Saving Garden Seeds

The article “Saving Garden Seeds” is a guest post by Roger Perry.

Saving garden seeds is an easy, fun, and inexpensive way to grow your favorite garden plants from year to year. Seeds are designed to withstand many natural problems such as heat, cold, drought and fire. Some can even survive being eaten by birds and animals. Many seeds can be dried out, saved, and planted the next year with some success, but for best results, follow the steps below.

Before you plant, consider how the plants are pollinated. Self-pollinated plants have flowers that pollinate themselves and grow true to the parent plant. Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices. Cross-pollinated plants are pollinated by a separate plant of the same or closely related variety. The seed from these plants may not be true to the parent plant. Sweet corn can be pollinated by popcorn. Cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds can all pollinate each other.

If you’re interested in saving garden seeds of cross-pollinated plants, you should not plant more than one variety that may cross with the parent. If you plant one variety of cucumber–do not plant any melons, squash, pumpkins or gourds. Hybrid plants are produced by professionals. They combine two different varieties under strict pollination conditions to produce the best features of both plants. The seeds of hybrid plants will not be the same as the parent plant. The home gardener should not try to save the seeds of hybrid plants.

saving garden seeds

Obtain seeds, cuttings, transplants from a reliable source. Seeds should be fresh, clean and disease-free. Seeds can be obtained from commercial sources, community outreach organizations, seed exchange groups and fellow gardeners. Observe plant growth and  development and crop results (size, quantity, and quality), as you only want to save seed from the best plants.

Most seeds are not ready to harvest until after the peak for eating, so be sure to mark what you want to let ripen for seed so that it doesn’t get picked and eaten. Tomatoes and cucumbers have seeds that are coated with a gel. This should be removed by fermentation. Squeeze or spoon the seed mass into a waterproof container-jar, glass or cup. Add enough water to cover the seed mass, cover lightly and place in a warm spot out of direct sunlight. Stir at least once a day. The good seed will begin to sink to the bottom. The bad seeds and white mold will float on the surface. After five days all the good seed will be on the bottom. Pour off the accumulation on the top and wash the seeds in clear water several times Lay the seeds out to dry for several weeks.

Peppers can be cut open and the seeds brushed off the center stem onto a plate or screen. Set them aside to dry for several weeks. Always wear plastic gloves, wash your hands and be careful where you touch when working with peppers.

Squashes, pumpkins and gourds can be cut open and the seeds removed by hand or spoon. Wash them under cold running water, rubbing carefully to remove stringy membrane. Put them on a plate or screen and set aside to dry for several weeks.

Peas and beans should not be picked until the pods are thoroughly brown and dry. They may be left in the pods or shelled for storage. In either case they should be set aside to dry for several weeks.

Lettuce and greens also produce seed pods; however, they tend to shatter as they dry out. To prevent them from shattering either tie a paper bag over the flower heads or pick the dry pods daily. Treat the seeds like peas.

Melons can be cut open and the seeds removed by hand or spoon. Wash the seeds under cold running water rubbing off any stringy membrane with your fingers. Put the seeds in a waterproof container and cover with water. The good seeds should sink to the bottom in a couple of days. Pour off the bad seeds and water. Rinse the good seeds again and set aside to dry for several weeks.

Biennials, such as cabbage, beets, carrots, cauliflower, onions, parsley, and turnips, do not produce seed the first year. They can be left in the ground and protected from winter cold or dug up and stored over the winter and then replanted the following spring.

Once your seeds are completely dry they can be stored in any dry secure container placed in a cool dry area. More than one type of seed can be stored together, but each type needs to be separated in its own packet. Each packet or container should be clearly marked with the name and variety, date harvested and any other information you feel will be helpful next spring. Now you know everything you need for saving garden seeds.


This article is a guest post by VIA volunteer Roger Perry. Roger has more than 40 years’ experience with gardening. He has worked with all kinds of plants from potatoes to passion fruits, and is happy to share his expertise with the VIA community.

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