How to save seeds

Saving your own seeds has many beneficial aspects to it! With little time and effort, you can learn how to save seeds and plant your garden next year with this years harvest!

Do you know which seeds you’ll save? Let’s learn some terminology and helpful tips

Before you go overboard and save all the seeds, lets review which seeds to save for the best outcome:

  • You want the seed strain to be true-to-seed so that it will have exactly the same characteristics next season. This will only be possible with self-pollinating plants and open-pollinated varieties
  • Plants that do not rely on other species to pollinate are Self-pollinating, and their seeds require very little effort to save and store. Their seeds will also have the same characteristics as the parent plant but won’t necessarily be identical. Beans, tomatoes, pepper, broccoli, cabbage and peas are self-pollinating.
  • Open-pollinating plants are fertilized by insects, the wind, and rain, and the seeds will produce the same plant the following year. Some open-pollinated plants are self-pollinators, meaning they fertilize themselves, even before opening. Lettuce, peas, beans and tomatoes fall in this category.
  • Heirloom seeds have been saved and passed on for generations. All heirloom seeds are open-pollinated, however not all open-pollinated seeds are heirloom.
  • Cross-pollinating plants need female flowers and male flowers to produce fruit and the seeds should be thrown away or you’ll run the risk of creating new varieties. This includes some tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons. However, if you wanted different varieties or hybrid plants, this is how you would do it.
  • It’s a good idea to only save the best seeds from the plants that did very well during the season. These will create the most viable seeds for your garden next year.
  • Start with the easiest seeds such as peppers, tomatoes, peas, beans, and lettuce for beginner crops.
Garden harvest for saving seeds

Harvesting Seeds For Saving

Plants will only set seeds at the end of their life cycle, and they should also be fully ripe to be adequate for saving. If you harvest the seeds too soon, the seed will not be mature enough and won’t germinate for the next season. I recommend starting with vegetable seeds vs fruits

For this reason, you will have to keep one or two plants separate that you will solely use for seed harvesting. Vegetables like eggplant, cucumber, and lettuce will become shriveled, yellow, and almost rotten before their seeds are ready. It may be a good idea to use a few different plants from different species to see what works best for you.

Cucumber and Tomato seeds:

Tomatoes and cucumbers have wet seeds that need to be fermented to eliminate the gel residue. Allow your tomatoes and cucumbers to ripen fully, and then scoop out the seeds with the gel.

Add the seeds with the gel to a glass jar filled with water and place it in a warm room. Stir the mixture twice daily; after 5 days, the seeds should sink to the bottom. Drain the water, catch the clean seeds, rinse them properly, and spread them out on a paper towel or a plastic tray to dry.

Pepper seeds

Allow a few peppers to ripen fully on the plant until they start to wrinkle. Cut the peppers open and remove the seeds from the stem. Spread them on a tray to dry seeds.

Peas and bean seeds:

Peas and beans with pods should ripen on the plant until they are dried out and brown. You will hear the seed pods rattle on the inside. It could take up to a month, so be patient.

Pick the pods from plants and spread them out to dry further. Shell them after two weeks or keep the seeds in the pods until planting.

Lettuce seeds:

To harvest seeds from lettuce, you must wait for it to send up its flower stalks, producing tiny seed pods. By this time, the lettuce will be yellow and shriveled.

Let the pods dry on the plant and check them daily when they are ready to be picked. Radishes and other Asian greens will work the same.

Squash and pumpkin seeds:

When your squash or pumpkin is ripe, break it open and remove the seeds. There will be stringy material and membrane attached to the seed heads, so rinse the seeds properly underwater. Lay the seeds on a tray to dry.

Watermelon and Melon seeds:

Once again, harvest the seeds only when the fruit is ripe. Break open your melon, remove the seeds, rinse them to wash off all the pulp, and spread them out on a tray to dry. Turn them regularly until they are dry.

Harvesting zinnia seeds and other flowers:

The seeds from many annual flowers, including zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, petunias, marigolds, impatiens, cleome, snapdragons, nigella, and calendula, can be harvested.

You can harvest most of these flowers seeds about a month after their blossoms fade or the flower heads become sad looking, and the seed heads turn brown. Clean the seeds from any husks or pods and remove as much debris from the seeds as you can. Let them dry on a tray for about a week.

Dried seeds saved for next year

Garden Seeds Storage Tips

Make sure they are adequately dry

The most crucial thing about storing seeds is ensuring they are adequately dried. For some seeds, you may have to leave them out to dry for up to a month. Left-over moisture on the seeds is sure to lead to mold growth and rot, making them unusable  

If you had rain before harvesting the seeds, rather wait a few days for the seeds to dry on the plant.

Dry your seeds on a tray, wax paper, or towel paper in a sunny room, non-humid greenhouse, or in the direct sun outside. Remember to bring them inside – you wont want them to freeze or get eaten. 

Turn your seeds several times during the drying period.

Seeds should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place

A dark closet, pantry (away from heat sources), or basement will work perfectly. The ideal temperature is 32 to 41 F degrees and out of direct sunlight. This is much cooler than room temperature, so you’ll have to plan ahead.

Store seeds in an airtight container

Glass jars, paper bag, or paper envelopes stored in plastic containers. Add silica-gel desiccant to the containers to absorb moisture and keep the seeds dry. You can print and cut my free seed packet template below or purchase these cute seeds packets

This photo organizer works amazing for organizing seeds.

Label your seeds

Come next year, you may have forgotten what is what and how old the seeds are. Label your seeds with the crop type, variety, date harvested, and other notes.

Saving times according to different crops

Corn, spinach, chives, and alliums have the shortest seed storage life as they have a higher oil content. Use them within a year.

Onion, leek, beans, peppers, and swiss chard seeds should be replaced every two years.

Tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, melons, Asian greens, and squash seeds can stay good for up to three years.

Radish, broccoli, cauliflowers, cabbage, Brussel sprout, and kale seeds can last 4-5 years Annual flower seeds will be viable for 1-3 years, while perennials can last for up to 5 years

Head over to my blog post for some useful ideas on what plants can have dual purposes, such as keeping bugs away

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