hands separating seeds for seed saving

Saving seeds: Why It’s Important and How To Do It

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Fall is the season for saving seeds. The vegetation is dying and the drying up and the plants are dropping their seeds. It’s time to harvest seeds from plants that have spent their summer growing, blooming, and producing fruit or vegetables. Whether you’re roaming through a wild patch of land or just walking through your garden, this is a great time to harvest seeds.

When it comes to gardening, there are few things that are as gratifying as allowing your plants to go to seed, collecting those seeds, and then sharing them with your friends and family. Gardeners have passed their love of nature and stories generation to generation through this practice of reciprocity.

Saving seeds isn’t difficult – it just takes a little bit of background knowledge that an experienced gardener should wield! This guide answers all your questions and offers tips for becoming a successful seed saver.

Why It's Important and How To Do It

Why Save Seeds?

Seed saving is a joyous experience that reconnects you with the origins of food and its ability to sustain life. Saving seeds is also a chance to get outdoors, connect with nature and learn about how things grow. Once you start saving your own seeds, you’ll never look at box stores or seed catalogs the same way again.

People have many reasons for saving seeds, including the following:

1) Frugality

Growing your own food from seeds that you have saved is a great way to reduce the cost of producing healthy food.

2) Preserve Genetic Diversity

A few generations ago, growing and saving seeds was a common part of gardening and growing food. Children harvested seeds along with their parents, grandparents, aunts, and neighbors and traded them locally as part of a seasonal tradition. They saved seeds that were well-suited to local environments and passed down heirloom varieties from generation to generation.

Saving your own seeds preserves genetic diversity and your favorite varieties. Commercial seed companies grow a small handful of crop varieties, while many heirloom varieties have disappeared from the market altogether. By saving seeds, you ensure that you’ll have access to the varieties you’ve come to know and love forever. You never know when a seed catalog might discontinue a favorite heart-shaped tomato or perfect pickling cucumber in order to make and market new varieties. Your only guarantee for having access to your favorite varieties is to save their seeds yourself.

3) Flavor

If you’ve ever bought a great tasting tomato from a seed catalog only to discover that variety is no longer available the following year, you might want to become interested in saving seeds.  Seed savers don’t have this problem!

4) Connect With Your Land & Ancestors 

Saving seeds means that future generations can enjoy the same varieties of tomatoes and great-tasting beans that our grandparents grew. Gardeners who grow and save heirloom varieties are preserving history and culture; if not for them, these varieties would probably go extinct. Every seed holds a connection to the future and the past. From ‘Grandma’s Morning Glory’ that was passed down from Grandma to her grandchild, to the rogue tomato plant that you’ve saved seeds from and will pass on to your children, the stories of seeds connect us to our history, our culture, our family, and our sense of who we are.

5) Help #SaveTheBees

While we wait for our flowers to produce seeds, they are providing valuable food for bees, butterflies and beetles. These creatures are vital to healthy food supplies and diets. Allowing crops to go to flower and seed provides an invaluable food source for bees, butterflies and beetles.

6) Build Community

Sharing seeds is a community activity. You can help your neighbors, a community garden, or a new gardener by sharing seeds with them.

7)  Promotes Self Reliance

When times are hard and seeds are scarce, you can rely on your own personal supply. Saving seeds makes your food supply more secure.

8) Saving Seeds Improves Future Crop Quality

Saving seeds is one of the best ways to adapt plants to your garden. By saving seeds from your healthiest, tastiest and most robust plants, you improve their quality over time.

saving seeds
saving seeds

What Seeds Can Be Saved?

In order to understand how to save seeds, it’s important to know what types of seeds can be saved as well as basic plant and seed terminology. Whether you’re new to seed saving or want to brush up on the practice, these seed saving basics are a smart place to start.

Know whether your parent plant is a hybrid or open-pollinated variety.

