Seed Saving for Beginners

By Alaynia Winter

Now is a great time of year to think about saving your seeds

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


The first step in seed saving 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.) Tomatoes, peppers, beans, and peas are great choices for those new to seed saving. They don’t require any special treatment before storing and are self-pollinating. Additionally, they only need one growing season to set seed, unlike some other biennial crops such as carrots and beets.


More genetic diversity = better crop over time

The more seeds you save, the more genetic diversity you will have. It’s recommended that you choose “open-pollinated” varieties, which oftentimes 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 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. 



When is the best time to save 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.


Saving seeds from your favorite fruit

If you are harvesting from a wet, fleshy fruit, like tomato or melon, there are some extra steps involved. 

First, remove the seeds from their germplasm 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. Cooler temperatures, like the 32-41 degrees found in most refrigerators, is ideal. Since it may not be feasible to store all your seeds in your fridge, prioritize your rare or unusual varieties, and store the rest below 70 degrees. Keep 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!


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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.Read more