How to Start Saving Seeds from Your Garden

AJ & Rebecca    How To

In the garden the majority of our plants are grown either from transplant – which is a small plant that has been started from seed in another location, and is now ready to plant directly into the main garden bed – or from seed, which generally allows for much more control over the plant’s growing conditions, as well as providing a much greater variety of choice for distinct types of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Learning how to save seeds from your own crops is one of the first skills you should learn as a home gardener. By doing so, you can propagate your best crops year after year.

What types of seeds can I save for later use?

The first step is to identify the types of seeds you will be saving. Seeds that are labeled as Open-Pollinated (OP) will keep specific characteristics as long as they pollinate with a plant of the same breed. In simpler terms, this means that if you plant OP seeds, these crops will continue to produce identical plants season after season. That is as long as you take proper care to prevent any cross-pollination from occurring. The opposite of open-pollinated seeds is hybrid seeds, which are a cross between two different parent-seed varieties. We do not recommend saving seeds from hybrid crops as the yield will be quite unpredictable.

Types of Plants

The first type of plant you will want to learn about is annuals. Annuals – such as tomatoes, lettuce, peas, beans, and peppers – will flower, go to seed, and die, all within a single growing season. These are by far the simplest crops to grow when beginning. Additionally, they are some of the ones we suggest trying when you first start out saving seeds.

The second type of plant is biennials. As you may have guessed, biennial crops – including onions and carrots, among many others – do not flower or produce seed until their second season in the ground, after having experienced a cold period. Some of these

The third type of plant is perennials. Perennial plants include asparagus and most fruit trees. Unless struck by disease or physical harm, perennials will survive, flower and produce seed every year.

Now that we have learned about types of seeds, and types of crops, we must learn about species. The species of the plant refers to various types of different crops. For example, the several available species of squash which are unable to cross-pollinate with other species of the same plant. It is important to note the species of the crops in your garden before you attempt pollination.

Start Saving Seeds From Your Garden

As mentioned previously, when beginning, we suggest you start with an annual self-pollinating crop. Self-pollinating means:

  • that you will not have to worry about hand-pollinating the plants,
  • the plants will not need to be grown in isolation,
  • and comparatively few plants will be needed to produce quality seeds.

If you are growing multiple varieties of the same plant, just place additional space between the crops to ensure prevention of cross-pollination of the seeds. Furthermore, some types of plants produce an abundance of seeds, while some produce few, especially if you have a limited overall crop size. Make sure you plant an adequate total number of plants to ensure healthy seed formation. Finally, when growing a crop with the intention of harvesting seeds, it is critical to consider genetic diversity. You can actually compromise this in a smaller seed crop. Over generations, this can result is lesser-quality produce and decreased yield. This is yet another reason to ensure your seed crop is sizable enough to ensure quality seed production.

Time to Collect Those Seeds!

Collection times and methods vary for the various types of fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown in the garden.

To begin, for most crops that contain DRY seeds – like beans, grains, and lettuce – you can remove the seeds from the plant once they have hardened. The simplest method for the majority of these crops is to bend the stem of the seed pod of the plant and place the seed-filled pod into a paper bag or wide-mouth mason jar and shake. The dried, hard seeds will fall into the bag or jar, which you can then date and label. These seeds can usually be kept for up to five years. To check viability, sprout the seeds in a moist paper towel first.

For crops that contain WET seeds, the seed-gathering method is slightly more involved. Many fruits and vegetables such as summer squash, cucumber and eggplant are often harvested and eaten before the seeds are actually mature. If you wish to gather seeds, you’ll need to leave a few fruits on the plant to further mature.

opening up squash

Once the fruit has fully ripened, harvest and cut open to expose seeds. 

removing the seeds

Remove seeds from flesh and clean off any excess pulp.

drying seeds for storage

Leave seeds in the open air to dry.

Once dried completely, store seeds in a paper bag or mason jar. Always remember to date and label your seeds!

Saving seeds from your own home garden is one of the many ways to grow your best crops year after year, as well as a way to share your harvest with friends and family, or perhaps introduce someone new to gardening through the gift of your own homegrown, organic seeds! Whatever you choose to do with these new skills, they certainly will not go to waste. Happy Harvesting!

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