Growing Tips

Saving Vegetable Seeds

While doing the last of the fall clean-up (pulling down vines and pulling out old plants for the compost bin) I am finding “mature” heirlooms (they’ve set seed!) What to do?

chard gone to seed

Photo: red chard gone to seed; onion seed head (white star-shape in center.)

1. Pea and bean: harvest dried pods from plants (or pull them off and dry indoors because it’s been so wet.) Once dry & brittle twist ’em open and place in an envelope or jar in a cool dry place.  (I put those water-absorbing packets that seem to come in every package in with them.) Note: peas and beans self-pollinate.

2. Basil: let seed heads dry on the plant; shake or crumble to release seeds. Basil does cross-pollinate so next growing season’s plants might be different than what you’d planted this year! 🙂

3. Lettuce: shake top of ripening seed head into paper bag, over a sheet or newspaper. Or cut & hang upside down over a sheet of newspaper; seeds may drop as they dry. If they don’t just rub between your hands to get ’em out.  (Same process for chards and kales.) note: bottom seeds will ripen before the top seeds. It’s my experience that these self pollinate.)    (see photo)

4.  leek, onion: set seed in their second year; when black seeds begin to show in those marvelous starry seeds heads pull them off, bring in to dry, (hang over a newspaper so you can collect any that drop) and rub dried heads gently to get the seeds to pop out. Same process for chives though chives are perennial.  (These plants, in my experience, self pollinate.)

5. Squash/Pumpkin: over-ripe summer squash will be deeper yellow and thicker skinned and the seeds can be scooped out and dried on newspaper or paper towel for 2-3 weeks. Winter squash should be harvested and allowed to continue to ripen by sitting in a cool place the next month. Then cut, scoop out seeds, and dry (since these seeds tend to be thicker they might need to be dried longer.) I bottle them like I do the peas and beans …. since squashes freely cross-pollinate you might be surprised with what you get the next year.

6. Tomato:  does self pollinate; scoop seeds out, ferment, dry thoroughly on paper towel or newspaper ( has instructions for the fermentation process.) Hybrids will not be true to the parent though heirlooms will be.

7. Radish: if you’ve had two plants mature (NOT a problem if you plant them too late, like I did) you’ll get pods which progressively get fatter (as the seeds mature) and brown.  Once brown break open and shake out seeds.  I harvested some and was scolded by a peer because those I’d harvested apparently weren’t fat enough yet. SO: leave ’em until they’re brown and brittle (and hopefully haven’t already dropped seed where you don’t want them.)

Other tipsLabel seed containers (I use small lidded jars, small tea tins, even envelopes) with the year of harvest and what they are (memory!! another reason to keep a garden diary.)  Plant happily at the right time next season. I don’t give the seeds away the next yearuntil I’ve planted some m’self and know they’ll sprout.


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