A Beginner's Guide to Seed Saving

By The Petite Plantation - September 15, 2020

Fall is on the horizon and it's time to wrap up things in the garden and save some seeds for next year, which is one of my favourite things to do in the garden.

Saving seeds is great to help you become just a little more self-sufficient, saves you money year after year in the garden and can help you develop better, stronger plants through seed selection over the years!

Before we dive right in, there are a few terms you need to know about your seeds and how they are pollinated. You'll want to know whether the seeds from your plant are open-pollinated, hybrids or heirloom seeds. This is important because it effects how you save the seeds. Let's break down what these terms mean...

What does open-pollinated mean?

Open pollinated plants start with seeds that come from plants that are pollinated through the wind or pollinating insects and will reproduce seeds that are true to their parent plant. There are no surprises in what will grow from the seeds you'll save so can save seeds from open pollinated plants.

You can also seed save from closed-pollinated plants. These are plants that pollinate themselves and are

What is an hybrid seed?

Hybrids are plants created by humans who deliberately cross-breed two different plants to make a new variety of plant that has certain characteristics from both parent plants. If you save seeds from a hybrid plant, when you replant the seed, the plant that grows won’t necessarily be the same as the plant that you saved the seed from. It will grow to be similar to one of the parent plants that were used to create the hybrid plant, or it will be a strange combination of the two that may or may not be edible. But if you are going through all this effort to save a delicious variety you know you love, skip saving seeds from hybrid plants.

What is an heirloom seed?

Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated seeds that have been carefully selected from the healthiest, most productive plants and passed down through generations. These are a fantastic choice for seed saving! All heirloom plants are open-pollinated plants, but not all open-pollinated plants are heirloom plants. Still, either or will produce seeds that can be saved.

If you are unsure what kind of seeds you have, refer back to the package where your seeds came from. OP is for open pollinated. F1 or F2 are hybrid seeds in their first or second generation and heirloom seeds will be proudly labelled as such!

Let your beans and peas fully ripen, mature and dry on the plant to save seeds from them.

There are really two different seed saving methods for different kinds of plants and seeds, dry seeds and wet seeds.

Dry seeds are seeds from most flowers and some vegetables, such as bush beans, pole beans, peas, onions, carrots, lettuce, chives, basil, sunflowers etc. Harvesting these dry seeds is really simple. On a dry and sunny day, you simply cut off the flower heads, or pull the dried bean or pea pod off the plant when they are fully ripened and dried. 

Wet seeds are seeds from fleshy fruits and vegetables, like as tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, and peppers. Saving wet seeds is a little more work and requires more patience. You will need to let the plant and it's fruit to fully mature and ripen before harvesting the fruit. Once the fruit from your vegetable plant is fully ripened, open it up and scoop out the mature seeds with a spoon and rinse in a sieve to remove the pulp. 

You can test the viablity of wet seeds before drying and storing wet seeds by soaking them in a jar of water for a few minutes. Viable seeds will sink to the bottom, bad seeds will float!

Some wet seeds such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini need to be fermented and have a protective jelly layer broken down. Simply place the seeds and pulp in a jar of water and leave it in a warm place and cover it with a coffee filter secured with a rubber band or twine. After about 3 days, you can rinse and clean the seeds in a sieve. Allow to dry fully before storing. 

How do you save bean and pea seeds?

Bush bean, pole beans and peas are the easiest to seed save from. When harvesting throughout the summer I will choose one or two plants that have the most and biggest beans or peas on the plant and I will leave it alone and let them fully ripen on the plant. Once they are hard and completely dry, I will pick them and bring them inside. In the winter months, I will shell these, place them in a plastic bags when they are completely dry and label them.

You could mark plants you want to seed save from by tying a ribbon on the plant.

How do you save lettuce, kale, swiss chard and spinach seeds?

Similar to the beans, I will choose one plant of each variety to bolt. Bolting happens when we let the plant fully mature and it sets flowers for seed. Typically these leafy vegetable plants won't taste very good once they start to bolt, grow tall and leggy to produce flowers but I am sure to leave them in the garden rather than pulling out to plant something else.

Once the plant has flowered, the seeds will begin to form. Be sure to let the flowers completely die off before cutting the flower heads off into a jar or paper bag. 

How do you save seeds from tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and such?

NOTE: If you intend to save seeds from tomatoes or squashes (cucumber, zucchini, pumpkins, pickles, are all squashes), you will need to ensure they are not cross pollinated with other varieties. As soon as your tomato plant or squash begins to flower, you will need to place a paper bag, or mesh bag over the flower to ensure pollinators do not bring pollen from another variety in order to stay true to the mother plant. 

If a bee visits a zucchini plant flower before your pickling cucumber flower plant you want to save seeds from. You might end up growing a zucchini pickle plant! And who knows what that'll actually taste like!

These are wet seeds and they require an extra step. You will want the fruit from these plants you want to save seed from grow beyond anything you would eat, but before they begin to rot. Once they are fully matured you are able to pick the tomatoes, zucchini or cucumber and scoop out the seeds. But because they have a jelly protective layer over the seeds, you will need to ferment the seeds in a jar of water for a few days to break this layer down. Afterwards you'll rinse your seeds in a sieve and place on a plate to fully dry before storing.

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