Late summer, early autumn is the perfect time for saving seeds from your garden.
If you love to garden, chances are you have favorite flowers, fruits, and vegetables you’d like to grow year after year.
Here are some helpful ideas on saving seeds, choosing the best plant varieties, and how to store them. Soon, you’ll be saving seeds and growing plants perfectly adapted to your garden.
Harvesting seeds from your own garden can be complicated. But if you’re a beginner, there isn’t a better time to start saving seeds than this fall. Here’s what you need to know:
Saving Seeds from Your Garden
Saving your own seeds not only saves money, it allows you to slowly improve the quality of your garden and adapt it to your own unique growing conditions.
The University of Minnesota Extention offers the following advice on choosing plants for saving seeds:
Self-Pollinated Plants: Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices for seed saving. These plants have flowers that are self-pollinating, and seeds that require little or no special treatment before storage.
Cross-Pollinated Plants: Plants with separate male and female flowers, like corn and vine crops, may cross-pollinate. It is difficult to keep the seed strain pure.
Open-Pollinated Plants: When saving seed, choose open-pollinated varieties rather than hybrids. If open-pollinated varieties self-pollinate or cross-pollinate with other plants of the same variety, they set seed that grow into plants that are still very similar to the parent plant. These plants bear similar fruit and set seeds that will produce more plants that are similar.
Easy Plants for Saving Seeds
Chilis and Peppers
Choosing the Best Plants to Harvest Seeds
Selecting seeds from the best plants improves your seed stock so that the end result produces plants perfectly suited to your environment. Then “Germination improves, plants better withstand wind or rain, flowers appear earlier and for longer.”
The Telegraph advises, “Don’t make the common mistake of saving from the first plant that goes to seed, particularly in leafy vegetables such as lettuce and rocket, as you will just be selecting for ever-quicker bolting. Save from the best plant. Save seed on a dry day, and spread it out to dry in a warm indoor spot: an airing cupboard is perfect.”
When is the Plant Ripe for Seed Harvesting?
The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests a plant is ripe for seed harvest “when the seeds are viable, which is not always when the plant is most edible.”
Here’s how to determine ripeness:
Pepper seeds are ripe when peppers are at their full color—depending on variety, this could be red, orange, yellow, purple, or black—and start to shrivel.
Tomato seeds are ripe when tomatoes are firm but tender. If you press them, they have some give, unlike the hard feel of green ones. Like peppers, they will also have reached their full color.
Cucumber seeds are ripe when the cuke turns fully yellow—overripe for eating. Harvest it and put it in a safe place for another 20 days.
Winter squash seeds are ripe when the skin turns hard.
Summer squash seeds are ripe when the squash is past the edible point, with a hard rind. Then treat the same as winter squashes.
Watermelon seeds are ripe when the tendril directly opposite the stem turns from green to brown and becomes dry.
Cantaloupe and muskmelon seeds are ripe when the stem turns brown and dries, and the melon readily separates from it.
Peas and beans are ready when the pods turn brown on the vine and shrink against the seeds.
Choosing the Best Seeds
It’s important to harvest only mature seeds. They are mature when:
plant flowers are faded and dry
seed pods are brown and dry
Harvest seeds from the best plants available that are:
have the prettiest flowers
the largest, healthiest in the garden
vegetables that taste best
How to Harvest Seeds
There are two methods generally used to harvest seeds.
Dry Method Seed Harvesting:
This method is used for:
most flowers and herbs
Let seeds dry on the plant or in the fruit as long as possible. Remove the seeds from the plant and lay on a screen to finish drying completely.
For small seeds, place the seed heads into paper bags in order to catch the seeds.
Wet Method Seed Harvesting:
This method is best used for:
Scoop out the seed pulp and put in a jar filled with warm water. Ferment the seeds in the jar for 2 to 4 days, stirring or swirling twice daily. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the jar.
When fermented, pour off the water and pulp and spread the seeds on a paper towel to dry. This usually takes several days. It’s important to dry the seeds thoroughly before storing.
Storing Harvested Seeds
Label and date glass jars for storage. Add the seeds to the jars or envelopes and place in the freezer for 2 days to kill any pests.
Plant most seeds within 3 years. Parsley, sweet corn and onion seeds should be planted the following year.
Watch How to Dry and Harvest Seeds from Your Garden
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