Can I Grow Tomatoes From store bought Tomatoes?

The simple answer is that yes, you can grow tomatoes from your regular supermarket bought tomatoes. And I will give you step by step instructions for two very different but effective methods.

But this article will also explore the difference between heirloom or heritage tomatoes and the F1 hybrids we most often end up buying in the supermarket. Which type of tomatoes should we choose when we harvest our seeds and why?

We will also briefly touch upon the sensitive subject of whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable.

The 2021 outdoor growing season is coming to an end. Today (Monday 4 October 2021) I will update this article with what I have learnt about growing tomatoes from supermarket tomatoes in 2021.

What I have learnt in 2021

If you are looking to grow tomatoes from supermarket tomatoes I am happy to report that it works really well. But I already knew that. There are however 3 points I would like to make.

1. Plant your tomato seeds early

I had forgotten the importance of staring early. It takes time to develop the seedling into plants. I can see now that I started too late this year and I have seen most fruits develop from late august and onwards.

On the plus side I am still harvesting fresh tomatoes in our garden. But they are of course not as sweet as the sun ripened tomatoes I harvested in July and August.

Planting another batch of tomatoes from store-bought tomatoes in June was intended as a fun side-project. And I learnt a lot. But next year I will start earlier – as well. I will explain later.

2. Fresh tomato seeds Doing equally well

Planting fresh tomato slices in soil June 3 2021
Planting fresh tomato seeds on 3 June 2021

It was however interesting that I saw no difference in yield between the seeds I fermented and then seeds that were planted fresh.

Now, it is in a way not a fair comparison as I had many more plants from the fresh tomato seeds (tomato slices).

I simply planted in freshly cut tomato slices in puts and then thinned out the plants as and when needed.

But still, it seems like I do not need to go through the extra step of ferminating the seeds. This is good news as it speeds up the process.

3. But I will also start a batch of tomatoes “too late” in 2022

I do not mean to contradict myself.

Freshly harvested tomatoes in October 2021
Tomatoes harvested 4 October 2021

To harvest sun ripened tomatoes you should start planting your seeds indoors as early as late February or beginning of March.

But the tomatoes that I planted on 3 June 2021 are still producing fruit. And there is plenty more to come.

I am really enjoying using the tomatoes I harvest in the morning for salads, omelettes and pasta sauces.

So yes, I will start earlier next year but I will also plant a late batch for a late autumn harvest.

Two Similar But Different Methods To Grow Tomatoes From Fresh Tomatoes

From my own experience I have in the past had the most success when I have taken the extra time to ferment the seeds harvested from the store bought tomatoes. It is very easy but a bit messy. 

On the other hand, you can also simply plant fresh tomato seeds in planting soil and watch the seeds grow into seedlings and healthy productive plants.

And you will find that the only difference between the two methods lies in how we harvest and prepare the tomato seeds before planting. 

After the seeds have been planted we will care for the seedlings and plants in the exact same way.

If you came here for step by step instructions on how to grow tomatoes from Supermarket tomatoes you will find step by step tutorials for both methods here:

Which Tomatoes Should We Choose At The Supermarket And Why?

When you first get to know the tomato plant you will come across several terms and definitions that are very easy to explain.

But first for the sake of this article we need to agree on whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. As I am writing this article and I have a long standing relationship with the tomato that was passed down by my late father I will state the following.

I will refer to the tomato as a fruit as it is botanically classed as a fruit in that it grows from a flower and the product (tomato) contains seeds. 

Determinate Vs Indeterminate Tomato Plants And Does It Matter?

All tomato plants are either determinate or indeterminate. And the difference lies in how the plant grows.

Determinate tomato plants include cherry tomatoes and other plants that will only grow to a certain height. Determinate plants are ideal when we have limited overhead space and do not want the tomato plant to spread too much vertically.

Indeterminate tomatoes like beefsteak tomato plants will on the other hand keep growing throughout the growing season and produce tomatoes all along the stems. Indeterminate plants will always require more space and support structures when we are planting. 

Heirloom Tomatoes And Do We Want Them?

Heirloom (also known as heritage) tomatoes are bred over generations to yield specific and consistent crops with the desired qualities and features.

