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Seed Saving

9 Mar 2022 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

All gardeners have felt the thrill of receiving that first spring seed catalog, or the joy of walking from frigid outdoor temperatures into a store and spying that inviting colorful display of seed packets.  A seed holds a promise of spring, a promise of summer, green leaves, glorious foliage, beautiful flowers, delicious and bountiful harvests.

As inviting as those colorfully packaged seeds are though, don’t forget that saving your own seed can be just as exciting.  While purchasing seeds is a fairly inexpensive option compared to purchasing starter plants, it costs nothing to save your own seeds for future use. Not only does saving your own seeds keep more money in your pockets, it also has other benefits.

Saving seed helps preserve genetic diversity. Seed companies only offer so many varieties for sale. Saving your own seeds ensures that you have access to varieties that are not easily accessible for purchase. It also allows you to re-grow your favorite plants year after year, and those plants may eventually adapt to perform their best in your specific garden climate.

The first step in successfully saving seeds is to determine if the plant you wish to save seeds from is a good candidate or not. The seeds of hybridized plans may not contain the same traits as the parent plant and therefore growing plants next season from their seeds may not provide the results you experienced the year before.

Cross pollination is also a factor. If you’d like to save pure seed avoid gathering seeds from plants grown next to other varieties that may have cross pollinated. The fewer varieties of each plant you grow, the lower the possibility of cross-pollination resulting in seed that produces plants that differ from the parent. This may require research to determine if the plants in question are capable of cross pollination, or if this is not a concern save the seed and perhaps next season you’ll have a new variety that you like even more.

Another important aspect of seed saving is knowing when seeds are ready for harvest. Many seeds, especially those of vegetables, are not ready when the produce is market ready or ripe for eating.  Research the specific plant you’re saving seed from to determine when the best time to collect seeds is.

If you’ve never saved seeds before, start simple with plants that are easy for beginners such as peas, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, and peppers. 

  • Peas
  • Leave the peas on the vine and harvest when they turn brown and start to dry.
  • Lay them out to dry completely before storing.
  • If there is fear of frost bring them inside and hang upside down in cool ventilated area out of direct light.
  • Beans
    • Leave on the vine and harvest when the pods get leathery.
    • If there is fear of frost bring them inside and hang upside down in cool ventilated area out of direct light.
  • Lettuce
    • Lettuce bolts (forms flowers and gets bitter) so either have one patch for seed and one for eating or allow only some to go to seed. Lettuce will bolt at varying times so you may need to harvest throughout the season.
    • The flower will opens as a fluffy dandelion type head when seeds are ready.
    • Harvest and keep in cool well ventilated area.
  • Tomato
    • Harvest when you harvest the tomato for eating.
    • Scoop out the seeds. Rinse off and allow seeds to dry in a warm ventilated area on a coffee filter as seeds may stick to paper towels.
    • Once dry store in a cool well ventilated area.
  • Peppers
    • Open the pepper, scrape out seeds and allow to dry.
    • Store in a cool well ventilated area.
  • Flowers
    • Sunflower, coneflower, black eyed susan, morning glory, nasturtium, zinnia, poppy are easy varieties to gather seed from.
    • Harvest after plant is done blooming and when flower has lost all petals. Snip off flower head and allow to dry (if not dried on the plant) separate seeds from husks or pods, allow to dry in well ventilated dry area. Save in paper bag/envelope

Once you’ve determined when to gather seed from the plants of your choosing, then you must determine the best way to harvest and store them over winter to ensure the best chance for success in following seasons. In general seeds should be stored in a cool dry, well ventilated area. Store them in envelopes, brown paper bags or other containers that allow seeds to breathe.

Seed viability can vary from species to species, but in general germination rates decline each year seeds are stored. If you gather more than you will use within the foreseeable future, take the opportunity to share them with friends and neighbors. You can also search online for local seed groups, where you can donate, receive and swap seeds.

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