How to breed tomatoes?

Joined Oct 2, 2010
The past years I just experimented growing a few tomatoplants from seeds I collected from tomatoes we ate. I know the result is probably no longer exactly the same as the tomato I collected the seeds from. I recollect something about F1 hybrids, but I never payed a lot of attention, maybe someone can explain.

I want to breed coeur de boeuf tomatoes, or in Italian money; cuore de bue.

Would you go for plants or grow them from seeds?
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Joined Jan 8, 2010
OK, lemme try to explain:

The F1 Hybrid is "produced" as follows.

You got 2 parent lines and you keep inbreeding both of them. These 2 lines produce plants that are miserable, small and terrible.

Then you cross them and the offspring (F1 hybrid) is bigger, better, more productive etc than each of the parent lines.

Now if you take the seeds from this F1 hybrid, it falls back to the parent lines and production, taste etc etc is not at all like the one you had.

So growing a F1 hybrid and then collecting the seed from the tomato and then use it again is not a very good idea.

You can buy F1 hybrid seed and you should be able to grow good plants from this.

Mostly the germination rate is above 90%.

It just takes longer to grow up to a full plant than to buy a plant and start from there. You also have to be careful of "damping off" diseases like pythium, phytophthora etc, but it is possible.

Starting with the young plants is easier.

by the way: coeur de boeuf = vlees tomaat?
Joined Oct 2, 2010
Hi Butzy, thanks for the explanation! So I'll be looking for babyplants I guess.

Coeur de boeuf is indeed a vleestomaat. It's a giant irregular one, very tasty too. Looks indeed a bit like an oxheart (=coeur de boeuf/cuore di bue). I don't even think there's a good dutch translation. They're known over here as coeur de boeuf. I wonder though wether these will grow well outside, in a climate like the one I live in.

Joined Jan 8, 2010

If you wonder if they grow well outdoors, then definitely go for the plants and not the seeds.

Plant a couple outside when spring has started and a couple in pots and keep them at the window sill (plenty light)

Or maybe you have (or can make) a little greenhouse outside?

If you do plant them outside, then remember your crop rotation (for next year and the years thereafter)....
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Butzy, that was a pretty good summary. But a couple of points.

All tomatoe varieties are in-bred. It's the nature of the beast with self-pollenizing plants. But we can use that to our advantage.

The parents of F1s are bred to concentrate, as it were, desired characteristics. They are not all small and ugly; and, in fact, many of them are pretty good tomatoes in their own right. At the same time, undesired characteristics are bred out. But the majority of characteristics are neutral, so far as the breeder is concerned. That's why, for instance, you have hybrids that taste good. Flavor is almost never a selection criterium. It just gets a free ride from one or both of the parents.

Here's a down and dirty example. Let's say you have a pretty good tomato that, for some reason, has higher pest resistance than usual. But it also splits easily. The breeder will, through selection, attempt to get rid of the splitting characteristic (or at least minimize it) while maximizing the pest resistance. Everything else will be pretty much left alone. This tomato will be bred as a line with the desired characteristics dominent.

The other parent will be choosen both to support these goals, and to bring other genetic characteristics to the table, and also be bred as a line. By crossing the two lines you produce an F1 hybrid with the total characteristics you want.

If you grow seed from an F1 you'll get a diversity of different tomatoes, ranging from as few as four to as many as 16. What happens is the F2s revert to the genetic make-up of the parents. Among the diversity can be, and most often are, fruits that are as close to the F1 as to make no never mind. There also might be a "new" variety that you really like.

Fortunately, because they are in-bred, tomatoes can be dehybidized relatively easily---often in only two-three generations, as compared, say, to the 8-10-12 generations it would take with squash.

So, all it takes is a little patience. You can produce an open-pollinated version of the F1 in only two or three years (although it might still require some roguing out).

True, most gardeners will not go through all that. And so long as seed is available for the hybrid you like it's no big deal. Unfortunately, seed companies are notorious for dropping varieties unannounced. Lo and behold, your favorite tomato is no longer available. And, of course, if you really like one of the F2s, the only way to continue it is to stabalize it as a new variety.
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Joined Jan 25, 2011
If you start your own tomatoes from seed, you can breed your own tomato variety -- and you totally should because it is freaking cool. Any gardener knows the thrill of picking that first tomato you grew yourself. Picking the first tomato of a variety you bred yourself multiplies that thrill a hundred times.

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Joined Jan 8, 2010

Let me try and clear up a couple of things....

What you call the parent is actually the parent line.

You are right in saying that varieties with good characteristics are choosen, but these are not the actual parents of the F1 Hybrid!

These 2 good varieties are inbred a number of times (each parent line seperately obviously) till they are what I called "miserable, small and quite terrible".

Then they get cross-bred and the F1 hybrid materialises (this all is not as easy as it sounds).

The actual parent of the F1 Hybrid are in-bred parent lines and not the originally good looking members of the parent line.

Yes, you can grow F1 hybrids and use the seeds, but they will/can produce all kind of interesting tomatoes (as you also rightfully point out), but not the same tomato as the F1 hybrid.

Chris stated that he wanted to grow one particular type of tomato and that's why I advised against using the seeds....

It's fun to use them though and start doing your own selecting
Joined Oct 2, 2010
The two last seasons I sew some seeds from a very sweet small tomato and planted 3 of them in a big plantcontainer and put it on a very sunny spot against a southern orientated wall. They produced tomatoes, but not at all like the original. Above all, they kept on producing untill I had a lot of green ones later in the season that would never have a chance to go nice and red. I made a jam of these ones. This was a last moment green tomato harvest from 3 plants;

I can't resist from trying to plant stuff from seeds. They always grow, sometimes produce fruits, but never the same as the parents. I always proceed the same way;

scoop some seeds out - together with the surrounding liquid- of a tomato, passion fruit, figues etc. Put on a kitchen paper towel and spread open a little.  Then let dry entirely for a week or so. Cut seeds out largely around, they will now stick to the paper anyway. Plant no deeper than the seeds thickness and wait.
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