It's Time to Save Seeds for Next Year

bean seeds in pod

‘Trail of Tears’ beans in pod

With the vegetable garden bulging with produce and many flowers starting to fade, seed savers are on the look-out for the best plants in their garden. The reason is simple: The best plants yield the best seed.

Gardeners save seed for many reasons. Some want to preserve heirloom varieties. Others want to save seeds so they can have a garden full of annual flowers for a fraction of the cost of plant starts. Others know that saving seed from your own garden allows you to steadily select plants that perform well in your yard, essentially developing varieties perfectly suited for your soil and climate.

With most plants, saving seed requires only a little effort and organization. First, you have to know where the seed is and when to harvest it. Sometimes it’s obvious: The bean seed is the seed inside the pod. Other seeds may be in capsules on the plant (daylilies, columbine, begonias or morning glories, for instance) or in the flesh of the fruit (tomatoes, cucumbers). How you harvest the seed depends on the plant.

begonia seeds

Those tiny specks on the gardener’s top two fingers are begonia seeds.

With beans, for example, you leave just leave the pods on the plant to dry. When the pods are dried, you can hear the seeds rattling around inside them. Then, open the pods, let the seeds dry a few days on a paper plate, and store them in an envelope or small jar in a cool, dark place, such as the garage or basement. With many flowers, let the seeds mature fully on the plant. When the seed capsule begins to crack, remove it from the plant, and store the seeds. While seeds like beans are large enough to collect easily, some flower seeds are barely the size of this period. For those, collect carefully and collect lots of them.

Saving tomato seeds is more complicated, but well worth the effort if you have a tomato variety you really like. First, make sure it is an open-pollinated or heirloom variety. Hybrids may not produce true to type and some have plant patents on them, making it illegal to grow them without a license. To save seed, pick the best tomato from the best plant. Cut it in half and squeeze the juice and gel and seeds from the center of the tomato into a cup and add water 2 to 3 inches above the seed goop. Set this aside for a few days until a mold forms on the top of the water. (Children love this part.) Drain off the mold, water and any seeds that are floating in the water – those will not germinate. Rinse the seeds and let them dry completely. Then store them in an envelope or other container in a cool, dry place until next spring.

Whenever you save seed, label, label, label. Nothing is more disheartening than looking at an envelope of seeds and having no idea what is inside. What seeds will you be saving this year?

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