A Beginner's Guide to Saving Seeds

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

Saving seeds from vegetables and flowers is simple and easy to learn, at least for some of the veggies! Today I'm going to share with you what seeds I like to save from my garden plants and how I go about gathering the seeds and storing them so that I can use them in my garden next year! Saving seeds from vegetables for next year is both rewarding and fun and one more step towards permaculture and being less dependent on others.

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Three simple rules to keep in mind when saving or storing any variety of seed are:

1. Seeds need to be completely dry for storage. If there is any moisture left in the seed when you package it, it will likely break down and will not germinate next year.

2. Store seeds in a dark, cool, dry place. I store my seeds in the back of my fridge over the winter in envelopes. A little tip is to place a silica package with them to absorb any moisture. (You know, that little packet that comes in things like vitamins and shoe boxes?)

3. You can save seeds from any heirloom plant or any plant that is not a hybrid or GMO. It is not recommended to save seeds from hybrid plants as these seeds were created from two different "parent" plants. Seeds saved from hybrids will produce varying results but often these plants tend to be weak and unhealthy.

Today I will cover how to save vegetable and flower seeds including potatoes, garlic, tomato, pea, bean, sweet pea, pepper, cucumber, squash, and nasturtium and marigold seeds.

How to Save Potatoes for Seed Potatoes

We store our potatoes over the winter in our garage. After letting them cure and dry on paper for about a week (Don't wash them!), they are placed in layers in a large tote bin with wood shavings from the feed store between the layers. Sand is also a great option for storing vegetables. The lid is placed loosely on the bin. The bottom layer of potatoes are left for spring as seed potatoes. If they sprout during the winter the sprouts can be broken off. They will grow new ones in the same place once planted. For tips on growing and planting potatoes check out this article!

How to Save Garlic for Seed Garlic

Garlic cloves are simple to save and replant as the bulbs are harvested from your garden, cured for around two months, and then can be broken up into cloves and planted the next fall. Leave the wrapper on the clove when planting. To learn how to plant, grow, harvest and cure garlic click here!

How to Save Tomato Seeds

When saving tomato seeds you want to only save from open pollinated or heirloom tomato plants as opposed to the hybrid plants. You may be tempted to use your tiny and worst tomatoes to save seeds from but don't do this! Instead chose your best tomato from your best plant so that these good genetics will be passed on! Saving tomato seeds takes a bit more work than with most other vegetable seeds because they are encased in a gel wrapper that discourages the seeds from sprouting inside the tomato. To save the seeds, we want to break down and remove this wrapper. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Cut the tomato in half around the middle.

  2. Scoop seeds out with a spoon and place the in a glass dish.

  3. Place 2 inches of water in the dish with the seeds. Day one the seeds will float.

  4. Give the seeds a stir every day for the next 3 days. You will notice the seeds separating from the tomato particles encasing them. The seeds will sink and the tomato particles will float. Once the seeds have all sunk to the bottom, pour out the top inch of water and the tomato particles that are floating.

  5. Around day 3 - 5, once all the tomato seeds have sunk and are no longer encased in tomato gel, pour off the water. Place the seeds on a plate or pan to dry out. Do not put them on paper towel or cloth as they will stick and be difficult to remove.

  6. Leave seeds on the plate or pan for one to two weeks to dry out and harden.

  7. Use your finger to gently un-stick seeds from the pan.

  8. Label your tomato seeds and store in an envelope, bag or container.

How to Save Sweet Pea, Pea and Bean Seeds

To save pea and bean seeds, it is best to allow the pods to dry out and turn brown and crispy while still on the plant in your garden. Once the pods are dry, squeeze them gently with your hand. If it cracks open, it is time to save your seeds! The peas and beans inside the pod should be shrivelled up and dry. Remove them from the pod and place in a dark, cool, well ventilated place to continue drying for one to two weeks. Label your seeds and store in an envelope, bag or container.

How to Save Pepper Seeds

Pepper seeds are easy to save as they are so easy to identify and remove from the pepper! Remember to save seeds from your best pepper off your best plant to continue with good genetics. Remove seeds from the middle of the pepper and place on a pan or plate. Place in a well ventilated place to dry out and harden for two weeks. Label your seeds and store in an envelope, bag or container.

How to Save Cucumber and Squash Seeds

Select your best cucumber or squash to save seeds from. Cut open and remove seeds. Rinse seeds in a colander until seeds are clean. Spread the seeds out so that they are not touching each other on a pan or plate. Place in a well ventilated place to dry out and harden for two weeks. Label your seeds and store in an envelope, bag or container.

How to Save Radish Seeds

Radishes grow tall blossoms that develop into cone shaped seed pods. Each pod has approximately 5 seeds. Allow these seed pods to dry in your garden until they are crunchy feeling. When they reach that point they are ready be cracked apart and to have the seeds removed. Allow the seeds to continue to cure and dry for one to two more weeks by placing the seeds in a dish in a well ventilated area out of direct sunlight, prior to storing.

How to Save Marigold Seeds

To save marigold seeds, simply wait until the flower head has died and dried up. Gently grasp the dried shrivelled blossoms and give them a tug. If the blossom does not pull out easily it needs to dry a little longer. Once it is fully dry, the tug will produce long stick like seeds from the centre of the plant. You can cut off the very top, the shrivelled blossom part, but be sure to save everything below that. Spread the marigold seeds out in a plate or pan for one to two weeks to be sure they are fully dry prior to packaging.

How to Save Nasturtium Seeds

I just learned how to save nasturtium seeds this year! And I must say, I can't believe how easy it is and that I wasn't saving these seeds before. Once a nasturtium flower dies and shrivels it leaves behind a cluster of 3 seeds stuck together, about the size of pea seeds. These continue to dry up and separate and will eventually fall to the ground. You can either pull them off the plant and spread them out to dry or wait until they fall to the ground and pick them up from there. Place them in a single layer in a well ventilated place to be sure they are fully dried prior to storing.

Saving Other Vegetable Seeds

I have tried saving small onions as onion sets with little success. When overwintered in the garage they rotted. I tried overwintering some in my raised beds but those also rotted. Last fall I planted a few onions sets in my in-ground garden in the fall and had good success with those! This fall I plan to plant more onions in the fall as I would garlic, covering them with straw and seeing if I have success overwinter them that way.

Other seeds I will be trying to save are spinach, radish, cilantro, and carrots. I would say lettuce but none of my lettuce has formed a seed head yet!

Carrots are biennial and normally go to seed on the second year only. Try overwintering a few carrots as seed carrots in a fridge wrapped in paper towel. Plant these in the spring and they should form seed heads. This is something I have not done yet but plan to try next spring. The other option is leaving carrots in your garden and covering in a thick layer of mulch and trying to overwinter them that way. When I have tried in my raised beds they have rotted. If you have an in-ground garden you may be more successful with that method.

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