Or in other words, heirloom tomatoes are like purebred dogs. They are bred and grown to stay pure and need more looking after to “be all that they can be”.

Heirloom tomatoes are however easy to spot. You will immediately recognize their interesting and uneven shapes as well as the streaky coloring. And then there is of course the taste that is something quite special and unique for each type of heirloom tomato. 

For a tomato to be classed as heirloom they need to be grown and perfected over generations. Here only the best plants are allowed to pass on seeds to future generations of new plants.

This careful selection of only the strongest plants makes it possible to produce new plants with the same traits and features as the parent plants. When producing new plants the growers work hard to produce a fruit where the size, texture, flavor and color among other factors are protected and passed on. 

Heirloom tomatoes also need to be open-pollinated as opposed to the mechanical pollination we find in commercial tomato production. 

With open pollination the tomato plant will be pollinated as it would be pollinated in nature. Here the wind and natural pollinators such as bees, butterflies and beetles help pollinate the plant to produce fruit. 

Generally speaking novices are recommended to stay away from heirloom tomatoes. You see heirloom tomatoes are known to be more difficult to grow in that they require more love, care and attention. But as long as you are aware why not give it a go and try to grow a plant or two if you have the opportunity?

There are also reports that the hard breeding over generations has left heirloom tomatoes more susceptible to diseases. Furthermore, heirloom tomatoes have more delicate skins and bruise more easily which is one reason why we rarely see them in the supermarket.

Hybrid Tomatoes To Be Sought Or Avoided?

If heirloom tomatoes are delicate purebred champion dogs, the hybrid tomato plants are the adorable labradoodle mixed breeds that we have grown to love for their own unique qualities. 

Have you noticed how the tomatoes in your supermarket are all identically sized, round and shiny? It is of course no coincidence. These tomatoes are most likely F1 or first family hybrids grown to be perfectly suited for commercial handling.

These hybrids are created to grow fast, produce fruits early, look attractive, have tougher skins and taste good. The hybrid plants are not produced through natural or open-pollination. Rather this type of commercial tomato production would use mechanical pollination in a controlled environment.

And as these hybrids have a genetic diversity through breeding they are known to be more resistant to diseases and produce more fruit than heirloom tomato plants. 

But no matter what you say, the taste will never be quite the same as the heirloom tomato.

F1 or family first hybrids are the first generation tomatoes created when pollen is shared between two or more different types of tomato plants.

The grower would choose types of tomatoes with the desired qualities and characteristics. One bushy variety could be paired with a disease resistant and a thick skinned variety. 

These 3 varieties of tomato plants would then be crossed by using pollen from the different plants to pollinate the hybrid plant. 

The resulting hybrid tomato plants would be a new and improved disease resistant, bushy variety with thicker skin for easier handling. 

Choosing Tomatoes From The Supermarket

When we buy tomatoes in the supermarket it will be difficult to know for sure if the tomato stems from a determinate or indeterminate plant.

But from my experience most tomatoes in the supermarket are hybrid F1 tomatoes grown from determinate plants.

Commercial tomato growers must utilize space effectively and supermarkets need tasty but hardy varieties that do not bruise and spoil easily.

If you choose to buy your tomatoes from a farmers market or a well stocked organic supermarket you may actually have a choice between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes. There may also be heirloom varieties for you to select for harvesting.

I however recommend hybrid tomatoes from determinate tomato plants as they require less support structures while growing. Hybrid tomatoes are also more forgiving whereas heirloom varieties require more attention and care.

If you do opt for indeterminate tomato plants make sure you have room and vertical space as you will need to build support structures to support the tomato plant and its fruits. 

Why Ferment Tomato Seeds If It Is Not Necessary?

When we ferment the tomato seeds we mimic the natural process of an overripe tomato falling to the ground. The fallen tomato will rott and at some point the seeds will germinate and a new plant will start growing.

One benefit of fermenting the seeds is that we are able to weed out the duds. We also get rid of the “germination inhibitor” that surrounds the individual seeds inside the tomato. 

The “germination inhibitor” is the gelatinous sack that surrounds the seed if you cut a fresh tomato open and lift out the seeds. 

I like the idea of mimicking nature’s way. And this is probably why I prefer to ferment my seeds before I plant them. 

