By Shari Mayer, Master Gardener
Seed saving is a fun and rewarding experience—especially when you see the fruits of your labor the following year! We are approaching harvest time in Minnesota, so now is the perfect time to think about harvesting seeds. Below are some tips to help make your seed saving productive!
- If you grow to eat the plant, and want to save seed for the next season, make sure you plant extra. Choose to either eat the plant or save the seed, but don’t expect to do both.
- If the plant you want to save seed from has an ‘F1’ on the label—don’t bother. This is a hybrid plant and you will not get the results you are looking for. Try heirloom varieties instead.
- Seeds are not created equal. Breeders pick the plant that is most desirable and stands out for a particular trait or traits—the largest, earliest blooming, tastiest, etc., for the next season. Once you have your seeds, go through and separate out the smaller, cracked and/or misshapen seeds. Use the unblemished ‘perfect’ seeds first.
- Seeds are ready for harvesting once fully ripe—if you pick too early the seed will not germinate. ‘Fully ripe’ for seed harvesting is usually when the plant is almost dead, or the fruit/vegetable is almost to the rotting point, or brown, dry and splitting open.
- Seeds need to be fully dry before storing for the following year(s). The moisture content needs to be very low, or mold/rotting can occur, spoiling the seed.
- Storage for seeds should be in breathable envelopes (I use coin envelopes), and kept in a cool dark place. Avoid humidity and damp places.
- Seeds are viable for a number of years, but it is best to use seed within a year or two of harvesting. There are methods to determine viability for seeds if you have them for longer, but expect the germination rate to drop each year.
- Self-pollinating plants are great seed saver candidates (think tomatoes, peppers, beans, peas) for beginners.
- Plants which cross-pollinate are a little trickier to harvest seed from (cucumbers, squash, corn, melons, for example). Extra measures need to be employed to ensure seeds are not contaminated from similar varieties planted too close. Try growing just one variety, or keep similar plants far away to minimize being compromised by wind and/or insect pollination.
- Seeds from wet, fleshy plants (tomatoes, melons, etc.) are a little more involved than from a seedhead or pod. The seeds are encased in a gooey substance that needs to be removed and thoroughly dried before storing. Just put the seeds in some water and let it rot/ferment for a few days. This helps remove the coating and improves germination. Just rinse and let dry completely and then store as usual.
If you would like more information, the book Seed to Seed, by Susan Ashworth, is highly recommended.