3 Easy Steps to Saving Your Own Garden Seeds

Saving seeds is a good habit for any gardener to develop.

Never saved your own seeds? Don’t be intimidated – understanding a few basics will get you started in no time.

Step One – Isolate the Flower

There are several methods you can use to isolate the flower, but one of the easiest is bagging, which easily done with something you’ll usually find in party supply isle – drawstring favor bags (affiliate), or in the kitchen isle – cotton tea bags (affiliate).

A tomatillo flower, bagged before opening, to ensure seed purity.

Flowers contain the genetic material of the plant in tiny capsules called pollen. Sometimes plants have male and female parts in the same flower, and some plants have separate male and female flowers.

When bees or other pollinators travel from flower to flower, they spread the pollen around, making sure it gets from the stamens (male part) to the pistol (female part), whether they’re in the same flower, or in separate flowers.

The tomatillo flower is a ‘perfect’ flower, because it has both the male and the female parts.

When the pollen is dusted onto the pistol, it enters the pistol and grows down a tube and pollinates the eggs contained in the ovary. The eggs of the flower, after being pollinated, will develop into seeds.

This creates viable seed, which will continue to grow and develop inside the flower until the seed is fully developed, with everything it will need to germinate and begin growing. This also includes the hard outer shell of the seed, which serves to protect the seed until the time is right for it to germinate, and enough nutrients to grow those first roots and leaves.

Seeds from different varieties of plants within the same species (and sometimes genus) can cross-pollinate. Unless you’re trying to create a new variety, or you’re feeling adventurous, you’d probably rather know what the seeds you save are going to produce next year.

Using draw-string bags is the simplest and easiest isolation technique I’ve used.

Simply place a bag over the flowers as they first develop, and BEFORE they open, pulling the drawstring tight so pollinators cannot get to the flower. (If there’s a little space left between the bag and the stem of the plant, wrap the stem in a bit of cotton… like a pulled-apart cotton ball… and tighten the drawstring bag around the cotton.)

When the flower opens, usually in the morning, you can easily use a q-tip or a soft brush to dab pollen on the pistol to ensure pollination.

Leave the draw-string bag secured around the flower until the fruit/seed is beginning to form, to ensure that no other grains of pollen from other flowers gets in and ends up pollinating some of the eggs inside the flower.

There are other ways to isolate seeds to ensure purity of seed. You can read about them here: 5 Ways to Ensure the Purity of Your Seed.

Note: The party-favor bags I have linked above look like the exact same thing that SeedSavers.org is selling under “Seed Collection Supplies” but they’re much, much cheaper! 🙂

Step Two – Mark and Label the Flower/Fruit

You don’t want to go through the hassle of ensuring purity of your seeds… only to forget which of those tomato or pepper flowers contain pure seed.

(Face-palm – yup, I’ve been there done that.)

Take a piece of twine or brightly colored string and tie it directly around the stem, at the head of the developing fruit/vegetable (tomatillo pictured above). Then when it is ripe and ready to harvest, you know that that tomato or pepper contains the seeds for your next-year’s crop. It might be useful to add a label, just so you’re sure about exactly which variety you’re saving.

(And hopefully the brightly-colored string will remind any kids that wander through your garden that that particular tomato is off-limits. Not that that’s ever happened to us… ) 😉

Step Three – Remove & Dry the Seeds

The last thing to do is remove the seeds, make sure they’re cleaned and dry, label them, and then store them in a dark, cool, dry place until you’re ready to start growing your next year’s garden.

There are two different ways to process your seeds and prepare them for storage. Wet process and dry process. The method you use depends on what plant you’re harvesting seeds from.

Parsnip seeds, collected when dry.

If you remove enough moisture from your seeds, you can even freeze them without damaging them, which greatly prolongs their viability. (Learn how to dry your seeds enough for freezer storage.)

Either way, the ultimate goal is to dry your seeds thoroughly, and get them into storage as quickly as possible.

Remember these two Harrington Rules of Thumb when it comes to seed saving:

1) For every 1% you reduce the moisture content in the seed, you double the lifespan of that seed.
2) For every 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit) you reduce the temperature the seed is stored at, you double the lifespan of the seed.

Plant Details

Of course, every plant grows and produces its seeds differently, which adds a bit to the seed-saving equation. Some flowers won’t accept pollen from other flowers on the exact same plant, or if they do the seeds may produce less-healthy plants. Other plants produce ‘perfect’ flowers, and self-pollinate before they’re even opened.

Check out our “Compendium for Seed Savers + Common & Unusual Garden Vegetables” for every common vegetables gardeners grow (and some less common ones too), with detailed instructions on how to save your seeds from these plants so you get healthy, vibrant plants every year. And so you know what you’re going to be producing from seeds you’ve saved (it wouldn’t do to end up with pasty yellow tomatoes when you thought you were growing juicy red ones).

I’ve made a LOT of mistakes over the years. It’s sometimes resulted in something to laugh about later, and always something to learn from. So don’t be hesitate to try. The best thing about seed saving is …. you get to eat your mistakes!


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