How to Save Seeds for Next Year’s Garden

by Danielle

Editor’s Note: Don’t forget to bring your best seeds to the popular Seed Exchange at this year’s Sustainable Ag Conference, Nov. 11-13, 2011 in Durham, NC!


Seed saving is an easy, enjoyable and economically sensible tradition that improves your garden year after year. Saving seeds from the healthiest or most delicious plants in your garden supports the varieties that flourish in your local environment and lets you enjoy your favorite tomato or pumpkin again and again. To start preserving your own horticultural heritage, all you’ll need are some paper envelopes, small paper bags, a few glass jars, saran wrap and a drying rack.

Most modern seeds sold by seed companies are hybrids. Seeds from hybrid plants will not produce the exact same plant the next year. Saving the seeds from hybrid plants can have fun and surprising results, but it will not help preserve any particular strain. Most people who save seeds prefer to save heirloom seeds. These varieties are not hybrids and will retain the same characteristics year after year. Heirloom seeds have been carefully harvested from the best and strongest plants for generations, and they usually grow in to plants that are especially hearty, delicious or well suited to a particular climate.

There are a two main ways to save seeds:

• Saving dried seed pods
When the seed pods on plants such as broccoli, beans, lettuce or flowers begin to dry out, cover the pods with small paper bags and wait for them to burst. After the seeds are loose from the pod, dry them further for a few days on a drying rack. A wire screen rack works best to keep air circulating and prevent the seeds from sticking. Never dry your seeds in an oven. Seeds will die at temperatures above 95 degrees; if you are drying seeds outside, cover them with a canopy or dry them on a covered porch to prevent scorching. When the seeds are completely dry, put them in paper envelopes and make a note on each envelope about which kind of seed it contains. Store the envelopes in tightly sealed glass jars in a dark and cool spot such as a basement or pantry.

• Wet processing
Fruit and vegetables without seed pods require wet processing. This step is especially important for tomatoes, which are vulnerable to tomato disease. Here, the seeds are scooped out of the fruit or vegetable and allowed to ferment in a glass jar to kill viruses and bacteria. Put seeds and plant pulp in a jar covered with saran wrap on a warm windowsill for two to three days. Poke a small hole in the saran wrap to allow a bit of air in. After a few days, wash the pulp from the seeds and fully dry the seeds on a drying screen. When the seeds are dry, store them as described above.

Whether you use the wet or the dry method, adding a desiccant like silica gel or powdered milk to the jar seeds are stored in will help prevent mold. Put the silica gel or powdered milk in a small cloth bag and place the bag at the bottom of the jar. Close the jar tightly and get ready to enjoy your seeds next summer!