I also feel that I have had more success when I have fermented the seeds before planting.

But, this is by no means a scientific result. 

So I will put it to the test and show the results here in this article as they unfold.

I have bought a set of tomatoes and I am keeping half of them in the fridge. The other half is sitting in a warm room slowly maturing getting ready for fermentation.

So the answer to the question why we ferment tomato seeds will be answered as I write this tutorial for both methods.

How To Grow Tomatoes At Home From Seeds From Store Bought Tomatoes

Whether you go to your local supermarket or a farmers market I recommend that you choose a F1 hybrid tomato variety. 

Why? Well, hybrid tomato plants are more sturdy and forgiving when we first start working on how to grow tomatoes from fresh tomatoes.

Heirloom tomatoes are of course famous for their lovely shapes, colors, texture and taste. But the fact remains that they are more difficult to grow and require more care and attention to grow and prosper.

Regardless of the variety of tomato you will use we will compare two similar but different methods.

  • Prepare the tomatoes
  • Collect seeds for fermentation (optional)
  • Ferment seeds seeds in a jar (optional)
  • Plant the seeds
  • Transplant seedlings into bigger containers (optional)
  • Transplant the plants outdoors (optional)
  • Care for your plants by giving them ideal conditrions
  • Harvest for eating and next years plants

As you can see from the steps above there are a couple of differences between the methods. The reason for the difference is due to whether we take the time to ferment the tomato seeds or not. And this is also why step 1 and 4 differs between the methods whereas step 2 and 3 are optional.

With our tomatoes selected we move on to method 1: The fast and easy way to grow tomatoes from Supermarket tomatoes.

Method 1: The Fast And Easy Way To Grow Tomatoes From Supermarket Tomatoes

Prepare the tomatoes

The fast and easy method simply requires a clean kitchen knife and a clean cutting board.

We take the tomatoes out of the fridge and dry them off with a cloth or paper towel.

Placing the tomatoes on the cutting board we trim off the ends and then cut half a centimeter thick slices. We take care to leave the slices as intact as possible. 

We put the tomato slices on a cloth or coffee filter while we move on to the next step.

Plant the seeds

Planting fresh tomato slices to grow tomatoes from Supermarket tomatoes
Picture 1: Planting fresh tomato slices from Supermaket bought tomatoes (Date 3 June)

Select a container with good drainage and place cirka 1 centimeter of gravel or stone mixture at the bottom of the container.

Now fill your container with potting soil leaving approximately 5 centimeters at the top of the container empty.

If you are using fresh potting soil there is no need to add extra fertilizer. 

But if you are reusing soil that needs a boost, mix in a bit of fertilizer. 

Shake the container and water thoroughly to remove any air gaps in the soil.

Tomato seedlings grown from fresh tomato slices from Supermarket tomatoes
Picture 2: This is the result from planting fresh slices of Supermarket tomatoes (Date 16 June)

We now place the tomato slices or fresh tomato seeds on the potting soil and cover the entire surface as needed.

When the tomato slices cover the surface of the pot we cover the tomato slices with approximately 1 centimeter of potting soil.

Now water again to make the potting soil wet but not soaking.

Put a plastic film on top of the container and put it in a warm place without direct sunlight. 

With this method we end up with several new plants competing for growing space. When the new plats reach between 4-5 centimeters it is time to move them to a bigger container.

As you can see from the second photo I added on 16 June planting fresh slices produces an impressive amount of good sized seedlings. It does make you wonder why we bother with fermenting seeds in the first place.

Method 2: Harvest, Ferment And Plant Seeds From Supermarket Tomatoes

Prepare the tomatoes

Preparing the tomatoes when we are planning to ferment the seeds requires a warm, dry place and time. 

We simply take the tomatoes out of the fridge and leave them to ripen. Actually, we could leave them until they start getting black and moldy.

But I have found that it is enough to leave them until they are over-ripe and get really soft to the touch and bruise and crack when handled. 

When we cut or tear the tomatoes open we can see how the gelatinous sack surrounding the seeds (the germination inhibitor) is breaking down.  The seeds are also starting to take on a fuller and deeper yellow color.

Collect seeds for fermentation

When we have cut or torn the tomatoes open we simply scoop out the seeds and place them in a bowl. 

