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Ultimate Guide to Seed Saving – Everything You Need to Know

Growing your vegetables from seeds that you have saved is a great activity that allows you to take advantage of the best that Mother Nature has to offer.

While commercial growers are interested in products that they can ship for many miles, and that will last a long time, you can concentrate on growing food that tastes great.

Growers can easily adapt the varieties grown to conditions and tastes. Just because the experts say that something grows well in your environment does not always mean that it does.

When you grow save seeds from outstanding crops, then you can expect it to grow well again.

In most cases, you will discover that the seeds that you have gathered and replanted are more resistant to insects.

Some plants have a more natural tendency to resist insects than others. The same is true for diseases.

When you find these plants, they often pass it on to the next generation.

Furthermore, you can save lots of money compared to buying seeds in the store. Many growers of seeds they have gathered set individual breeding goals, such as producing better-tasting fruit and vegetables or growing plants that are easy.

Finally, but not least important, you get the satisfaction of doing the job yourself. Following the steps in this easy guide allows you to master seed gathering.

Understanding the Terminology

Before you start your wonderful journey into seed gathering, it is important that you understand some terminology such as open pollinated, hybrids, annuals, and biennials.

Understanding these terms ensures that you raise the plants that you want to raise at the time that you want to raise them.

Open Pollinated Or Hybrid Pollinated

All seeds are either open pollinated or hybrid pollinated. For the grower who is raising their first seeds for saving, it is usually ideal to start with open pollinated seeds as they produce offspring that look very similar to the parent plant.

Hybrid pollinated plants usually produce seeds that look very different from the parent plant. Therefore, the grower can often expect a surprise and not always a good one, when planting these seeds.

Plant’s Life Cycle

Plants either take one or two seasons to produce seeds and complete their life cycle. Common examples of annual crops include:

The planter who is just starting out may want to consider these crops for their first efforts, because they will know if they are doing everything right the very next growing season.

If plants are not annuals, then they are biennials and require two growing seasons to complete their life cycle. Common examples of biennial crops include:

For these crops and other biennials, the grower must let the crop go to seed one winter and then grow naturally for another season before attempting to gather the seeds.

What is Pollination?

Pollination is required for a plant to produce its wonderful seeds. Knowing exactly how your plant pollinates and the plant’s requirements to pollinate allows you to set up the best possible scenario.

Arming yourself with this information allows you to raise the next crop from seeds that you have saved.

Types of Pollination

Before the plant can reproduce, it must be pollinated. Some crops rely on themselves to pollinate while other crops rely on insects, and still others rely on the wind to carry pollen.


The easiest to grow are those that self-pollinate, as they require no help from anything to get the job done.

Plants that are self-pollinators suited for your environment produce other plants that do well in that environment. Self-pollinated plants include:

  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Hot Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Lettuce
  • Peas

Many of these plants have mechanisms built into them to stop pollination from outside sources.

Some also rely on self-pollination as their preferred method, but can accept outside pollination if the need arises.

While the journey for pollination is very short for self-pollinated plants outside stimulus is needed to make it happen. Most commonly, it relies on the wind or insects.

Therefore, if you are growing the plant in an environment where there are very few insects and not much wind, such as a greenhouse, you may need to introduce insects to the environment or produce wind by using a fan.


Other plants tend to rely completely on other things to pollinate them. Growers call these plants very outbreeding.

The breeding occurs when the sperm of one plant fertilizes the ovule of the same species on a different plant. The advantage of plants that are very outbreeding is the ability to adapt to varying circumstances. These plants include:

Providing the right conditions for outgoing breeders is even more important than for self-pollinators these plants must have a large amount of the same crop flowering at the same time.

Furthermore, they must have air movement so that the pollen moves freely. Finally, they must have the right environmental conditions, including the right temperature and the right amount of water.

Best Planting and Growing Season

Growing seeds for gathering is like growing vegetable seeds for eating in many ways. In fact, you will be eating many of the vegetables that you do not choose to keep for seeds.

Getting to eat crops that you do not want to save is a bonus of growing seeds to save that should not be overlooked.

1 – Preparing the Soil

When growing seeds for gathering, start by preparing your soil as you would for a vegetable garden.

The best soil is rich sandy loam containing equal parts of sand, silt, and clay. Adding compost to the top 12 inches of soil helps the soil to perform properly.

It is important to spend time preparing the soil properly because it anchors the plants and for seed gathering many of the plants become bigger than normal.

Secondly, the soil helps to feed the plants, as it maintains water and nutrients. Third, great soil helps to insulate the plant’s root structure and in many cases you will be leaving the plants in the ground longer than normal.

2- Fertilization Needs

A slow release source of fertilizer is needed by plants that are grown for seed gathering.

Feed the soil and not the plants by using a two to four-inch layer of compost and then covering with a layer of fertilizer containing rock phosphate and greensand. 

Then, add another thin layer of topsoil to the top. Following this technique gives your plants plenty of phosphorus and other needed nutrients, except nitrogen, throughout the growing season.

