Growing plants from seeds has never been easier! All planters really need to get started is a quick trip to the store, or a short online order form to access their favorite seed bank.
It’s a great time to be a gardener. However, such luxury and convenience was not always the status quo. For hundreds of years, dedicated gardeners needed to harvest, store, and save their own seeds right at home. Seed saving is no longer necessary, but it sure is fun. This ancient art is making a huge comeback, and you’re invited!
It’s important to familiarize yourself with all aspects of the seed saving process before getting started. Here are a couple of things we’re going to cover:
- What it means to save seeds
- Why all gardeners should practice seed saving
- Methods of saving seeds
- Storing your seeds properly
- Easy seed-saving vegetables to start with
The Meaning Of Seed Saving
Seed saving, sometimes referred to as seed setting, is the process of harvesting, drying, storing, and replanting the naturally created seeds of your garden. It’s the practice of preserving your plants and heirloom varieties year over year. While it was once required of all gardeners and farmers, it’s now an interesting hobby carried from generations long gone.
Today, seed saving is synonymous with self-sufficiency, innovation, and ecological preservation. Even if you haven’t tried seed saving for yourself, you might want to take a crack at it this year. You might discover that it’s one of the best parts of the gardening process!
Why Seed Saving Is So Important
In our modern culture, the buying and selling of commercially grown seeds is all but ubiquitous. In other words, everybody’s doing it. Even farmers are forced to rent their seeds from corporate breeders.
Despite the prevalence of the seed industry, the loss of bred plants, heirloom varieties, and food sovereignty is becoming difficult to swallow for gardeners old and new. The preservation of seeds is the preservation of our growing culture, and an important part of what it means to be a gardener today.
Beyond these ethical and cultural dilemmas, there are practical reasons to start saving seeds in your backyard. As plants grow and thrive, gardeners can easily choose the strongest and most productive plants for replanting (or breeding). As time goes on, they can start to create and preserve new plant varieties that are better adapted for unique habitats, micro-biomes, and planting zones.
Seed saving also helps to preserve:
- Genetic diversity
- Native plants
- Endangered species (birds, pollinators, etc)
Various Methods Of Seed Saving
Your methods of seed saving will vary according to the type of plant, the time of year, and the resources that are available to you. Fear not! Every method in this process is surprisingly easy to execute, even for beginners.
Before you save any seeds, keep this in mind:
- Only harvest seeds from non-hybrid plants
- Target open pollinated plants first
- Try to avoid cross pollinated plants (self pollinated is best)
Once you’ve chosen some plants for seed saving, allow the vegetables (or fruits) to completely ripen on the vine. When we say ripe, we mean ripe! Soft, squishy, almost inedible is perfect for the seed saving process.
Next, harvest the seeds from your vegetables through whatever means necessary. Softer plants may need to be skinned, mashed, or scooped, while legumes or gourds can be left to dry completely.
Dry your seeds by putting them on a screen, inside a dehydrator, or within a low-heat oven. You’ll need to wait for several hours or several days, depending on the methods used. Seeds should not have any signs of ‘greenness,’ moisture, or other vital signs after the drying process.
Once your seeds are fully dried, ta-da! Your seeds are ready to be stored!
How To Store Saved Seeds
Storing your freshly harvested seed comes with a number of specific requirements. For one thing, home-grown seeds are not mechanically dried and separated. For another, they have a much shorter shelf life than their store-bought counterparts.
Once you’ve made sure that your seeds are completely dry and ready to be packaged, you can start packing them away for the future. Here’s how:
- Use glass, not paper, to keep your seeds from coming into contact with moisture, humidity, fungus, or other contaminants.
- Add a little powdered milk into each glass container to act as a desiccant (moisture reducer).
- Make sure you clearly mark the seed type, date, and other information on the container. You’ll need it whenever it comes time to plant!
- Store all of your glass containers out of the sun and in a cool, dry place. If you have extra room in your pantry, consider stacking your yearling seeds out of sight.
Most pro gardeners recommend planting your saved seeds within a year. This ensures they are as viable and vigorous as possible. If you do choose to store your seeds for longer than a year, be prepared for slightly lower germination rates.
Easy Vegetables For Seed Saving
Now that you know how to save, store, and replant your seeds, here are some easy beginner plants to get started with. Bear in mind that it may take a few tries in order to get it right.
- Tomatoes: An iconic seed saving classic, you can’t go wrong by saving seeds from this garden staple!
- Peppers: Pepper plants take a long time to mature, which makes seed saving that much more rewarding.
- Pumpkins / Watermelons: You’re already carving them up every summer and fall! Why not get thrifty?
- Beans: These vegetables bear some of the biggest seeds around.
- Peas: Seed saving with pea varieties is a great starting point for beginners.
If you still have questions about your seed saving techniques, or want to talk to an expert in your area, call your nearest extension office. These volunteer pros have the skills you need for all aspects of seed saving, from the first harvest to the bagging process. Plus, they’ll be happy to help!