Knowing How To Save Tomato Seed Can Save You Money & Ensure Perfect Seed For Next Year. It Ensures Perfect Crops, Year After Year. Here’s How To Do It.

I get many tomato questions every year and How To Save Tomato Seed is the one I’m out frequently asked around August and September. Tomato seed is one of the easiest to save and tends to breed true year after year. The reason is simple.

Most tomatoes are self pollinating and will not cross bred with others. It’s because the male parts (anthers) are fused together and insects can’t enter the flower. That makes the idea of pollinating with a paintbrush a bit of a myth, but let’s not go there now!

Are Grafted Vegetable Plants, Such as Tomatoes, Worth The Extra Cost
Moneymaker tomatoes

The female part of the flower (stigma) is usually very short and is located inside the fused male part. All that is needed to pollinate the stigma is for a the pollen to fall from the male part onto the female part. Gentle movement of the plant and flower is all that is needed for this to happen. That’s why I’ve never subscribed to the paintbrush and bees methods of pollination. Bees looking of nectar can and will vibrate the flower and lead to pollination, but they aren’t needed if the plant is gentled moved by someone talking by or moving it by some mechanical means. Commercially we used a jet of water squirted up and down the rows in the greenhouses. It didn’t lead to blight (another myth) and didn’t lead to botrytis (yet another myth) and we had perfect set year after year. For more on seed saving botany follow this link.

The Exception To The Tomato Pollination Rule

In a few varieties the stigma is longer than the fused anthers. Where this occurs insects can cross pollinate the tomatoes. Beefsteak tomatoes sometimes exhibit long stigmas. In this case ensure no insects can Gert into your growing area from other tomato plants. Being on doors and windows can ensure this.

Selecting Plants To Collect Tomato Seed From

Only take seed from the best plants. They need too be healthy; of good size, shape and form and typical of the variety.

Check the number of trusses and flowers per truss are typical of the variety. For example, if I were collecting Moneymaker seed I’d expect a truss every 5-7 leaves and 8-10 flowers per truss. I’d also expect 100% fruit set with fruit of a typical size.

But if I were saving Gardeners Delight seed I’d reject any with just 8-10 flowers per truss. This is a cherry tomato and should typically have 11-15 flowers per truss. And I’d expect the fruit to be much sweeter than the Moneymaker, though Moneymaker should also be sweet.

How many trusses per plant will depend on the stage of growth. Clearly they can’t have as many early in the season as later. Both are capable of growing a dozen or more trusses in a season, though most of us will stop them before they reach this stage.

How To Collect Tomato Seed

Once the toms are fully ripe pick them and slice them in half.

Scoop the seed out and put them in a glass jar for a few days. Over these days the coating on the seed will ferment. Stir or shake the jar a couple of times a day for three days. On day three the seeds may look a bit mouldy, but don’t worry.

Add plenty of water and give the seeds a good swill around the jar. Pour off any seed and scum that floats to the top of the water and rinse a couple of times until the water is clear.

Now put the seeds in a sieve and run under running water for a few minutes. Tip onto a plate to dry. Don’t use any tissue paper etc as the seeds will stick to it!

Allow the seed to air dry in a warm but not hot place. Avoid direct sunshine as too much heat kills the seed!

Once thoroughly dry store them in a sealed paper bag or envelope in a cool, dry place. The seed should remain viable for 3-4 years .. often longer.

Ensuring Good Genetic Diversity

To ensure you get a good mix of genetic material ensure you collect seed from several plants. If you get too much you can always give some away.

What has been very noticeable in commercially grown seed in recent years is that they have selected from plants that are not typical of varieties as they were a decade or more ago. The selection have lead to a gradual genetic drift that means the seed today is not the same as it was when the variety was first selected. the change year on year has been minimal but one the years aggregate and the variety is not what it was when first produced.

It’s only when you have years of experience that you notice the change. Saving your own seed allows you to slowly correct the drift and get back closer to the original.  I always think the seed companies need to employ the oldest members of staff to select seed. Only they have the length of experience needed!

Based on my own experience of growing tens of thousands of Moneymaker tomatoes from seed I notice how the seed supplied by seed companies today is smaller than the seed I saved years ago. I can see it is no longer typical of the variety.

More On Home Seed Saving

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