Recycle Your Garden! How to Save Garden Seeds for Next Season

There are so many great reasons for saving garden seeds, from saving money to taking control of your food source from start to finish. Saving garden seeds is simple, and it’s a great project to involve the whole family in. Keep reading to learn all the ins and outs of saving seeds so you can start recycling your garden in a whole new way!

bean pods and seeds.

Photo sourced via Creative Commons from Flickr user Alex Bayley

General tips and techniques for saving garden seeds:

  • When picking fruits and vegetables from which to save seeds, always pick them from the healthiest plants, and save seeds from the healthiest fruit on the plant.
  • When in doubt, look up how to save the seeds of a particular vegetable or fruit. While many are similar, some require different techniques to get viable seeds.
  • Wait for fruits and vegetables to fully mature before picking them to save seeds. The seeds inside will germinate more easily and be less prone to disease if they come from fully mature plants.
  • Beware of cross-pollination from plants like squash, corn and melons. Planting more than one variety of these crops could lead to seeds that contain genes from both plants, resulting in a hybrid plant next year. If you want your saved seeds to grow true, plant only one variety of these types.

How to save garden seeds from the most popular plants:

Squash

As we’re coming into pumpkin season, we’ll cover squash first. Beware when saving squash seeds, as they can be very easily cross-pollinated and may not grow true the next year. If you want to save your squash seeds, it’s a good idea to grow only one variety so you know there’s no risk of crossing two types.

Don’t pick the squash until it has fully matured on the vine. After harvesting it, let it sit for a few weeks to allow the seeds to fully ripen. Once the seeds are ready, simply cut the squash or melon in half and scoop out the seeds. Pop the seeds into a colander and rinse under cold water. Set the seeds out to dry on a baking sheet or paper towel. They are ready to go into storage when they are completely dry.

Tomato

Photo sourced via Creative Commons from Flickr user Juan Calderon

Tomatoes

Allow the tomatoes to ripen before plucking them for their seeds. Cut the tomato in half and scoop out the jelly-like substance that contains the seeds. Put the seeds with the goo into a clean glass container. Pour in a few tablespoons of water and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Poke a few holes in the plastic rap so air can get in and out. What you’re essentially doing is allowing the seeds to ferment. The fermentation will make the seeds more likely to survive diseases and allow them to easily germinate. Keep the jar in a warm place and stir the contents every day for 2-3 days. After a few days of fermentation, you can rinse off the seeds and set them out to dry. Once the seeds are dried they can be stored.

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Beans

Allow the bean pods to brown and dry on the vine if possible. If the weather won’t permit the pods to dry on the plant, pull the whole plant up by the roots and hang it upside down in a cool, dry place for long enough for the pods to brown. Open the pods and remove the beans. If you’re harvesting a lot of beans, you can roll them up in a towel and walk over the top of the towel to loosen the beans from the pods. When all the beans are removed, store the dried beans in a jar and toss out or compost the pods.

Peppers

Only save seeds from fully ripened peppers. Cut open the pepper and carefully scrape the seeds off the central cone. Spread the seeds out onto paper towel and let dry. The seeds are ready to go into storage when they break when folded in half.

Tips for storing seeds:

  • It’s important to dry the seeds just the right amount. Drying them too much will kill them, while not drying enough will cause them to rot before you get them in the ground. If you place your dried seeds into a plastic bag or jar and they form condensation on the inside, they need to dry a bit more before storage.
  • Place seeds for storage in an airtight container. This can be a simple sealed paper envelope, a jar or a plastic baggie.
  • Remember to label everything with the variety as well as the date. You may think you’ll remember, but you won’t. Save yourself the confusion and headache later and just slap a label on those seed packets.
  • Most seeds store best in a cool, dry place. Dry is a very key element here. During our first year of saving garden seeds, we set them in a place on our back porch and some water dripped onto them. Several months later, we found that the moisture had caused the seeds to germinate and sprout out of their envelopes. The whole batch of seeds was ruined and we were back to square one.
  • It’s important to keep the seeds cool as well, as warmth will shorten their life. Many people store seeds in their refrigerator, or in a nice cool basement.

When learning how to save garden seeds, it’s a good idea to start off slow and simple. Save the seeds from a few of your most prolific crops this year and add to your seed arsenal next year. Before you know it, you’ll be a seed-hoarding manic gardener who can’t be stopped!

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You might also enjoy our seed saving guide and learning all about growing heirloom tomatoes from seed.

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From which plants do you save seeds?

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