Ferment seeds seeds in a jar

Fementing tomato seeds help germination and development of seedlings
When mold forms we strain out the seeds and plant

The next step involves putting the harvested tomato seeds from the bowl in a glass jar and covering it with a plastic film.

We now place the jar in a warm room with no sunlight for 2-5 days.

It is time to remove the seeds when they start to separate from the mixture and we can see mold forming at the top of the mixture.

At this stage we strain out the seeds from the mixture and leave the seeds to dry on a cloth or a coffee filter. 

We are now ready to start planting the seeds.

Plant the seeds

Much like before we prepare the potting soil as needed and select containers with good drainage. 

We only add and mix in fertilizer if we are reusing potting soil. Fresh new potting soil should not need any additional fertilizers at this planting stage. 

To make transplanting tomato seedlings easier at a later stage we use smaller pots or containers.

We still put gravel or stone mixture at the bottom of each container to ensure good drainage. 

Next we fill the containers with potting soil almost all the way up. 

We shake the containers and water thoroughly to make sure we remove air gaps in the potting soil.

Now we make holes in the wet potting soil and plant at least 3-5 seeds in each hole. 

Next we fill the holes with potting soil and spray or water gently to keep the soil moist.

Cover the containers with plastic wrap and place them in a warm place but avoid direct sunlight.

Now we wait and let the plants develop to approximately 10 cm before we move them to a bigger container.

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Regardless of the method you chose to follow, the next step is to move the seedling plants into a bigger growing environment.

You now have three options. 

  1. move seedlings in to your vegetable garden
  2. plant seedling into larger pots 

Move seedlings in to your vegetable garden

If you live in a warm climate with nighttime temperatures over 10 degrees Celsius you can move your seedlings into the vegetable garden when they reach 10 centimeters. But before moving the seedlings outside you need to harden the plants.

As I live in Scandinavia where the weather can be fickle even during the growing season I prefer to keep my tomato plants in pots or grow bags. Planting tomatoes in grow bags or pots gives me more control as I can keep the seedling and plants indoors as needed if the weather turns on me. 

You need to harden the tomato plants to familiarize them with their new growing environment – the outdoors. To harden the plants takes approximately 1-2 weeks and it is not difficult.

You should harden all plants that you grow and develop inside before transplanting them in to your outdoor garden. 

The first step in hardening your seedlings is to find a place outside that is shielded from wind and only gets a few hours of direct sunlight per day.

Start by placing the seedling outside in the shade for a couple of hours on day 1.  Then increase the time spent outside with 1 hour per day for the next 5 days. On day 3 you can start placing the seedling in a place that gets some direct sunlight. 

After about a week leave the plants outside overnight. Thereafter, place the pots in a spot that gets 8-10 hours of sunlight per day until you are ready to plant the seedlings in your garden.

Most amateur gardeners have a job that makes the hardening schedule impossible to follow. 

The “easy” method to hardening plants involves leaving the plants outside in the shade when you work days 1-3. Then on days 4-7 we place them in a spot that gets direct sunlight for part of the day. 

Day 8 we leave the plant outside overnight. From day 9 we place the pots in a place that gets sunlight 8-10 hours per day until we plant them outside. 

When we are ready to plant the seedlings outside we make sure not to water them in the morning. 

We then gently turn the container upside down and tip the plant into our hand. Place your fingers around the stem and cup your hand to gently catch the seedling plant as it falls into your hand with the root system pointing up.

It is not a problem if some soil falls off just make sure you protect the roots.

Now dig a hole in the ground and place your hardened seedling in the hole all the way up to the first leaves. Placing the seedling deep will allow it to develop a string root system. But do make sure that the leaves do not touch the ground.

Plant seedlings into larger pots

You need to decide whether you are moving seedlings into larger pots permanently or just to develop the plants before planting them outside.

We always use pots or grow bags with good drainage.

Learn how you to can make your own DIY grow bags for tomatoes, chillies and peppers at home. Easy to follow video tutorial:  How to make grow bags for plants, tomatoes and chillies at home

You can use a pot with a diameter of 20 centimeters if you are moving the plants with the intent to develop the seedlings before planting them outside.

If you on the other hand are moving the seedlings into their permanent pot you need to use bigger pots. 

