Seed Saving

Seed saving is the preserving of seeds from mature vegetables, herbs, and flowers used in subsequent years along with bulbs and tubers.

Home gardeners have saved seeds for generations and the practice is now becoming common with organic farmers as well as permaculturists. Growers will clone plants so as not to produce seeds keeping the plant “true to type” to the parent plant. True to type refers to the characteristics of the parent plant such as large fruit/blooms.

Plants pollinated naturally will grow and adapt to the existing environment and will continue to grow and produce seeds.

Cloned plants, as well as hybrids, are cross-pollinated artificially. These plants are cultivated for specific characteristics such as uniformity in size to accommodate the increasing use of mechanical means for harvesting.

Seeds from hybrids and cloned plants will produce weakened seeds and will not carry the same characteristics onto the next plant. Relying strictly on hybrids and clones will eventually decrease the strength of each seed making the plants vulnerable to the environment.

Seed Saving Method

Before one can start saving seeds, one needs to know if the plant is a cross-pollinator or a self-pollinator. Open pollinators will need to be isolated from other species to prevent unwanted cross-pollination with a recommended distance of 200 yards to one mile, such as beets, chard, corn, and spinach. Seeds from self-pollinated plants, such as peas, beans, lettuce, and tomatoes, do not require segregation as these seeds will be true to type.

Seeds from pod-like plants, such as beans and peas, will turn brown prior to harvesting. These seeds must be dried for 1-2 weeks before shelling and storing in brown paper bags  in a cool, dry place.

Seeds from crucifers — such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts — carry diseases; therefore, they require special treatment. Seeds from cabbage will need to soak in 122oF for 25 minutes while seeds from cauliflower and Brussels sprouts soak for 18 minutes. The seeds are then dried and stored in envelopes in a cool, dry place.

Planting the tops of biennials — such as beets, carrots, celery, and onion — will produce seeds the subsequent year. Once the seed heads emerge, cut the stalk, secure a bag around the seed head, hang upside down, and allow to dry. Once the seeds have fallen off, place in an envelope and store in cool, dry place.

Seeds belonging in the fleshy fruit family, such as tomato and cucumbers, require special processing. Select fully ripened (not overripe) fruit from the desired plant that shows all the desired characteristics. Squeeze the pulp from the fruit, including the seeds, place in a bowl with enough water to cover the seeds. Let the mixture set at room temperature and ferment for several days, stirring occasionally. The bad seeds will float, the good seed sinks. Pour off the water, pulp, and any floating seeds. Wash thoroughly removing the rest of the pulp from the seeds. Spread on a paper towel and dry completely. Store the seeds in envelopes and put them in a cool, dry place.

Herb seeds should remain on the plant until it is nearly dry. At the first sign of seeds dropping off the plant, cut the stems, tie several together and hang upside down with a brown paper bag securely fastened over the seed head to catch the falling seeds. Store the seeds in an envelope in a cool, dry place.


To test the quality of the seeds saved, one must conduct the “rag-doll” test. Using 100 small seeds or 25 large seeds wrap in paper towel and moisten. Squeeze out any excess water and place in a glass jar, leaving the lid loose. Place the jar in a sunny window for one week. After one week, check the germination rate of the seeds. If germination is less than 50 percent, discard the seed or double-seed plant to achieve the number of plants required.

Consideration of location is also required when saving seeds. Seeds from the upper northern hemisphere require a hibernation period, or dormancy, before germinating again.

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