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How to Save Just a Few Tomato Seeds

Sometimes you only want to save a few seeds.

Say you buy a tomato at a local market and you think you might like to grow it next year. Can you just keep some seeds and plant them in the spring?

Sure you can! Chances are that the seeds will grow true to type: tomatoes are self pollinating for the most part, and many of the tomatoes that you'd find at a local market are likely to be non-hybrids, especially if they're interesting colour or shape. You can just save a few seeds, keep them dry, sow them indoors in early spring and grow more of that tomato next year.

There are a few things to consider, but the procedure is very simple.

First, the serious considerations

It's true that tomatoes are essentially self-pollinating, so it's very likely that the seeds in your market tomato haven't been cross-pollinated by any other varieties. However, no one can guarantee that - some small amount of crossing can still happen when different varieties are grown side-by-side. So be aware that there's a small chance your mystery seeds won't grow into exactly the same kind of tomato as the one they came from.

Another important issue is that when you take seeds from only one tomato (or only a few) you run the risk of losing a lot of important genetic diversity in the variety. We call it "bottlenecking", and it means that the natural subtle differences from plant to plant, even though they're the same variety, will be lost.

We strongly recommend that if you plan to offer seeds to other gardeners, through seed exchanges, seed libraries, and especially if you're trying to maintain a variety for the future, you should collect seeds from as many plants of the same variety as you can, and it should be a minimum of 6 healthy plants. Otherwise your seeds will lose the vitality that comes from a strong intrinsic genetic diversity. 

But just for your own use, go ahead!

So you understand that if you save seeds from just one tomato you can't really say that you're properly multiplying that variety. No problem with your market tomato, because you don't know the variety anyway.

And you understand that your seeds will probably grow true, but maybe not. No problem, because your odds are very good, and besides you love surprises.

So go ahead and save seeds from that one tomato just for your own enjoyment! All you have to do is scoop out as many as you want and clean them off. The jelly that surrounds each seed is there to prevent germination, so it's important to remove it. But it rubs off with a cloth or just between your fingers.

Then dry the seeds in open air, store them in a dry place, and they will grow when you plant them next spring!


Is that tomato delicious but you don't know what kind it is or where to get seeds? Go ahead and keep a few - they'll very likely grow the same tomato. Just be aware that you can't properly propagate a variety just from a few seeds, so this is just for fun and your own enjoyment (not for selling seeds or seed banking).

The jelly prevents germination when it dries around the seeds, so it has to be removed. Just rub it off with a cloth.

It's easy to clean up a few seeds. Keep them dry until you plant them.

Do you have too many seeds to rub them all clean? Check out our next article.


Back to October 2020 Newsletter

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