One of my earliest gardening memories is discovering that a dried marigold flower contains dozens of marigold seeds. I couldn’t believe my luck – free seeds! I planted one of those seeds and was hooked on gardening. If you learn the basic principles for how to save seeds, I think you’ll be hooked too.
When a plant produces seeds, that typically completes the plant’s life cycle. Harvesting and saving seeds from your plants is a simple process, a great way to save money, and very rewarding.
Learning how to save seeds gives you a nearly-continuous supply of seeds that are adapted to your area at little or no cost.
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6 Tips for How to Save Seeds
1. Learn a little seed terminology before you save seeds
A basic understanding of how seeds are pollinated and produced will help you succeed at seed saving.
- Self-pollinating crops typically pollinate themselves without help from insects or other plants. Self-pollinating plants, such as beans, peas, and tomatoes, are suitable for first-time seed-savers.
- Open-pollinated plants, such as pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, and corn, will cross-pollinate, meaning the seeds from one variety can be affected by pollen from a neighboring plant. If you are growing more than one type of open-pollinated plant near each other, do not save seeds from the resulting fruit as they may have cross-pollinated.
- Hybrid plants – Do not save seeds from hybrid plants. Hybrid plants (F1) are two varieties that have been cross-pollinated to produce a third variety with desired traits from the “parents.” Seeds from hybrid plants will not be “true to type.”
- Heirloom seeds – Most heirloom varieties are good choices for saving. The seed has often been handed down for several generations (generally at least 50 years).
2. Save seeds from only the best plants and fruit
Do not save seeds from diseased fruit or plants. When you save seeds, you select which traits you want to continue. Choose the best tasting and healthiest fruit and plants from which to save seeds.
3. Seeds for saving must be fully developed on the plant or vine
The perfect time to pick a plant to eat is often not the best time to pick a seed. Seeds need extra time to develop and become viable. The life cycle of the plant concludes with producing and developing seeds. Be patient and let the seeds develop and mature on the plant.
4. Learn how to harvest and dry both “wet” and “dry” seeds
To ferment wet seeds:
- Gather supplies. You’ll need a knife, spoon, glass jar, bucket, sieve, and coffee filter.
- Cut the tomato or cucumber in half. Using the spoon, scrape the seeds into a glass jar and add water to the jar.
- As the seeds ferment, the pulp separates from the viable seeds. Stir to prevent mold forming.
- Once the seeds have fermented, add water to the mixture and mix. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom and the pulp will remain at the surface of the water. Pour off pulp. Repeat until the water is clear.
- Drain into a sieve and rinse with water. Seeds should feel rough, not slippery.
- After the coating is removed, rinse seeds and spread them out on coffee filters. Allow the seeds to completely dry out. Should take 1-2 days to completely dry.
Saving dry seeds is often simple. Harvest the pods and heads in a brown paper sack. Once the seed pods are completely dry, shake out or crumble the pods to remove the seeds. Let the seeds continue to dry in a brown paper sack for a few weeks until completely dried out. Examples of dry seeds: Sunflower, hollyhock, artichoke.
5. Once seeds are thoroughly dry, store saved seeds correctly
Drying out the seed is an important part of saving seeds. Seeds that haven’t dried properly often become moldy. Place seeds in paper envelopes, or for longer storage, store them in mason jars. Be sure to label seeds with the type of seed and the date harvested. Store seeds in a dark, cool, and dry place.
6. Share your saved seeds with others
Set aside some seeds to plant next year, and then share the extras in a seed swap or donate them to a local seed library. Garden seeds also make great gifts for gardeners.
Did you learn something from this article? Please share it with others and begin observing the plants around you. Also, watch the life cycle of your plants. For instance, how do they make seeds? Can you save them?
Which seeds do you have success in saving? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
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