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Seed Saving 101- Saving Seed for Next Year's Garden

December 21, 2021 8 min read 0 Comments

Seeds

Why Should I Save Seeds?

Saving your homegrown seeds has lots of great benefits. Not only will saving your seeds be more cost effective, it can't get much better than free right!? The seed that you are saving from your own plants will be adapted to your climate and will grow and evolve better.

Seeds that are great for beginners to save are:

  • Most flowers
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Pumpkins 
  • Cilantro
  • Lettuce 

If saving your own seeds feels like an overwhelming task to learn, don’t be discouraged. While some seeds are more involved to save, there are tons of seeds that you can save easily and effectively. It’s especially easy if you are okay with the seeds you are saving being slightly different from the parent plant. For example, if you are saving zinnia seeds and don’t mind if they have crossed with other zinnia flowers in your garden.

What is the difference between Hybrid and Heirloom?

There are a few things that you will need to be familiar with before saving your own seed. What kind of plant are you growing? Let’s touch on that, it is important to know these terms and their definitions:

  • Hybrid: the process of crossing two or more different varieties. Usually considered unstable meaning saving seeds from a hybrid plant will not produce the same as the parent plant. This seed could either revert back to one of the grandparent’s traits or not produce at all even. 
  • Heirloom: the seed has been growing unchanged for 50+ years reliably. You can save seeds from them and expect to grow the same type of plant. 
  • Cross-pollination: the pollen from one plant crossing with the pollen from another plant. Some plants need to cross-pollinate to produce fruit ( ex: Melons produce male and female flowers, the male pollen needs to cross onto the females to produce fruit.) 

In order to prevent two varieties of the same species from cross-pollinating you have a couple of options. You can self-pollinate the flowers as soon as they open. Then cover with organza bags until the fruit is formed for plants that need to be cross-pollinated in order to produce fruit like squash, cucumbers, and melons. Or you can take care that there are only one species of each variety planted so you don’t risk cross-pollination. 

Some plants are considered “self-pollinating” meaning they have both male and female pollen in each flower. If you are wanting to save seeds from these types of plants you would simply slip an organza bag over the blooms right before they are opening to ensure that there is no crossing from nearby plants. Examples of self-pollinating plants are:

  • Tomatoes ( you will want to shake the flowers if you are growing tomatoes where they do not get much wind. This will help carry the male pollen to the female pollen inside of the flower ) 
  • Peas
  • Beans 
  • Lima beans
  • Peppers
  • Eggplants

WHEN IS SEED READY TO BE SAVED?

Allowing the fruit/flower to fully mature is the key component in saving viable seed. There is a difference between market mature meaning the fruit or flower is mature and ready to eat or go into a beautiful bouquet and seed maturity. Seed maturity is often long after the fruit or flower is a desirable condition for eating or displaying. When you harvest seed from an immature fruit/flower the seed inside is usually immature as well. Letting the plant fully mature, you will ensure that the seed will be viable.

HOW DO I SAVE BEAN AND PEA SEEDS?

When you are growing peas or beans like green beans, shelling beans, shelling peas you are already growing the seeds. All that’s left to do is let them do their thing on the plant longer than you would if you were harvesting them to eat. 

  • Let them mature fully until brown and dry
  • Shell them 
  • Then lay them in a single layer to dry further
  • Use a fingernail to see if fully dry; if your nail pierces the seed it is not fully dry. You want the seed to be fully dry and no damage to be done by this test

Once fully dry all that is left to do is store them. You can store your saved seeds in an envelope, zip-lock bag, or glass jar. Store your seeds in a dark, cool area free from moisture.

SAVING SEEDS FROM FLOWERS

Saving flower seeds is a fun and very practical way of being sure that you have plenty of seeds for next year. Flowers generally have lots of seeds and therefore you can increase your seed stock significantly by saving your own. Just like saving seeds from other plants, you will need to allow flowers to fully mature on the plant. Wait until the flower bud is entirely dead and dry.

Dry Flower

Different varieties of flowers will have seeds in varying parts of the flower bud. But most of them will be easy to recognize and generally will be near the center of the flower. Once you allow them to dry out completely on the plant you can harvest and save the seeds. 

DriedFlower

If you are like me and don’t mind if some of your flowers cross with neighboring plants, you can skip the step of covering the flower bud with an organza bag. I like to allow the bees to cross-pollinate my zinnias and cosmos. It is fun to see what colors and varieties I will end up with the following year. If you are wanting to ensure that your seed stays pure, be sure to isolate the flower bud before it opens. 

