Interested in saving seeds from your garden to grow next year? Check out this beginners guide all about how to save seeds including choosing seeds from the best plants, how to harvest them and how to properly store them.
Why Save Seeds?
Saving seeds is a long-standing tradition with gardeners and even early farmers, in fact, it was the only way to grow a garden for thousands of years! With the availability of seed companies the necessity of saving seeds from year to year has gone down however there are still several great reasons for going to the work to save seeds from your harvest. For starters, saving seeds is a big money saver. For example one sunflower can potentially grow more than 1,000 seeds! Currently if you buy sunflower seeds in a packet a great price would be somewhere around $2 for just 50 seeds.
Saving seeds is also a good security measure to ensure you always have the seeds you want for the plants you want to grow. Due to circumstances around the world gardening has seen a rise in popularity in 2020. During the pandemic gardening as a hobby saw a huge jump in popularity and seed supply companies actually ran out of several seed varieties and stores had their seed packets completely sold out.
If you save seeds you also ensure that you will have access to your favorite heirloom plant varieties for years to come. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the crop varieties grown 100 years ago are already gone. If you want to keep unique and heirloom varieties of plants alive then saving seeds is a great practice.
Finally, if you save seeds you are creating the potential for a healthier, stronger garden in the future. Seeds you buy from the store are sold because their variety performs well across the country with the addition of fertilizers. When you save seed from your strongest, most fruitful plants grown in your soil and your weather conditions then you will gradually develop plant varieties that are ideal for your exact growing area. Well-adapted plants are happy plants that produce more.
What Seeds to Save
For the beginner there are a few things you need to know before you save seeds. Some plants are likely to make seed saving easier, and it’s recommended to start saving seeds from self-pollinating plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas for the most success. Saving squash seeds is a bit more tricky (but we’ll give you tips below!) because these plants require a male and female flower to create a fruit. When bees travel from flower to flower the plants often get cross pollinated with other varieties of squash you might be growing so those seeds you saved might not grow what you think the following year (or might not be edible!).
Another thing to consider; some varieties of plants like carrots and beets only produce seeds after two seasons so you would need to keep those plants healthy and growing for 2 years before seeing any seeds.
Another factor to consider is whether your plant is open pollinated or a F1 hybrid. Heirloom plants most likely fall into the open pollinated category and the vegetables that will grow from the seeds will be similar to the fruit of the parent plant. These seeds will grow plants that can evolve to your local soil and weather conditions and are the best type of plant to save seeds from. It is not recommended to save seeds from F1 hybrid varieties. These seed types are commercially produced seeds, made for their resistance to disease and pests and higher yields. Your seed packet should identify if the seeds are F1 hybrids. This type of seeds can be infertile and some will produce a less favorable plant than the original parent plant. They work great for planting for one year, but in the long-run won’t produce the same results so steer clear of saving seeds from F1 hybrids and instead choose open-pollinated seed varieties.
How to Save Tomato Seeds
Choose your most vigorous and healthy plant and select fruits that are fully ripened on the vine. Scoop out the seeds and the pulp and place in a jar of water for a few days. After a few days the seeds will have come free from the pulp and be on the bottom of the jar. Pour away the water and rinse the seeds leaving them to dry on a paper towel.
How to Save Bean and Pea Seeds
Allow the pods to ripen and dry and brown on the plant. Remove the dried pods from the plant and spread them on a tray indoors to dry. Let them sit for at least two weeks before shelling the pods. You
How to Save Pepper Seeds
Harvest seeds from peppers once the fruit has fully ripened on the plant and has started to wrinkle (this is a case where you grow the pepper for it’s seeds and not for eating it). Remove the seeds from the peppers and spread them on a paper towel to dry. You can also keep the seeds inside the pod until you are ready to plant in the spring.
How to Save Pumpkin and Squash Seeds
A commercial pumpkin grower will grow his fields a 1/2 mile away from other varieties of squash. This is because plants with separate male and female flowers (such as the squash family) can cross pollinate and hybridize. If your pumpkins cross with other plants in pollination then it can affect the flavor and shape of the vegetable. If you are hoping to save your seeds try to plant your varieties as far apart as possible.
Cut open your pumpkin and clean out all of the seeds. Clean off all of the pumpkin pulp and thoroughly rinse the seeds clean. Take the largest seeds and lay them on a sheet of wax paper on a cookie sheet and allow the seeds to dry overnight. Once the seeds feel dry, line the baking sheet with paper towels and spread the seeds in a single layer, allowing them to dry in a cool dark place for at least one month. Squash seeds can be very moist so this step allows them to become completely dry.
How to Save Watermelon Seeds
Allow a melon to ripen past it’s maturity when the tendril nearest to the melon has completely dried and withered. Store the entire melon in a cool, dry area for an additional three weeks (do not chill! that will ruin the seeds). Cut open the melon and scoop the seeds out. Pour all the seeds (watermelon pulp included) into a large bowl and fill it with water. The healthy seeds sink to the bottom and the bad seeds will float. Separate out the healthy seeds and allow them to fully dry on a paper towel.
How to Save Zinnia Seeds
Saving seeds isn’t just for the vegetable garden! Zinnia’s are one of the easiest plants to save seeds from. Stop deadheading the flowers towards the end of the season to allow the flowerhead to completely brown and dry up on the stem. Once the seedhead is completely dry cut it off the plant. Then simply rub the dried plant between your hands to release the seeds over a plate or container.
How to Save Sunflower Seeds
Wait to harvest sunflowers when the petals start to dry and fall. The green base of the flower head will turn yellow then brown. The seeds should look plump and the seed shells will be black or black and white striped. Cut off the flower head and rub it in your hands over a tray to catch the falling seeds. Let seeds fully dry before storing.
How to Properly Store Seeds
Once your seeds are harvested and dried you’ll want to store them in separate envelopes in an airtight container. Keep your container in a dry spot above ground level (it will keep moisture and pests at bay). Make sure to label your seed envelopes with the name, variety and date they were collected. Consider keeping a garden journal so you can track the seeds you sow and how much yield they give so you keep saving seeds from the best plants each year. With your saved seeds you can even get a head start on your garden and sow them indoors in early spring.