The Best Way to Save Tomato Seeds


MOST OF THE SEED SAVING EXPERTS AGREE, you should ferment your tomato seeds before storing them for the winter. But while fermentation is critical to making some of my very favorite foods − vinegar, yogurt, beer, cheese, bread, kefir − it may not be necessary for saving tomato seeds. In fact, the need to ferment tomato seeds may very well be a myth or urban legend.

If you’re interested in saving seeds, you may have read my article that discusses how to Ferment Tomato Seeds and how I suspected that seed savers really didn’t need to do this. My wife has been telling me for a while now that the smelly, messy process wasn’t necessary. So I decided to do a test to see if she was right.

First, you need to know that I’m the kind of person who likes to get every little advantage that I can … in gardening or other areas. So when dozens of experts are saying that you really must encourage microorganisms to ferment away the coating around open pollinated tomato seeds before storing them, I wanted to believe that going to the extra effort to do this would be worth it.

I tested my pink brandywines and was amazed at the results.

My wife, on the other hand, doesn’t see the point, even if it means that some of the seeds won’t germinate or grow as quickly. She had been saving tomato seeds just fine for years without fermenting. Why bother?

The test

To find out what’s best, I tested both methods. I:

1. Split a tomato and made two batches
2. Dried batch one (without fermentation) on a paper towel
3. Fermented and dried batch two using the traditional method
4. Planted seeds from both batches in seed starting mix in different paper pots
5. Compared seed germination rates and plant health from both batches

Save Tomato SeedsI tested my pink brandywines and was amazed at the results. Not only did the unfermented seeds germinate as well as the fermented batch, but they actually had consistently higher rates of germination and took less time to sprout. With both methods, damping off was not a problem.

Not Exactly Scientific

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that this was NOT a truly scientific test. There are many reasons why the results may be erroneous. For example, the fermented seeds:

1. Might have been bad even before they were fermented
2. Could have received too little moisture during germination
3. May have been planted too deeply

You should only consider my test as a data point and not the complete answer to the question of whether to ferment or not. Still, it provides important evidence that there may not be any advantage to fermentation and that my wife might very well be right.

Do you save tomato seeds? What works best for you? We’d love to hear what your experience has been by leaving a comment below.

Related articles:

1. Hardening Off Seedlings
2. Transplanting Seedlings Outdoors
3. Transplant at Proper Soil Temperatures

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4 Responses to “The Best Way to Save Tomato Seeds”

  1. May 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm #

    Fascinating…I will have to try some seed saving…great to have this informative post to help me.

  2. Melanie in SE Ohio
    December 9, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    I also have saved tomato seeds for years (on paper plates) with excellent germination. I make sure the tomato is really ripe. I was researching what the advantages of fermenting them are, but I still don’t get it. Why would I take the chance getting the seed inside the gel coating WET? That seems to defeat the protection of the gel coating from the water in the tomato. It is my belief that the gel dries onto the paper plate (at least on one side), which breaks it up when I peel them off. It’s easy to write notes on the paper plate, they dry quick, and stack up until late fall when the humidity is way down and I package them.

    Cucumber seed has a gel, too, and I save them (from a fully ripened cuc), the same way.

    • December 9, 2013 at 8:30 pm #

      Melanie – I think you have a good system. Why waist the gel as a protection against gemination?

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