How to save seeds from homegrown vegetables
Follow this guide to learn how to save seeds from vegetables for growing again in future seasons!
Why save seeds?
Learning to save seeds from vegetables is a useful way to preserve a favourite type, especially the more unusual heirloom vegetables. It can also save you a lot of money, as when you have mastered the steps, you can avoid buying new seeds every year! Growing vegetable plants for free is incredibly satisfying, and rewarding.
And sharing seeds with fellow gardeners allows you to share the joy of growing your own vegetables, develop like minded communities, and help other people to be more self sufficient.
It is relatively easy to save seeds, with a little knowledge of the process and some basic equipment that you’d have around the house. It’s best to save seeds in autumn and summer, as most plants flower in spring and summer, and produce seeds after that for the next season.
Most plants produce seeds, and there are a few ways to look out for them. The plant either:
- produces seed pods (husks with seeds inside)
- grows seed heads
- produces tufts which the seeds are attached to, and will blow away in the wind
- berries turn brown or shrivel up, and
- vegetables have seeds inside them that can be saved.
How to save seeds – a step by step guide
Here’s a beginner’s guide to saving vegetable seeds:
- Choose the right variety of vegetable: Make sure you choose open-pollinated or heirloom vegetable varieties for seed saving, as these produce true-to-type offspring. Hybrid varieties will not produce consistent offspring, so their seeds should not be saved.
- Harvest at the right time: Wait until the vegetables have fully ripened and the seeds are mature. Harvest seeds from the healthiest and best-looking plants.
- Clean and dry the seeds: Clean the seeds by removing any flesh or debris. Some seeds, such as tomato seeds, need to be washed in a little water to loosen the flesh from them. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a piece of paper towel or napkin, and let them dry in a warm, dry place for several days to a week. Once completely dry, cut the paper towel into small pieces, and store seeds and towel in an envelope. The paper towel and seeds can be sown together in the Spring into seed raising mix. (See below for some specific collection information for different plants.)
- Store the seeds: Place the dried seeds in envelopes in an airtight container and store them in a cool, dry place. Label the envelopes with the name of the variety and the date of storage.
- Test the seed viability: Before planting, you can test the viability of the saved seeds by placing a few on a damp paper towel and checking to see if they sprout after a few days. This will give you an idea of the seed’s viability and help you plan for the upcoming growing season.
Different seed collection methods for specific vegetables
- Beans, peas and corn: remove husks and allow seeds to dry out, which could take up to two weeks
- Pumpkins and melons: wash seeds and set them aside to dry for a week before storage.
- Lettuce, carrots, celery, parsnip, onions and leeks: leave plants to set seed and pick the seed heads when they are brown and crispy. Hang upside down in paper bags for a week, then shake the seeds out of the seedheads.
- Cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini, chillies and capsicums: remove the seeds from the flesh and wash them. Put the seeds on paper towel and keep them in a warm and dry place for a week or so. Take extra care with chilli seeds, as they can sting your eyes and skin – you might need to wear rubber gloves to handle them.
How to store saved seeds
- Store the seeds in envelopes in a cool, dry, dark place.
- Place the envelopes in airtight containers to keep insects and mice away.
- Add a sachet of desiccant (often found in food packaging of flour wraps, etc)
- Clearly label what the seeds are, and the date of storage.
- Seeds stored in airtight and dry conditions should last at least a year, and often much longer and are still viable.
See my article about How to grow vegetables from seed for all the info about using the seeds you have saved.
And click for more information about how to grow from seed