic process"? Does fermentation work better with lots of oxygen or without a lot of the stuff? Tomato seeds are tough critters. I know folks who just place the wet seeds in a newspaer, roll it up, and then unroll and plant the next growing season. Go figure. I would appreciate an answer to the question, however. Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2009 at 8:58PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

In January 2005, I saved a post that Carolyn137 (Male) made and it said:

DO NOT STIR the mixture. Fermentation is a process which takes place in the absence of air (is anaerobic) and stirring introduces air.

That was a repost of the technique she recommends and I have had very good luck with seeds that I saved using Carolyn method. I am getting better than 90% germination on seeds I saved in 2003 and 2004 with her method. And in fact I got nearly 50% on seeds that Carolyn saved in 1993 and 1994 that I planted this year. (Alas, the one that I had only 3 seeds of and planted all of them gave me 0%!)


    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 11:58AM
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azruss(8b Tucson)

Trudi's method seems so quick and easy. Why isn't everyone doing that?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 2:36PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


There seem to be as many ways to save seeds as there are to grow tomatoes. So never will everyone use the same one.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 2:39PM
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azruss(8b Tucson)

Also, can you save seeds successfully from tomatoes that you've picked early and allowed to ripen indoors?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 2:39PM
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Gosh, thanks to all of you who have given your input!! I am so excited about saving seed this is my first time with a veggie garden...I learned most everything frommy dad, but he always buys plants, never saves & uses his own seed. But, next year, I want to go with several heirloom variety tomatoes and I want to try most everything from seed I have traded or saved myself, so this is so very helpful. I am picking lots from the garden right fact, one row is done with taters and on to green onions already, so I have recorded methods of saving seed correctly on green beans, purple hull, on to cukes, banana peppers, jalapeno & bell peppers!! Oh, and yellow squash!!!! Wish me luck!! I just picked my first tomato was one from Mr. Stripey.... I felt like a proud mommy bending and picking that baby!!!!!! Thanks again, this has been such interesting info!!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 11:25PM
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Dear Betts,
Thank you so much for your response. I should have know better as I have Carolyn's book and have procured numerous copies over the years for gifts to gardening friends. I am doubly ashamed for forgetting my basic college chemistry. Isn't this a great forum?

    Bookmark   May 25, 2009 at 9:08PM
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I am new to this web site and was reading through the posts. Mommaval wrote on May 24, 09 that she is saving seeds from various vegetables. mommaval do you use the same fermenting method as with the tomato seeds for all vegetables? I am starting a square foot garden that is up on saw horses so I dont have to bend over to care for it. This is such a nice web site! I live in Mesa,AZ and I don't know what zone I am in.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 11:39PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

vegies, at the link at the bottom of the post you can enter your zip code and find out your USDA zone.

Sunset Magazine has their own system of zones, which you can find here:

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 12:00AM
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Vegiesforme - The answer to your question is "NO". Each veggie has a somewhat different way of gathering seed. The fermentation method applies to tomatoes, tomatillos, and (perhaps) eggplant.

Examples: Pepper seeds are gathered by simply removing them from the ripe pepper and drying. Many veggies are allowed to flower and then they produce seed which can be gathered. Broccoli is an example here.

You might want to ask individual questions about the specific "named" veggies you are growing. There can even be slight method variations from one veggie variety to the next - although tomatoes are very consistant on the method after you chose a method.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 8:00AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Just in case no one knew there is a Seed Saving Forum here at GW and it not only discusses how to collect and save all sorts of seeds but provides a detailed set of FAQ on a wide variety of vegetables and flower seeds, how to collect, treat, store them.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 9:41AM
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Thanks Digdirt, I was just about to post that....I know I started this thread but it was here because I needed to know about only tomato seeds at the time and the search engine was down on the saving seed I figured the tomato experts here could help quicker than the seed forum...and I was correct!!! Anyhow, you can ask about any type of seed saving there, and WHERE to find some seeds on certain flowers and veggies....and IF the search engine is working, you can try that would've been my first option, but, like i said, search was down. But thanks to you guys...I am quite excited about saving my heirloom seeds....I think you've created a monster out of me though...I feel seed-fever brewing. Do any of you who collect flower seeds also find yourselves digging in plants all over the outside the MD office and such???? Please tell me I'm not the only one who has now embarrased their child by looking for a seed???

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 10:12AM
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I wrote the GW Seed Saving FAQs, and a few other sets too ;-)

Seed saving can become a compulsion. Only save seeds from where you legally can, do not covet your neighbor's seeds or trespass on someone's property to take them. Don't take seeds from public gardens and ask commercial site owners first before you pilfer the parking lot plantings.

You might want to google "I'm a Seed Snatcher" and read what comes up GW on the search hits.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 10:25AM
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Thanks Trudi!! But I really was joking about the stealing...I did take a piece of bulb at the physical therapists office but only after I brought him a jar of homeade pickles and told him I wanted the ginger...he came out and pulled it up for me but he is my daughter's therapist and we had everyone watching us in the yard...that's why she was so embarrased...she said she hates having to face him now that we've been digging in the yard!! LOL!! It was meant to be light...I see I guess we need to watch how we word things on here!! They can sometimes not be taken lightly. LOL!!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 10:44AM
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I was reading another thread. The guy was talking about his various tomatoes and where he got them. One variety started from seeds he got from tomatoes from the farmer's market! What a great way to get seeds that will grow locally and you get to taste them too to decide if you feel they are worth buying

Katy in CA.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2009 at 10:12PM
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spiced_ham(z5 OH)

Regarding the comment about fermentation and stirring. The term "Fermentation" has always bothered me as it refers to energy aquisition pathways. If you check Wikipedia you will note that it can happen in aerobic or anaerobic conditions. The problem is that the method of energy aquisition for the microbes is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the microbes are growing and releasing enzymes that digest the seed gel, and microbial growth is almost always faster under aerobic (oxygen) conditions. This is why I shake my goop daily and get fluffy blonde seeds with 90%-100% germination after only 3-4 days at room temperature. Shaking also keeps a fungal mat from forming on top.

The reason not to shake or stir is practical, not biological. If you are "fermenting" squished whole fruits rather than a watery solution of seeds and gel, stirring/shaking makes a mess with seeds getting stuck in foam and solid matter at the surface. Lack of oxygen may also inhibit germination if you leave the goop to sit around for too long. If I were saving massive amounts of seeds from a bunch of tomatoes in a bucket I would not stir, but for one tomato, when I need to reuse the container in a few days, I'll keep on giving the seeds a quick rub in a wire seive before hand and shaking the watery solution every day to add oxygen and help break up the gel.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2009 at 6:35AM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)
  • "... guy was talking about his various tomatoes and where he got them. One variety started from seeds he got from tomatoes from the farmer's market! What a great way to get seeds that will grow locally and you get to taste them too... "

I've been doing this with mixed emotions. It started from my sis buying me heirlooms at West LA farmers markets. Unfortunately she thinks "heirloom" is the name, not all vendors label their fruit with specific names, or have someone attending the booths that knows the names. So if you love the tomato and save the seed you are without a positive id and run the risk of growing a hybrid. It seems like bad form not to know the name if you want to share and trade seed. Guessing or making up a name is worse form. I have five like this and I loved all the fruit or wouldn't have saved it. See Red Zebra, the loveliest looker I've seen and my first spitter. So now I have four unidentified yummies. Not good. With all the known seed I have collected since, I'm not sure I'll have room for the no names, though it is a little intriguing to grow them I guess.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2009 at 3:20PM
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