Successfully saving seeds from homegrown vegetables, fruits, and herbs is easy with these tips. Save money on seed purchases and have a steady source of seeds to plant for years to come.
Seed saving is a skill largely lost these days. With seed packages widely available, who needs to save seeds anymore? You can simply buy more in the spring, right? Well yes, but learning the skill of successfully saving seeds is a good idea for those who strive to be self-reliant. It will help you save money on seeds and allow you to have a steady source for years to come.
Many families have been successfully saving seeds and passing them down for generations. It’s easy to do if you know what kind of seed to save.
While people have been talking about heirloom vegetable seeds for more than a decade, they have yet to reach an agreement on exactly what an heirloom variety is. Seeds are generally considered heirlooms if they were introduced into cultivation at least 40 years prior to the current date
So far, experts in the field agree that heirloom vegetables are old, open-pollinated cultivars that have been passed down from generation to generation. In addition, these varieties also have a reputation for being high quality and easy to grow.
Open Pollinated Seeds
Open Pollinated (OP) seeds are from plants that have been pollinated by insects, wind, birds, humans, or other natural mechanisms. While heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, open-pollinated seeds are not necessarily heirlooms; open-pollinated varieties are still being developed.
Open pollinated seeds will produce plants that have large genetic diversity. As long as the pollen hasn’t crossed between different varieties of the same species the plant will produce seeds true to type year after year.
Hybrid Seeds (F1, F2)
Hybrid seeds are from plants that have been crossed between varieties or species by human intervention. And many of these hybrid varieties have been bred for size, or resistance to a particular disease, and not for that old-time flavor.
Many cultivars available from seed companies today are F1 hybrids (that is, the first generation is a cross between two inbred lines). There are hybrids of cross-pollinated as well as of self-pollinated crops. These produce vigorous, high yielding, pest-resistant plants with high-quality flowers, fruits or roots.
Seeds saved from (F1) hybrid vegetable seeds and planted are F2 hybrid seeds. These seeds are unstable and will not grow true next variety. They won’t produce as vigorously as the F1 seeds did. However, over time the seeds can stabilize by being open pollinated year after year.
Unless you enjoy experimenting with seeds year after year, then don’t waste your time saving seeds from hybrid plant varieties.
Start with the Best Seed
Ultimately, if you want to save terrific, viable seed for next year you need to start with the best seed you can afford. Your initial stock must be of stellar quality.
Many local nurseries are offering heirloom and open-pollinated seed grown in your area. Look for their displays or ask around. Local seeds will have acclimated to your specific area and give you a jump on the growing season.
If you cannot find a local seed seller, try an online seed exchange or one of these trusted vendors:
- MIGardener (receive a 10% discount when you use this link)
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds
- Seed Savers Exchange
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
- Botanical Interests
When it’s time to save seed from your homegrown produce, you need to choose seeds from the healthiest, most vigorous plants.
Seeds from Vegetables with Pods
Saving seeds from a pod-like structure, such as beans, peas, and okra, take a bit of work.
- Harvest the seeds when the fruit or vegetable is fully ripe.
- Allow the pods to turn brown, and then harvest the pods, dry them for one to two weeks in a warm, dry area and remove the seeds from the shell.
- Store the seeds in a paper bag in a cool (below 50°F), dry place.
Seeds from the Cruciferous Family
- The cruciferous family (cabbage, broccoli, kale, mustard, etc) flower and then make small pods with seeds.
- Allow the seed pod to turn brown and dry out on the plant.
- The seeds of the cruciferous family can carry diseases that will infect your garden. After harvest, soak seeds of cabbage in 122°F water for 25 minutes. Soak the seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower at the same temperature for 18 minutes.
- After soaking, dry and store the seeds in paper envelopes in a cool, dry place.
Flower Head Seeds
Saving seeds borne in a flower head is the easiest of all. (sunflower, lettuce, spinach, coriander dill, etc.)
- Cut off the seed stalks just before all the seeds are dried; the seeds may fall off the stalk and be lost if you allow them to fully dry on the plant.
- Dry the harvested seed stalk, shake or rub the seeds off and store them in a paper envelope in a cool, dry place.
- If you notice the seeds fall off the stalks as they dry, place the entire stalk upside down in a paper bag or cover the seed heads with a nylon stocking to catch the seeds.
Seeds With Pulp
Saving seeds borne in some fleshy fruit, like tomato or cucumber, requires a different approach. The seeds need to be fermented to remove the seed from the flesh.
- Pick a fully ripe cucumber or tomato and squeeze the pulp, including the seeds, into a glass jar.
- Add a little water and let the mixture ferment several days at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Sound, viable seeds will settle to the bottom, nonviable seeds will float.
- A white film might develop on the surface, this is your cue that they are done being fermented.
- Pour off the pulp, nonviable seeds, and water then spread the remaining seeds in a single layer on a napkin or paper towel to dry for a few days.
- Once dry, store them in a paper envelope in a cool, dry place.
Fleshy Fruits and Vegetables Seeds
Seeds in other fleshy fruits such as peppers, melons, pumpkin, and squash do not need to be fermented.
- The fruit needs to be fully ripe for the seeds to be developed. Green peppers are not ripe, peppers need to be red, orange or yellow for the seeds to be mature. Save the pumpkin seeds when you make pumpkin puree.
- Open the fruit and scoop out the seeds.
- Spread the seeds onto a paper towel to dry.
- Store them in a paper envelope as you would other seeds.
Once the herb garden gets in full swing it can be hard to keep up with harvesting. Watch for early-ripening seeds. If you don’t catch them in time they’ll drop on their own.
- Harvest herbs in bunches. Tie several stems together at the bottom with rubber bands.
- Hang them upside down, covered with a paper bag to catch falling seed, in a warm, dry place until completely dried.
- Remove the seeds from the heads and store them in a paper envelope in a cool, dry place.
- Once dry, herb seeds saved for flavorings, such as dill, anise, and coriander can be placed in glass jars with tight-fitting lids.
Not all herbs propagate well from seeds and will produce better when they are propagated by division. Don’t worry about saving seeds from these herbs.
Storing Seed for Next Year
Once the seeds are completely dry, you can put them in paper envelopes and add them to your seed organizer for storage. It’s super important that the seeds are dry before they get stored. Most seeds remain viable for several years if properly stored in paper envelopes in a cool place.
Label the envelopes with the name, cultivar and date saved. Place these into a seed rotation system so you will use the oldest seed first.
How long will seeds last? When properly stored seeds can last 1-5 years and possibly longer. However, long term seed storage isn’t the goal of saving seeds from your garden, growing plants is the goal. It’s best to plant the seeds and save new seeds year after year instead of trying to create some kind of long term seed bank.
5 Quick Tips for Saving Seeds
- Start with the best seed you can afford.
- Start with the right kind of seed.
- Dry seeds in a cool, dark place.
- Know if you have seed from pods, flower heads, or fleshy fruit and save accordingly.
- Store the seed in a cool, dry area or in the refrigerator.
Seed saving doesn’t have to be overwhelming and you don’t have to save seeds from every fruit, vegetables, and herb that you grow. By allowing just a few plants to go to seed, you can save money on future seed purchases plus begin the habit of saving seeds to ensure a steady source of seeds for years to come.
What seeds do you like to save?