Seed saving 101:  safely retailer the seeds from this yr’s vegetable backyard
closeup on broad bean seeds spilling from a paper envelope onto wooden surface next to plant pot, twine and wooden garden stakes.
(Credit score: iStock/Getty Photographs)

Attending to lastly harvest what you’ve got grown is usually a rewarding expertise for any new vegetable gardener. It is proof that each one the sweat — and maybe some tears — have paid off. And although it might be tempting to gather your backyard’s full bounty, should you let a few of your crops mature, it provides you with the possibility to save lots of their seeds and sow them for years to come back.

We spoke with two gardening consultants about why it’s best to think about saving your vegetable seeds and the right way to do it proper.

Why save your seeds

There are lots of advantages to seed saving, says Emily Murphy, creator of Develop Now and Develop What You Love. Not solely does the method encourage us to pay nearer consideration to the life cycle of our crops, serving to us to turn out to be extra succesful gardeners, however it additionally creates the chance for us to develop stronger crops, as they adapt to the person microclimate of our backyard over time, she explains. On the sensible aspect, having your personal seeds additionally means not having to rely solely on shops, which can have restricted availability or might not carry the varieties you are searching for.

Another reason to save lots of seeds? It is enjoyable! The apply of harvesting, constructing a library and even collaborating in a seed trade with fellow gardeners might be gratifying all by itself.

When to do it

The optimum time for harvesting seeds will depend upon the plant and its life cycle, says Jon Peter, curator and supervisor of plant information on the Royal Botanical Gardens. Greens can typically be damaged down into two classes: cool season and heat season crops. Cool season crops, akin to lettuces and radishes, might be sown within the early spring and in addition in fall, so they could be among the many first and final crops in your backyard to totally mature. In the meantime, heat season crops, like tomatoes and cucumbers, which we sometimes do not plant till the frost has ended, will attain their peak in late summer time. Meaning, relying on which greens you select to develop, you would be harvesting seeds from late spring by way of to late fall, Peter explains.

Ideas for harvesting seeds from frequent greens

Very like seemingly each different course of in relation to gardening, harvesting seeds is species-dependent. Due to that, Peter says it is actually vital to dig down and do the analysis on every particular kind of plant that you simply’d like to save lots of seeds from. One key ingredient is studying the life cycle of the plant and what it seems like when its seeds mature. 

Listed here are some suggestions for harvesting the seeds from a couple of frequent vegetable crops. 


Depart the onion bulb within the floor and await the plant to flower. “It is a actually lovely flower and the bees find it irresistible,” Murphy mentioned. “And when it begins to go to seed, it produces these actually neat little black seeds which have edges on them.” She suggests leaving the seeds on the plant and gently shaking the seed head right into a paper bag to gather them.


Much like broccoli and cauliflower, that are of the identical species, kale has to flower and sit previous its prime choosing time for its seeds to be prepared to reap, Murphy explains. Kale produces lengthy, skinny seed pods, and after they go dry, you may both gather the entire pod or reduce the seeds off individually and put them right into a paper bag, Murphy says.


In cooler climates, like Canada’s, peppers are grown as heat season annuals that mature later in the summertime. Almost all styles of peppers will flip purple after they’re totally ripe or overripe, Peter explains. “We need to let it go overripe and virtually begin to decompose on the plant, if you’ll, after which you may open up that fruit and principally scrape away or flake away these seeds which can be connected to the within and lay them out on a paper towel for an evening or two,” he mentioned.


When a carrot totally matures, it creates an umbel (assume umbrella) of flowers, says Murphy. As soon as the flowers are pollinated, the seeds type and turn out to be seen all through the umbel. You possibly can allow them to dry on the plant after which shake them right into a paper bag. One other method? Murphy says that some individuals wish to put a paper bag over the plant itself to keep away from shedding any seeds — although that is not a way she personally follows. She prefers permitting some seeds to set on their very own, as these “volunteers” can present invaluable info on a plant’s progress patterns that you should use for years to come back.

Beans and peas

Earlier than harvesting, Peter recommends ready till the plant’s leaves “die again” (that means when the leaves are lifeless, however the roots stay alive). The seed pod will flip brown and the dried seeds will even begin to rattle a bit inside. “You need to get them simply earlier than they’re form of popping open, and launch the seed naturally,” he mentioned.


Depart the zucchini on the vine till it turns yellow, recommends Murphy, letting it ripen there so long as attainable earlier than harvesting. You possibly can then scoop out the seeds from the zucchini and allow them to dry.

Usually, Murphy recommends letting one plant per vegetable crop go to seed. It will nonetheless offer you loads of seeds to retailer, share or trade. One zucchini plant, for instance, might produce as many as 50 seeds, she says. And saving only one plant to go to seed will open up extra space in your backyard to start out planting the following season’s crop, too.

Drying your seeds

Earlier than drying your seeds, it is vital to make sure they’re clear. Some seeds, akin to these from pepper crops, will probably be pretty dry and clear once you gather them, Peter says. However others, akin to ones from zucchini, could have pulpy matter across the seed that must be washed off in an effort to forestall mildew and decay. You’ll want to wash these seeds, then pat them dry and allow them to sit on a paper towel for a day or two out of the direct solar — ideally, in a spot the place there’s much less humidity, Murphy says. The extra moisture within the air, the longer it might probably take for sure varieties of seeds to totally dry out, growing the probabilities of mildew, she explains.

So, how are you aware when your seeds are really dry? Simply attempt to get as shut as attainable and belief your instinct, says Murphy. “If it seems dry and it feels dry — or almost so — then it in all probability is.”

retailer your seeds (and create a seed library)

As soon as the seeds are clear and dry, it is vital to maintain them in a cool, darkish place. “Now, technically, with seeds, one of the best ways to maintain them for long-term viability, is to maintain them in an surroundings that is the precise reverse of what you develop them [in] — so in a spot the place there is not any moisture, no mild and it is pretty hermetic,” mentioned Murphy. It will assist preserve the seeds in dormancy longer, she explains. Nevertheless, should you plan on utilizing the seeds inside a few months, an hermetic seal would not matter as a lot. Murphy shops her bulkier seeds in brown baggage in cool, darkish locations, and her different seeds in seed keepers: little hermetic containers which can be compartmentalized and listed alphabetically.

Peter likes putting his seeds in paper envelopes to maintain the moisture away, earlier than storing them in an hermetic container in his beer fridge. On this state, he finds that some seeds can final a number of years. “I will take a couple of seeds out of a package deal annually, however then I will put that package deal again into its storage for the following yr,” he mentioned. 

If dried and saved appropriately, Peter says short-lived seeds (that’s, seeds with a shorter shelf life), akin to corn, onion, parsnip and spinach, can sometimes final one to 2 years. Medium-lived seeds, like carrots, beans, celery, chard, eggplant, peas, pumpkin and squashes, might last as long as 5 years, whereas long-lived seeds, which embrace broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumber, kale, lettuce, melons, peppers and radishes, might final for a few years longer.

In the end, like most elements of gardening, harvesting seeds is all about trial and error. However that is exactly what makes the method thrilling, says Murphy. It is being interested in what labored, what did not work and the way you are able to do it once more higher subsequent yr.

Janet Ho is a author and gardener within the making. You possibly can comply with her at @janetlynho. 

Leave a Reply