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How to Dry Tomato Seeds

Hundreds of tomato seeds can be harvested from a single plant. We'll explain how. See more heirloom tomato pictures.
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Harvesting seeds from this year's plants and vegetables is an enjoyable fall activity, and it's extremely beneficial to next year's growing season. It doesn't hurt that the process is environmentally friendly and cost-effective, too!

Heirloom fruits and vegetables, grown from seeds saved from generation to generation, are flavorful, delicious and taste so much better than the hybrid fruits and vegetables (bred from just two parents of different varieties) found at your neighborhood grocery store.

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Harvesting tomato seeds is a bit different than harvesting seeds from most other vegetables and fruits. With a little patience and time, you can save tomato seeds and plant them the following year, blessing your garden with fresh, juicy tomatoes to share with friends and family for many months to come. Besides, how rewarding is harvesting your own tomato seeds and nurturing them into fully ripe, hearty tomatoes to eat in your own kitchen? What a satisfying experience!

Here are the steps, as well as some tips and tricks, for how to successfully dry tomato seeds, ensuring you'll have a new crop of mouthwatering, red tomatoes to enjoy next year.

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If you store dried tomato seeds properly, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for years!
If you store dried tomato seeds properly, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for years!
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

To begin the seed-drying process, you'll have to start with fresh tomatoes. As long as you work carefully, you'll be able to harvest hundreds of seeds from a single tomato plant.

First, be sure to pick the choicest tomatoes left in your patch as you prepare to harvest seeds in the fall. For the best results, choose mature, open-pollinated tomatoes that are disease-free. Open-pollinated tomatoes are ideal because they take the previous season's characteristics and carry them into next season's plants; often, they're the tastiest tomatoes in your garden.

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After you've chosen some fully ripe tomatoes, wash them thoroughly, and slice them in half, exposing the seeds and gel in the center of the fruit. Cut the tomato seeds away from the gel as much as possible, and place the seeds in a glass or jar.

Fill the glass or jar containing the seeds with 3 to 4 inches of water, and stir several times a day for two to three days. Don't leave the seeds in water for too long, or they'll begin to germinate or darken in color, which is a sign the seeds have gone bad. The fermentation process will begin after just a couple of days, and the remaining gel attached to the tomato seeds will separate and float to the surface. Add more water, and watch as the viable seeds sink to the bottom and the unusable seeds float to the top of the mixture. You can simply throw away these bad seeds.

Once you've saved the good tomato seeds, spread them on an absorbent surface like wax paper, coffee filters or paper plates. We don't recommend paper towels because the seeds will stick to the paper. Metal, plastic and ceramic plates aren't conducive for drying seeds successfully, either. After placing your seeds on a porous surface, wait for up to 48 hours until they are dry. Test the dryness of your seeds before storing them for the winter. Seeds that bend are not through drying; however, dried seeds will be very hard and tough to bite or smash. Making sure your seeds are dry is a very important step because damp seeds will foster mildew.

Move your dry seeds to a location away from direct sunlight, such as on top of your refrigerator. Check on their progress often for one to two weeks, waiting for the seeds to dry even more thoroughly. When drying tomato seeds, be cautious of the temperature, and never attempt to dry seeds in areas with high humidity. Conditions with high temperatures may cause wet seeds to sprout, which will ruin them. Attempting to speed up the process by drying seeds in an oven or other heating device should also be avoided; they'll go bad and will be of no use for the next growing season.

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Through the winter, store your harvested seeds in airtight packets or containers in the refrigerator or another cool, dry place until you're ready to use them again in the spring. Adding silica gel packets to your seed containers will keep moisture away and increase their shelf life. Also, don't forget to label your packet or container with the variety of tomato seeds you harvested, along with the harvest date as well. If seeds are stored properly, seed germination rates can reach 50 percent for up to 10 years.

Finally, if you find yourself with an abundance of healthy tomatoes during harvesting season, consider adding the seeds to your favorite dish! Chefs around the world highly recommend cooking with tomato seeds. According to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the seeds and the gel of a tomato actually contain three times the amount of flavor-enhancing glutamic acid as the flesh, and the seeds supply savory quality known as umami in many foods.

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So, the next time you're cooking spaghetti or your grandma's famous homemade lasagna, consider tossing the tomato seeds into the sauce -- your taste buds will thank you.

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Sources

  • Enna, Renee. "Daily Bite: Say yes to tomato seeds!" Chicago Tribune. July 18, 2008. (Nov. 4, 2010). http://leisureblogs.chicagotribune.com/thestew/2008/07/daily-bite-say.html
  • Lamp'l, Joe. "Saving seeds for next season and future generations." The Seattle Times. Oct. 8, 2010. (Nov. 5, 2010). http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/homegarden/2013109165_gardenerwithin09.html
  • Vanderlinden, Colleen. "How to Save Tomato Seeds." Planet Green. Aug. 18, 2009. (Nov. 4, 2010). http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/save-tomato-seeds.html
  • Vanderlinden, Colleen. "Why You Should Save Seeds from Your Garden." Planet Green. Aug. 17, 2009. (Nov. 3, 2010). http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/save-seeds-garden.html
  • Victory Seed Company. "Saving Tomato Seeds." (Nov. 4, 2010). http://www.victoryseeds.com/information/seedsave_tomato.html

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