How to save seeds from your garden favorites

Last Updated: 
September 3, 2009

Carrot seed photo by Lynn Ketchum

EUGENE, Ore. – Saving seeds is a great way to perpetuate your favorite heirloom varieties and save a bit of money, too, according to Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension, Lane County.

Not all vegetables grow true the next year, so save seeds only from open- and self-pollinated varieties, not those labeled "hybids." Collect seeds from fully mature, ripe fruit of superior plants.Carrot seed photo by Lynn Ketchum

EUGENE, Ore. – Saving seeds is a great way to perpetuate your favorite heirloom varieties and save a bit of money, too, according to Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension, Lane County.

Not all vegetables grow true the next year, so save seeds only from open- and self-pollinated varieties, not those labeled "hybids." Collect seeds from fully mature, ripe fruit of superior plants. Seeds should be completely dry before storing.

Bean, pea and other legume seeds are among the easiest to collect, Penhallegon said. Leave the pods on the plant until they are "rattle dry." Keep an eye on the pods, as some varieties split and scatter the seeds when dry. Pick the dried pods and place them in a well-ventilated area at room temperature. When the pods are completely dry, remove the seeds. Look out for pea weevils, which eat out the center of the seeds.

Lettuce seeds usually save well, but next year's crop may vary a bit from the original. Many herbs dry on the stalk. Stems of dill, anise and other herbs can be cut and hung upside down wrapped in a paper bag or nylon to catch the falling seed.

Cross-pollination can happen with peppers; make sure the hot and sweet varieties are grown well apart if you are saving seeds. Scrape the seeds from a mature, ripe pepper and allow them to dry on a tray at room temperature.

Tomatoes should be fermented prior to removing seed to destroy canker disease organisms. Mash several ripe tomatoes into a clear glass jar and add one or two cups of water. Set the jar in the sun for several days, stirring the mixture daily. As the mixture ferments, debris will float to the top, and most of the viable seeds will sink to the bottom. Drain the mixture, and spread the seeds on a tray to dry in the sun (at 80 to 100 degrees) for four to five days.

It is more difficult to save seed from vine crops such as cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. Without controlled pollination, these crops cross with other varieties with unexpected results. Biennials, such as carrots, beets, and most of the cabbage family, present other problems to the seed saver. It takes space and planning to carry over the plant root from one year to the plant seed head the second year. And problems with cross-pollination occur in many biennials.

Once completely dry, your seeds are ready to store in a cool, dry, dark place. Put each seed type in a labeled, dated envelope and store the seed envelopes in a sealed jar. Moisture can cause the seeds to deteriorate more quickly. To ensure the seeds stay dry and increase seed viability, place a small amount of freshly opened powdered milk or silica gel in the jar beneath the seed packets. Close the jar tightly and store on the kitchen counter until no moisture condenses inside the jar. Then place the jar in the refrigerator until planting time.

For more information, the OSU Extension publication "Collecting and Storing Seeds from Your Garden" (FS 220) is available online.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Ross Penhallegon