Seed Saving for Beginners - Modern Gardener | KUED.org

Seed Saving for Beginners

Have you wanted to take your gardening to the next level? Did you have a variety of tomatoes you really loved this year and want to grow again next year? Now is a great time of year to think about saving your seeds.

Many gardeners first starting out wonder what seeds to choose, when to harvest the seeds, and how to store them. This article will show you how.

Seed saving is a fun project you can experiment with year to year while saving money and being sustainable.

The first step is to make a plan.

Plan which seeds you want to plant next year. Start with easy crops like tomato or bell peppers, or choose whatever annually seeding plant you would like. (Make sure you save enough seeds to grow enough plants desired for the season.) Another thing to consider is this: The more seeds you save, the more genetic diversity you will have. This will be explained later.

Tomatoes, peppers, beans, and peas are great choices for those new to seed saving. They are simple to save. They don’t require any special treatment before storing and are self-pollinating. Additionally, they only need one growing season to go to seed unlike some other biennial crops such as carrots and beets or perennial crops like asparagus, which need multiple growing seasons.

It’s recommended that you choose “open-pollinated” varieties, which often times are “heirlooms”. Heirloom variety plants have strong genetics and can be passed down through generations while remaining similar to the parent plant. This way, you know you will be getting the variety and flavor you want.

You may save cross-pollinating seeds but the risk with vine crops, or any plant with separate male and female flowers, is these can be cross-pollinated by insects or by any other number of ways and the resulting crop can be lower quality or different than expected.

With non-heirloom varieties, you can sometimes have great results. However, it is close to impossible to predict what qualities the next generation of fruit will have. It is not recommended to save seeds from hybrid varieties for this reason. 

More genetic diversity = better crop over time.

When to harvest?

The next step is to harvest!

Once your seeds are mature, you can harvest. This is usually when your fruits are mature and ready to eat.

With most plants, you will be able to tell when the plant has gone to seed. The leaves will change and flowers or pods will appear. 

The seeds of any plant will eventually darken and appear dry; this is how you will know they are ready for harvest. So before you pull those plants out of the ground, harvest those precious seeds!

Knowing when to harvest is actually quite intuitive. Although we are deliberately harvesting and saving, we want to mimic nature as much as possible. Naturally, a plant would fruit, flower, set seed and then wither. This final step in the life cycle is when the seeds would naturally drop to the soil and wait to germinate again the next season.

This is why it is best to wait until the seed is at full maturity and dried on the plant. Simply, harvest the seed when it appears to be dried or when the plant starts to wither.

Remember, the drier the seed, the more viable it is. You can test to see if the seed is dry enough by pushing it with your fingernail. If it’s hard and doesn’t bend or concave, it’s finished drying.

 

By saving seeds, you will be participating in natural selection. If you save the biggest and healthiest fruit each year, eventually all your fruit will be healthy and robust. You can even take any fruit that has become too ripe, dropped, or is damaged and use the seeds from that.

If you are harvesting from a wet, fleshy fruit, like a tomato or melon, there are some extra steps involved. It’s not always a pretty process either. First, remove the seeds from their germ plasm gel encasing (a.k.a. "the goo") The best way to remove the goo is to put it in water (never over 70F) and let it rot for a day or so. The fermentation process dissolves the goo and improves the germination likelihood of the seed. Once you can see that it is dried out, you then strain the seeds from the (mildly unpleasant smelling) liquid and dry them for another one to two days.

This process takes a bit of patience but is well worth the effort.

Storing Your Seeds

Keep your dried seeds stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Store them in a sealed container, such as a mason jar.

Shelf life varies by variety and type of seed. For example, beans last roughly three years, corn lasts two, and tomatoes up to six years. Visit Garden Betty to check out a comprehensive list of seed viability. 

Happy seed saving! 

 

Alaynia Winter

KUED Production Intern

Alaynia Winter earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from University of Utah. A member of student media in college, she wrote for Wasatch Magazine, University of Utah's outdoor lifestyle magazine. When not gardening, Alaynia spends time with her very spoiled dog. She lives in Salt Lake City. Read more