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Seed Saving Secrets

by Pat Neasbitt
August 16, 2023
comment 8 Comments

Pat Neasbitt                                                                                                                   Master Gardener                               

Seed Saving Secrets

Collecting seeds to grow plants and share with others is part of the enjoyment of being a gardener. You can save seeds to make sure you have the plants next year that you want. The price of seeds, like everything else, has risen dramatically, and saving seeds can save you lots of money. Besides being frugal, it’s fun to save your own seeds.        

What to Save:  Only save seeds from Heirloom or Open Pollinated varieties so they will be true to type when grown in your garden. If you try to save seeds from Hybrid varieties, you have no idea what the seedlings will produce. Flowers will probably be puny, faded magenta-looking blooms that are nothing like the plant you saved the seeds from, and vegetables may be inedible. It is difficult or impossible to find seeds from many older varieties of vegetables and flowers so saving seeds will ensure you always have your favorites. Heirloom tomatoes are some of the best-tasting tomatoes, and that’s why many people like to grow them. You will never eat a store-bought tomato again after growing and harvesting vine-ripe tomatoes that you have grown from seeds you saved and grew yourself. 

Selecting and Cleaning Seeds:  When choosing the plants for seed saving, pick the healthiest, most vigorous plants with the largest fruits or the prettiest flowers. Judging the correct time for harvest may require some watching to get fully ripened fruits, vegetables, or flowers. You may also have to outwit the birds and wildlife because they know exactly when things are ready to pick.

Most seeds just need to be spread on an absorbent material to dry for several days before storing. I usually borrow part of my husband's workbench in the garage because it is warm and dry there and lay down a layer of newspaper to spread the seeds out on. It is easy to fold the newspaper into a funnel to put the seeds into their final storage container when they are ready. The smaller the seeds, the less time they take to dry thoroughly.

Cleaning seeds like tomatoes and cucumbers from their fleshy parts is easier if you let them ferment for 3 or 4 days. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and put them in a glass container (don't use metal containers) and fill with enough water to cover the seeds. In a couple of days a layer of fungus will form that will digest most of the flesh left around the seeds. Stir a couple of times during the fermentation period to speed up the process and, at the end of the fermentation period, add warm water and stir. Continue stirring and adding water so the good seeds will settle to the bottom of the container while the pulp and hollow seeds will float and can be skimmed off. When the water is clear, strain the seeds through a tea strainer to collect them. Spread the wet seeds on paper towels or newspapers and allow them to thoroughly dry before bagging.

Package seeds in plastic or paper envelopes when the seeds are cleaned. The key is to make sure the seeds are as dry as possible before storing them. It is a good idea to keep a label with each seed lot throughout the cleaning process, especially if you are working with several varieties of the same plant. Be sure to date each container.                                   

Seed Storage: Most seeds can be stored for up to two years under just normal room temperature conditions, provided the moisture content of the seed was below 10 percent when the seed was placed in storage and provided they are sealed in airtight containers and kept in a dark place like a kitchen cabinet. A large-mouth fruit jar makes an excellent container for many small seed packets. If you wish to store the seeds for up to five years, store them in the refrigerator in a sealed container. To further extend the storage life, store seeds in the freezer in freezer bags or canning jars and most will remain viable for 10 years or longer. I have a seed-saving shelf in a freezer in the garage where I keep all my seeds in freezer bags (not storage bags) organized in plastic containers and labeled so I can find them easily.

This is the perfect time of year to start harvesing and saving seeds for next year's vegetable or flower garden. It is fun, frugal, and you'll have exactly what you want when you get ready to plant.   

Happy Gardening!



by Karen on Wed, 08/16/2023 - 09:03

Thank you. I have tried saving seeds but not successfully. I need to change my storage methods!


by lynn on Wed, 08/16/2023 - 09:11

Great article. I love saving and sharing seeds!

Seed collecting and storing

by Wendy on Wed, 08/16/2023 - 09:53

Great tips on seed saving!

Here’s just a couple more: Timing is important when you collect the seeds, especially if you are collecting native plant seeds. Try to make sure they are ripe and ready to harvest. You may have to go back and check daily until they are. I usually put my seeds in a big paper grocery bag for a week or so to ensure they are totally dry before cleaning and separating them. Then I store them in paper seed envelopes with name, date and location collected. I put the envelopes in an airtight container with silica gel packets which I save for that purpose.

TNG Editor

by Gerianne on Wed, 08/16/2023 - 16:52

HI Pat, Great information, we may republish this in TNG, perfect for our fall issue.


by Barb on Thu, 08/17/2023 - 08:33

Thanks for this article. Have only recently starting harvesting seeds but yes prices are definitely going up


by Mary Suggitt on Thu, 08/17/2023 - 13:03

I Store Seeds Every Year, Especially My Sunflowers And Many More Types. Thank You For The Article. Now I Know I'm Doing It Correctly.

Wannabe Gardener

by Kelly on Fri, 08/18/2023 - 08:51

I have poor soil @ home (northern Indiana). Can anyone advise me on which brand is best for raised beds or container gardening. Also when should I start seeds inside. Can I keep my plants through the winter? I only have a few plants now - 🍅, 🥒,cantaloupe, and possibly blueberries and strawberries. I got started very late this year. I have 🥒 s, and lots of blooms on 🍅 and cantaloupe plants. I don't expect any fruit on these. *It is thrilling just watching them grow from a seed. I would love to have blueberries and strawberries @home, as they're getting expensive and I like to have them with my breakfast...(🤤 daily 😋). Many days I think about what I want to have in my garden. There are only a few fruits and vegetables I don't like. I would also love to have fruit & nut bushes, trees, & grape vines. Can I start all of these in a small greenhouse? Thanks in advance for any positive feedback. Happy Gardening everyone.

Gathering seeds

by Liz on Fri, 08/25/2023 - 13:11

I'm sure this is a repeat of other postings but a great reminder. I've put this small organza drawstring bags that people use at bridal showers to collect seeds. The seeds fall into the bag when they are ripe and the birds can't get them. Works perfectly! .

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