Hybrid plants are when two different plant varieties are crossed.  These plants do not produce offspring with the same traits as the parent plant. Seeds saved from open-pollinated varieties, on the other hand, will produce plants identical to the parent. Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties with a history of being handed down from generation to generation. You only want to save seeds from open-pollinated plants.

Know your plants’ binomial name (genus and species).

Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen from one variety of plant to another. To save pure seed, you must prevent cross-pollination between two different varieties in the same species. Planting just one variety in a species will help ensure that you save pure seed.

The scientific name of each plant is important because it tells you which plants may cross-pollinate. Read up on the cross-pollination habits of the plants you are saving seeds from to ensure you won’t run into issues.

Understand how your plants pollinate.

To prevent cross-pollination, learn about the pollination methods of garden plants. Some plants, like tomatoes and peas, self-pollinate before the flowers are even open. No insects are involved in these types of pollination methods. Other pollinated plants—squash or cucumbers—are insect-pollinated or wind pollinated. These types of plants are more likely to cross-pollinate with other plants.

saving seeds

Harvest Seeds at the Right Time

Seeds are ready to save when they are fully mature, which does not always coincide with when a plant or fruit is ready for harvest. Timing is important in seed saving, as seeds picked too soon won’t germinate. Tomatoes are an exception to this rule; their seeds can be harvested when the fruit is still green. Consider spacing and timing when planning your garden for seed saving.

saving seeds

How to save seeds

Saving Seeds

  • Harvest your seeds when they’re fully mature. For dry seeds like peas, beans, lettuce and grains all you have to do is harvest the plants when the seeds are hard and dry. For pea and bean seeds, you’ll know they’re ready if they rattle in the pod when shaken. For wet seeds—like seeds in tomato, squash, peppers, zucchini and eggplant—you should let your plants fully ripen before harvesting the plants so that the seeds can also ripen fully. Exception -You can harvest seeds from tomatoes in the mature green stage, instead of having to wait until they turn completely red on the plant.
  • After harvesting dry seeds from pods or wet seeds from a fruit, you must make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing.
  • Dry beans and peas by placing them in a single layer on a paper towel and leaving them in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight for a few weeks. To test when they’re fully dry, hit a seed with a hammer—if it cracks open, it’s ready; if not, allow the seeds to dry longer.
  • For other kinds of seeds, place them in a paper bag or paper envelope and leave the seeds to dry for about a week.
  • Ferment tomato seeds in glass jars. To ferment your tomato seeds, choose fruits from your healthiest plants and cut them in half. Squeeze out the seeds and pulp into a glass jar, add a couple of inches of water to the mixture, cover it with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and place it out of the sun for about three to five days until a layer of mold forms on the surface. Remove the mold and rinse off the seeds in a strainer until they are clean before letting them air-dry for about five days before storing
saving seeds

How to store seeds properly

To ensure longevity, place each variety of seed in a paper envelope or small packet labeled with the name of the variety and the date it was harvested. Store this seed in mason jars in a cool dark place. Most varieties will stay viable for at least several years, though some crops may keep for a decade or more.

saving seeds
garden prep for winter

To Summarize...

  • Don’t bother trying to save seeds from hybrid plants. Only save seeds from open-pollinated or heirloom plants.
  • Choose self-pollinating over cross-pollinating plants if you’re just getting started or want to keep things simple.
  • Save seeds from your healthiest, tastiest, highest-yielding plants By doing so you improve their quality over time..
  • Allow fruit to ripen completely before saving seeds to ensure the seeds have had enough time to fully mature, (with the exception of tomato). 
  • Air dry seeds completely before storing. Keep them out of direct sunlight and high temperatures.
  • Store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry place with plenty of ventilation so there’s no chance of mold. A paper envelope is perfect for this.

By following the above tips, you too can save your own seeds and continue this time-honored practice. Seed saving is a lot easier than most people think, and this guide will help you get started. Whether you’re starting a garden this spring or not, or just like the idea of growing your own vegetables, learning to save seeds is a great skill to have!

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