Mother Earth Living

Seed Saving 101: How to Save Seeds

Preserve your harvest from year to year with these easy seed-saving basics.
By Tabitha Alterman
September/October 2011
Add to My MSN


Content Tools

Related Content

Herbal Harvest: Basil Jelly Recipe

Learn how to use leftover basil from your summer harvest to create delicious scented basil jellies.

Building the NewenHouse Kit Home: Nearing Completion of the Interior

Guest blogger Sonya Newenhouse Here Sonya gets ready for a busy week of subcontractors for the Newen...

The Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals. Discover t...

Our Favorite Heirloom Seed Companies

Planting heirloom, non-genetically modified seeds is a great way to help preserve endangered plant v...

Growing an organic garden from seeds you saved yourself is the ultimate in gardening self-reliance. But that’s only one reason to take up this hobby. In addition to the satisfaction that comes from self-sufficiency, you’ll reap multiple immediate benefits. First and foremost, you will save money. Seeds are cheaper than transplants, and seeds you save yourself are free! If you save seeds from the very best specimens in your garden, you’ll also improve your seed stock year after year and develop varieties especially well-suited to your microclimate. You’ll be able to select for desired traits such as flavor, size, productivity, appearance, and pest- and disease-resistance. You can also grow plant varieties that are harder to find as ready-to-transplant seedlings.

Perhaps most importantly, seed savers opt out of the ever-expanding garden-industrial complex. Over the last several years, giant agribusiness firms have been rapidly buying up small seed companies. Today, just a few major companies control the sale of almost all of the world’s seeds. Fewer seed-owners frequently leads to fewer seed varieties, as big companies eliminate all but the most effective crops for large-scale production. One of the best ways to help preserve biodiversity is to grow heirloom varieties and to save your seeds at the end of the harvest season.

You can only save seeds from heirloom or open-pollinated (“OP” on seed packages) plants. They will grow true to the parent plant, whereas hybrid seeds do not retain the characteristics of both parent plants.

So how do you opt in? Different crop families require different strategies, but these are the basics. The easiest place for a beginner to start is with annuals that have large seeds, such as beans, peas, squash and tomatoes.

1. Time the harvest. Most seeds must be saved in the window between underripe and overripe. Collect seeds at the same time that the plant would naturally disperse its seeds. If the seeds come inside an edible package (like a tomato), let the fruits hang on a week or so longer than you would if you were harvesting them for fresh eating. If the seeds come in pods or seed heads, they should be dry before harvesting.

2. Gather seeds. Choose your best fruits and veggies for seed harvesting. For seeds that come inside fruits, scoop out the seed mass and place it in a jar of water at room temperature. Stir it occasionally to loosen the gelatinous mass. In a few days, the viable seeds will be sitting at the bottom while the jelly and some inviable seeds will be floating at the top. Drain and rinse the good seeds thoroughly. For seeds that are harvested dry, things are much easier. Just collect them and skip to the next step. If you suspect the seeds will drop to the ground before you collect them, wrap a paper bag over the seed head, and wait for them to fall inside.

3. Clean seeds. Seeds need to be clean and dry before going into storage. Remove excess plant debris by shaking seeds over screens or kitchen strainers. Dry the seeds on sheets of newspaper or screens kept indoors out of breezes. Small seeds will dry within a week or two; larger seeds take a little longer.

4. Store seeds. Store seeds inside an airtight container in a cool, dark place with no temperature fluctuations. Label everything with the name and date. If you are the record-keeping type, this is a good time to make notes about selection. Almost all vegetable seeds remain viable for a year or two, but some last much longer. To test seed viability, place seeds on a wet paper towel, where they should sprout within a few days.

One Super Seed Group 

The mission of nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange is “to save North America’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity.” To join the network, visit seedsavers.org.

For specific instructions on seed saving by plant type, visit Seed Savers Exchange's Helpful Links page.

Useful Guides  

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth

Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole B. Turner

Seeds by Jekka McVicar


Previous | 1 | 2 | Next






Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.