Seed Saving

13 September 2023

This is the time of year you will want to gather seeds from plants that you may want to sow next year. Not all plants reproduce by seeds but many do. More about that later. If you want to be successful, here are some tips and tricks.

  • Choose the best. Only take seeds from healthy plants. Those that did not do well generally produce weak plants in the following year. The seeds will hold some diseases or pass on genetic imperfections.
  • Avoid hybrids. If you take seeds from a plant that has been hybridized, it is possible that you will get a very different plant next year. Open-pollinated varieties will “breed true,” which is what you are after.
  • Research. Know which plants will self pollinate and which ones need help from insects or wind. If you have doubts, follow the scientific name rather than the one the nursery puts on the tag.
  • Be sure the seeds are ready. Allow the seeds to mature on the plant before collecting them. This may mean you need to sacrifice some edible vegetables so that the seeds are fully ready to be gathered.
  • Preparation. Clean and dry the seeds.
  • Storage. Label and date the bags or packets. Include the type of plant, variety, any special instructions or growing advice, and include a photo if possible to make things easier in the spring. Store them in a cool to cold, but dry, place.

Examples of self-pollinating plants include lettuce, beans, eggplant, peas, peppers, and tomatoes.

Dealing with plants that can cross-pollinate can be a little dicey. To be sure you get the exact plant next year, you need to isolate them from other plants of the same species either by distance or a physical barrier like a fine mesh or mesh bags. Some of these plants include broccoli, chives, corn, cucumber, onion, pumpkin, spinach, and some squashes.

To separate the seed from the plant you can use one of two methods:

  • Dry – This is good for beans, peas, lettuce, chives, and some brocolli varieties.
    • Rub the seeds off the plant and out of the hull.
    • Pick out the seeds if they are large enough to handle easily.
    • Place the seeds in a sack and beat or flail to separate the seed from the hull.
  • Wet – This works best for moist plants like tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers.
    • Cut open the fruit and scoop or scrape out the seeds. Place them in a clean container.
    • To remove the gelatinous tissue that holds the seeds, there is a fermentation method. Note this will be messy.
      • Fill a bowl with the tomato seeds and liquid and transfer to a jar. Be sure there is enough liquid to allow the seeds to separate from the other material. Add enough water to fill the jar about ¾ full of liquid.
      • Seal the jar and allow to ferment for five to seven days.
      • Shake the jar vigorously each morning.
      • As early as the second day, you will see bubbling. This is good. Open the lid and allow the pressure to release. Foul odor is good.
      • The seeds should float to the top.
      • After about a week, pour the contents through a very fine mesh sieve to separate the seeds from the rest of the gunk. Rinse the seeds gently with cold water.
      • Dry the seeds. Use a flat plate and place some paper towels on it. Place the tomato seeds in a coffee filter and place the coffee filter on the paper towels/plate. Do not put the tomato seeds directly on the paper towels, because the seeds will adhere and it will be extremely difficult to remove them. IMPORTANT: Label each coffee filter with the variety of tomato. Don’t trust your memory.

Store the clean, dry seeds in the coolest, driest part of your home in sealed containers, glass is best. Be sure to label and date including the plant, variety, and any pertinent information. That can include when the seeds where harvested. You may want to add a desiccant, like those silica gel packets that come in some vitamins or prescriptions, to help absorb any excess moisture. For long term storage consider a refrigerator.


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