HOW TO SAVE CILANTRO SEEDS

When saving cilantro seeds or more commonly called coriander seeds you let the plant reach its full maturity. Cilantro is a cool-weather crop which means it thrives and grows well when the weather is cool. Once the summer heat comes, cilantro will bolt.

What is bolting? Bolting is when a plant flowers. This is what happens when a plant is either past its prime harvest time or weather conditions have changed significantly. When the plant is flowering that is also it going to seed, generally, once a plant starts to bolt it will send up a thick flower stalk and begin to flower. 

The flowers will mature and die back leaving green little seeds on top of the flower stalk. Leave these seeds on the plant until they have turned brown and have dried. You can further dry them out by putting them in a breathable container such as a paper envelope. Store in a dark, dry, cool area until you are ready to plant again.

HOW TO SAVE ZINNIA SEEDS

Be sure to let the flower die back fully on the plant. The colors will go from bright petals, slowly fade and become dull and eventually will turn fully brown. At the base of every petal will be a seed. There will also be seeds that are found on the top of the flower bud, the tiny flowers you see on the center of zinnias also produce viable seed. 

zinnia

You can separate the plant material called the chaff and the seeds or you can leave them together when storing them. Adding this chaff into your seeds will aid in giving the plants natural spacing if you are casting seeds. Once separated from the flower bud, allow them to dry further by laying them out in a single layer for another week or so before storing your seeds. 

Store your saved seeds in an envelope or plastic ziplock bag. Be sure your saved seed in a cool, dark dry environment to keep them from being damaged. 

Zinnia seeds are one of my most favorite seeds to save. There is an abundance of seeds from each flower so it doesn’t take very many flowers to build up your seed stock for next year. I love to see what crosses happen naturally from the bees flying from flower to flower in my garden so I don’t isolate my flowers.

HOW TO SAVE WET SEEDS

Wet seeds are seeds that have a gel substance around the seed. This gel is nature’s way of protecting the seeds to be sure that they can reproduce for the next season. When animals eat the fruit, the gel helps protect the seed from the digestion of the animal and keeps it viable. 

To save wet seeds you can ferment them in order to get this protective gel coating off of the seed. Simply squeeze or spoon the seeds into a jar and add some water. After several days you will notice that the top of the water is growing a mold substance. This is completely normal and all part of the process. The viable seed will have sunk to the bottom while the protective gel and immature seed will float to the top. 

After several days, slowly dump out the top portion of the water. Use a small mesh strainer to rinse off the seeds. Now you will need to lay them out to fully dry. I like to use a coffee filter to dry out wet seeds. They do not stick to the coffee filter as they do with paper towels or other things that I have tried. 

Wet seeds are seeds like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and melons. For these kinds of plants, it is important to isolate the flowers that you are wanting to save seeds from. You can hand pollinate the flowers as soon as they open. 

For plants like cucumbers, and melons they will produce male and female flowers. You take the pollen from the male flower and place it on the female flower. You can use a small paint brush to do this. Once pollinated, place an organza bag over the female flower.  

 Tomato

For tomatoes, they have male and female pollen within each flower. You will simply place the organza bag over the flower that you will later save the seeds from the fruit. Be sure to shake the flower once it’s open to be sure the male pollen gets on the female pollen within the flower. Some like to use an electric toothbrush to do this instead. 

To save seeds from tomatoes, melons, and squash you will need to allow the fruit to become fully mature. Cucumbers will change color and will swell quite a bit. Squash will be ready to save seeds once the outer skin has become hard.

SAVING DRY SEEDS

Seeds like cosmos, zinnias, radishes, lettuces, dill, peas, and beans are all dry seeded crops. They simply need to be harvested and laid out to fully dry before storage. One chore that comes from these crops is separating the chaff ( plant material ) from the seeds. Mesh trays from Bootstrap Farmer work well for this. The seed drops through the small holes leaving the chaff on top. 

WHY SAVE YOUR OWN SEED

Saving seeds from plants that you have grown in your own garden is a fun way to build your seed stock. The bees may have naturally crossed flower varieties creating a unique flower that only you have, Seeds that have been grown in your region will have climatized to your specific area, meaning you will have healthier stronger plants for your garden. And let’s not forget it will save you money. 

Saving plant seeds may sound like an overwhelming task when you are first learning how to do it, but as you can see there are simple steps to make your experience a breeze. 

Happy Seed Saving!!

Written by Robin Lapping @robinsroots


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