The seedlings may look really small at this stage. But you must remember that the tomato plant will need plenty of space to spread as well as grow vertically. 

The plant needs to grow a big and strong root system to develop into a healthy fruit bearing plant.

When we start with tomatoes from the supermarket we are most likely using tomatoes from a determinate plant. Here I recommend choosing a pot with a diameter of 45-50 cm to give the seedling enough space to grow and develop. 

If you know that the plants are indeterminate you should use a larger pot with a diameter of approximately 60-65 centimeters. 

Needless to say, the size of the pot will not affect how we transplant the seedlings. 

When we have selected our pots we need to prepare the potting soil.

As before we use high quality potting soil and only add fertilizer if we are reusing the soil. We also add gravel to help with drainage.

When we have filled the pots with soil we water the pots to get rid of any air gaps in the soil.

It is easy to always want to help the plants by adding fertilizer whenever possible. But it is not good to over-fertilize. If you add too much nitrogen you will instead end up with weak and leggy plants.

When we ferment the seeds we develop the seedlings individually and it is easier to move the plants to bigger containers when they reach about 10 cm.

With seedlings in individual pots we grip the stem of the seedling between our fingers, turn the container upside down and gently tip the plant into our hand. 

With the fast and easy method we end up with dense growing plant seedlings competing for growing space. Here we need to move the plant seedlings earlier to help them develop. 

With the fast and easy method and depending on how dense they grow I recommend moving them when they reach 3-5 centimeters. 

This is a trickier process as the seedlings root systems are less developed and risk tearing. Do not water before moving the seedlings. Be gentle and always move more seedlings than you intend to develop as you may lose some.

When we have extracted the seedlings from their pots we place them in the hole in the new larger planting pot.

We bury the plant all the way up to the first leaves to help the seedling develop a strong root system. But make sure that the lower leaves do not touch the soil. 

When the seedlings are planted in their individual pots we water again to make sure that we remove any air gaps in the soil.

We leave the seedling planted in moist but not soaking wet potting soil. This is where good drainage is our best friend.

Care For Tomatoes

There are books written about how to care for tomatoes. 

From my experience we need to do 2 things. We should always aim to provide tomato plants with the best possible environment to grow that we can offer. And then just let the tomato plants grow, develop and produce fruit.

Provide tomato plants with best possible environment to grow

Best possible means best possible we can offer given our circumstances. 

There are several conditions that amateus gardeners have to accept and work with. And this is not a problem; it is just reality.

So my advice is to focus on what you can offer and not worry too much about everything else.

Tomato plants need the following to grow and be happy.

Give the tomato plants space to develop: Do not put the tomato plants in small pots or too close together in your vegetable garden. Give your tomato plants room to grow and develop strong root systems. They will thank you by producing more tomatoes.

Tomato plants need water: Tomato plants do not like to dry out. Tomatoes need and crave water. Be kind to your tomato plants and water them in the morning. But do not overwater your tomato plants as roots sat in constant wet will lead to yellowing tomato leaves and root rot.

Direct sunlight 8-10 hours per day: Tomato plants like direct sunlight but not all day long. If possible plant your tomato plants with part shade during the hotter parts of the day watch the plants thrive. Too much sun leads to sun scald and tomato leaves turning white.

Be mindful of unusual weather: What do I mean by unusual weather? 

Well, your tomato plants live in the same climate as you do. If you get thirsty walking outside the door it is very possible that your tomato plants also crave a drink. 

This would also be true for wind, cold, rain and any other weather phenomenon you can imagine.

Do not stress about it but be mindful.

Provide support as they grow: Tomato plants are quite fragile when we consider the amount and size of fruits they produce.

Build support for tomato plants from vinyl coated wired fencing
Building support for my tomato plants

Whether we grow determinate or indeterminate plants we should prepare and place support for the plants from day 1. 

You can buy tomato cages or just build your own support structures. 

I use a roll of Vinyl Coated Garden Fencing to build my own tomato cages. 

And do remember that there is such a thing as being over attentive and disturbing plants. 

This included over watering, over fertilizing and picking and prodding day in and day out. 

Create the best possible conditions you can and then leave the tomato plants to do what they do best. 

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.