Saving Seeds & Open Pollinated Varieties

saving seeds

When you see just how many seeds there are in a tomato it almost seems a waste not to use some of them for sowing next season.

Saving your own seeds is a great idea and here are a few tips for success.

How to save seeds from open pollinated varieties

Save seeds from open pollinated varieties because F1 hybrid seed will not grow true to type – like the parent plant. Also, use a ripe tomato as the seeds will be fully developed.

  • Scoop them into a small glass jar with a drop of water and cover with paper held down by a rubber band.
  • Keep at room temperature and the seeds will ferment in the jar after about a week.

Here’s a video that is very informative – it starts with an introduction (it’s not me in the hat!) but it’s well worth watching.

Air needs to get in and out – but not bugs.

Each seed is coated in jelly

Each seed is coated with jelly to stop it from germinating and it is this process that will remove this coating and sterilize the seeds at the same time.

After a week there will probably be a layer of mold on the top which is best removed before pouring the whole mixture into a sieve.

How to dry the seeds

Run under the tap to remove the jelly coating for a few minutes to clean the seeds then spread them out on an absorbent surface. Coffee filter paper is good but tissue is poor because it sticks to the seeds.

Dry out for several days in a warm aerated place until they are thoroughly dry.

Remember to label them and I like to keep them in a small plastic container such as an empty vitamin or pill container.

Storing the seeds

If you want to divide them up into small quantities for selling or giving to other gardeners, small glassine envelopes normally used for stamps are excellent.

Keep them in a cool place, ideally a fridge, until next season.

It is possible to save seeds from F1 hybrids but the problem is – they don’t grow “true to type” in other words, they won’t produce the same shape, colour, taste etc. tomatoes when their seeds are sown.

Pollination Problems

Every season has its challenges and this season, going by the amount of emails I’ve received, it’s getting flowers to pollinate and produce tomatoes – flower/fruit set.

This has become a bit of a mystery, but there maybe some clues in the following.

  • Seeds that were sown in February have produced plants that don’t have a problem with pollination.
  • The plants that have the problem with setting fruit were all sown in March.
  • Tall varieties seem less affected than the Tumbling Tom bush variety.
  • There have been less bees in my garden this season than in previous years and of course bees are excellent pollinators.
  • I’ve also noticed that bees will often hover around the flowers without actually collecting any pollen – could this mean that there is no pollen inside the flowers?

At this point I could do with the help of Sherlock Holmes!

My limited powers of deduction tell me that Tumbling Tom, and some other varieties, are more difficult to get to set fruit than many other varieties. Some varieties need the help of bees to help pollinate their flowers.

In other words, when bees are in short supply, some varieties struggle to set fruit.

The varieties that were sown in February are Red Alert, Maskotka and a yellow Tumbling Tom. These three varieties have been producing ripe tomatoes since June.

It could be that the weather was just right when the February sown plants were ready to be pollinated, but not so conducive for the March sown plants.

Update (24th July) All of the Tumbling Tom plants have suddenly started to set fruit – at last!

Red Alert and Maskotka seem easy to set fruit and the good thing also is that they are open pollinated which means that we can save their seed for next season!

The Five Tumbling Toms

The pollination problem has particularly affected the Tumbling Tom plants which is unfortunate because it has interrupted the experiment with the five Tumbling Toms and their individual feeding plans.

tomato cuttings

However, there is still time for the many thousands of flowers on the plants to set and produce tomatoes before the end of the season!

On a successful note, the cuttings I took about four weeks ago set fruit while they were still in water, but they did have  flowers on when I removed them from their plants, which helped!

As always, please leave comments below.


9 Responses

  1. Jessie Allaway
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    All my tomatoes are greenhouse ones – too far north for outside tomatoes – but I have noticed that one of my yellow tumbling toms has started growing extremely long branches and I am sure this should really have been an indeterminate plant. Seed was sown from the same packet as the others, so I am wondering if this is another case of a rogue seed in the packet!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Jessie,
      I’ve found that Tumbling Tom plants will sometimes grow longer branches than normal when they are in a low light position.
      I’ve got one TT plant in my porch that looks as if it is growing sideways! It could also be a seed problem as you suggest.

  2. Trevor
    | Reply

    Everything you’ve said here seems to be spot on…

    I sowed Alicia Craig, Alicante, Balconi, Micro Tom & Green sausage at the end of Feb and all have set well.

    However the Tumbling Tom that I sew in March seem to take forever to set but they seem to be away now 😉

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Trevor, I’m pleased that they are all “up and running” to speak.
      I may decide to sow my Tumbling Toms earlier next season to avoid the problem.

  3. Avril
    | Reply

    Hi Nick
    I removed a sideshoot and kept it in water for 2 weeks. I have since potted it, it was looking a little sad after I potted it, but it seems to be picking up now. I was just wondering should I remove any leaf branches or trusses which may be close to soil, or do you just leave it alone?

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Avril,
      I wouldn’t remove any leaf branches unless they are resting on the soil. Trusses should be left on the cuttings as they will probably set fruit. If cuttings wilt when they are first planted into soil, give them a spray/mist with water and put them in the shade for a day or two.

  4. Avril
    | Reply

    On the subject of saving and perhaps selling some seeds. Do any of you fellow tomato growers have some Scotland Yellow tomato seeds to sell? I am desperate to find this seed in the UK to sow next year and so far I can only find US suppliers, which has it’s own problems re shipment and customs regulations.
    I would be very grateful for any help in my search within the UK.
    Thank you.

  5. roy hawker
    | Reply

    i,have got a little stick with some sheeps wool tied to it i go round my toms and give the flowers a little tickle this seems to work very well

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Roy,
      My pollination problem is over – I have mini green toms on all the Tumbling Tom Plants – at last!!!

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