Wet vs. Dry – Methods of Seed Saving

Whether you use the wet or dry method to harvest your seeds depends entirely on what plant you’re harvesting from.

Wet seeds are harvested from the fruit of the plant, while it’s still ‘wet’. Dry seeds are harvested after drying, fully or completely, on the plant, either in seed heads or dried in their pods.

Specific instructions for each plant is given in the
Compendium for Vegetable Garden Seed Savers.

wet vs. dry methods of seed saving

Harvesting Wet Seeds: Fermentation, Rinsing, and Drying

Tomatoes, squashes, melons, etc.

First, scrape or squeeze out the seeds and the surrounding pulp. Often, there is enough water already in the mixture to cover the seeds. If not, add a bit of water to the mix, just enough to cover the seeds, and let it sit for 24 hours.

Squeezing out the tomato seeds & juices.

Squeezing out the tomato seeds & juices.

Wet seeds usually will not sprout unless they’ve fermented in their own juices for a few hours due to certain naturally-occurring compounds in the surrounding gel or pulp that prevent germination.

A short fermentation period will break down those compounds, so the seed will germinate for you next year. It will also kill bacterial and fungal pathogens, which will help prevent diseases from the beginning. And help break down the pulp/gel so seeds will separate out more easily.

After fermenting a few hours.

After fermenting a few hours.

Without fermentation, the seeds may not germinate, but if you allow them ferment too long, the seeds could sprout from prolonged exposure to the moisture, so don’t leave them for more than a day or two.

I would suggest draping a towel or something over the top of the container, just to contain any smells. 🙂

harvesting and saving tomato seeds


After 24 hours or so, you’ll need to rinse the seeds well.

tomato seeds after fermenting for 24 hours

After 24 hours of fermentation.

Fill the container with enough water to create a separation between the heavy seeds, which will sink to the bottom, and everything else that floats – including non-viable seeds and bits of skin or goop or chaff.

saving tomato seeds

You can see the good tomato seeds are heavier than the water and have sunk to the bottom.

Skim or pour off the stuff on the surface and then use your hand to gently work the seeds on the bottom, allowing more stuff to rise to the surface. Pour off the floating stuff, then rinse and repeat until the seeds are thoroughly cleaned.

First rinse.

First rinse.

second rinse of tomato seeds

Second rinse.

Add more water and continue working the seeds and pouring off the stuff on the surface until the seeds are thoroughly cleaned.

last rinse of the tomato seeds

Nearly cleaned. You can still see some small, non-viable seeds.

Drain off as much water as possible. If you use a paper towel to pat them dry, be careful not to damage the seeds.

Spread them out on a cookie sheet, a plate, a coffee filter, a napkin, a paper towel…

About Using Paper Towels

You may see some people say, “Don’t use a paper towel! The seeds will stick to them!” Even if the seeds do stick to the paper towel, it won’t affect their germination later.

On the occasions I use a paper towel, I just fold up the paper towel, seeds and all, and stick it in a packet. When I’m ready to plant, I’ll rip the paper towel in strips, and lay it directly in the trench, on the seed flat, etc.

I usually plant more seeds than I’ll need in plants anyway, so it doesn’t matter if I’ve sown a few extra seeds. In fact, it gives me the chance to pick which plants I’m going to keep, based on which ones germinate and grows the best. (Saving your own seeds gives you lots more seeds to work with, and you can feel more at liberty to pinch off seedlings or chuck weak plants.)

seeds drying

Place them in a dry area, well out of the sun. Stir them every few hours until they’re dry. If they don’t dry quickly enough, the moisture still clinging to them could induce them to germinate, which you don’t want to have happen.

Once they’re fully air dried, you can package them up and store them.

If you’re interested in saving your seeds long-term in the freezer, there are a few extra steps you need to take to ensure that your seeds won’t be damaged by the cold. It’s actually quite easy, and a really fun science experiment for kids! 5 Easy Steps to Drying Your Seeds Enough to Freeze Them.

Harvesting Dry Seeds: Drying and Winnowing

Beans, peas, all members of the Umbelliferae (carrot) family, grains and pseudocereals, etc.

Make sure the seeds are fully mature before harvesting them. Quite often, the seeds won’t all mature at the same time. If you can, harvest only the seeds that are mature, and leave the others for a few more days.

Immature dill seeds.

Immature dill seeds.

mature dill seed

Fully mature dill seeds. You can see some have already fallen off the stems.

If that’s not possible, then try to harvest the whole lot when the greatest amount of seeds are mature, but before you’ve lost them all to shattering pods or seeds falling from the stems.

okra seed pod almost ready to be harvested

This okra seed pod is just about ready to be harvested. You can see it’s nearly dry, and beginning to split slightly along the seams.

Collect the seed heads or pods in a brown paper bag, a draw-string bag, or a pillow case. If they’re not fully dry, you may need to spread them out, seed heads or seed pods and all, on a screen or a cookie sheet, and let them dry for a few more days. Be sure they’re kept out of the sun.

When they’re fully dry, you can use several methods to separate the seeds from the pods or seed heads. (I cover that in detail in this post… it’ll go live 10/13/2014.) 

Once the seeds are separated from the seed pods or seed heads, there are several ways to successfully winnow and clean your seeds. Depending on the size of your seeds and the chaff that needs to be winnowed away, you can try one of these methods:

1. Moving Air

2. Roll & Fly method

3. Screening with Sieves

4. Electrostatic separation (not as weird as it sounds, trust me)

(For full details and step-by-step winnowing techniques: Cleaning Your Seed: Separation & Winnowing.)

If you have to harvest the seeds a few days before they’re fully mature, due to an impending frost, it’s best to pull out the whole plant and hang it upside down for a few days in a well-ventilated area. This allows the rest of the resources contained in the plant to finish maturing the seeds, even though the plant is no longer in the ground.

Keep in mind that for some of these plants, including beans, peas, and okra, leaving the pods on the plant to mature to the dried stage for seed-saving will reduce the amount that the plant produces overall. The plant feels like it has been successful in passing on its genes, and so it stops flowering and producing.

dried bean pod

A bean pod – nearly dried and ready for harvest. Just waiting for it to turn brown and brittle.

If you’re growing beans or peas for food as well, keep picking the beans and peas all through the summer. Then, as the summer begins to come to a close, bag the flowers and allow the pods to mature and dry on the plant. That way you’ll still get your seeds for next year without compromising your food crop for this year.

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One Response to Wet vs. Dry – Methods of Seed Saving

  1. Anna @Green Talk October 29, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    I save my seeds the same way. I let my dry beans dry on the plant if possible. Otherwise, I wait until the bean is mature, open it up and let the seeds dry inside.

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