3- How to Plant Your Seeds

Plant your plants as you would for a normal vegetable garden although you may need to spread them further apart.

The distance between plants varies depends on the individual vegetable or fruit chosen. Therefore, the grower must keep the plants needs in mind when placing the seed in the ground.

Here are some individual guidelines:

VegetableDistance to Plant Apart in Inches
Honeydew Melon24
Bell Pepper24
Jalapeno Pepper24

How to Choose Plants to Seed

You will want to remove plants several times during the growing season so that you end with the very best plants. Removing unwanted plants helps ensure there are plenty of nutrients for the other plants to thrive.

The first time should be before the plant begins to flower as you can eliminate any chance of the plants pollen entering your other plants. This walk is more to ensure that weeds are not entering your garden.

Then, walk through the plants again after the plant has put on leaves and remove those with abnormal foliage.

Removing plants with abnormal foliage ensures that you are growing the healthiest plants. Leaving abnormal plants in your garden allows them to eat the nutrients that your better plants need to survive.

This process is thinning your plants to give the best ones an outstanding chance for survival.

Throughout the growing season, remove any plants that are sick. Depending on the type of disease, it can quickly spread to other plants. Therefore, you need to watch your plants continually.

While growers can treat some diseases, it is usually best to get rid of the sick plant so that it is not taking nutrients and space away from your healthy plants.

Finally, if you are raising plants that are left in the garden to get enormous and seed, then remove all but the plants that you want to gather seeds from at the end of the normal growing season.

Doing this at the end of the normal growing season can be very rewarding as you get to eat the produce that your garden has provided. Most gardeners stop here, but because you are growing seed to save, you will want to continue gardening.

How to Maintain the Population Size

When removing plants be careful that you do not remove too many plants, because you need to maintain your population size.

Consider the environment, as plants that do not seem to be doing as well as other plants may just have poorer growing conditions.

Keeping a journal of which plants seem to be thriving in which conditions helps when you are planting the seeds that you have saved. Recording the information helps so that you do not forget later.

While you are sure that you will remember, the truth is that often gardeners forget the details.

Just like most human beings are not exactly the norm, most plants are not exactly the norm. Therefore, do not become too brutal when choosing which plants to keep.

A great analogy is Hitler wanting to execute all people that did not fit what he thought the perfect human being should look like. It is not necessary to become a Hitler when gardening.

While you may not want to keep these plants for harvesting, they may make great produce to eat on your family’s table.

1 – Staking Plants

Your plants will become huge. Therefore, you need to stake many of your plants. While growers have staked tomato plants for years, in this case, others can benefit from staking including carrots, cabbage, and onion plants.

Staking helps to prevent diseases from entering your seed supply. Staking also aids in drying mature seeds. Since the plants kept for seed gathering will become larger than normal, staking also helps you to maneuver in the garden.

Staking smaller plants such as carrots, cabbage, and onion plants can be as simple as placing a paint stirrer in the ground and tying your plant to the stirrer. Growers also find commercial cages and stakes on the market designed just for this purpose.

2 – Watch for Diseases

You need to watch continuously your plants for signs of disease as diseases can impact the yield and the vitality of your seeds. In addition, some diseases can be passed on to the next generation of plants or even show up two or three generations down the road. Since the plant remains in the ground longer, you need to remain vigilant for a longer period.

Some vegetables and fruits are prone to certain diseases. Here is a list of the most common diseases that growers need to watch for:

Vegetable or FruitCommon Diseases
BroccoliBlack Rot


Fusarium Yellows

Fungal Diseases

Head Rot


CabbageBlack Rot


Fusarium Yellows

Fungal Diseases


CauliflowerBlack Rot


Fusarium Yellows

Fungal Diseases

Head Rot


KaleBlack Rot



CollardsBlack Rot


Powdery Mildew



BeetsLeaf Spot


Pocket Rot

Downey Mildew


CarrotsFungal Blights


White Mold

BeansRoot Rot


White Mold

CornDamping Off


Stuart’s Wilt

Fungal Conditions

CucumberBacterial Wilt


Angular Leaf Spot

Gummy Stem Blight

Cucumber Mosaic Virus


EggplantVerticillim Wilt Fungi


White Mold

LettuceWhite Mold


Bottom Rot

Lettuce Mosaic Virus


Downy Mildew

Honeydew MelonPowdery Mildew


Fruit Rot

Fussarium Wilt

Bacterial Wilt

OnionBotrytis Leaf Blight


Downy Mildew

Purple Blotch


White Rot

Bell PepperBacterial Spot


Wilt Fungi

Jalapeno PepperBacterial Spot


Wilt Fungi



Alternaria Leaf Spot




Fusarium Rot

White Rust

Cucumber Mosaic

TomatoAlternaria Blight


Bacterial Canker

Bacteria Speck

ParsleyAlternaria Leaf Blight


Bacterial Leaf Spot

Bacterial Shoot Blight

CilantroAlternia Leaf Blight


Bacterial Leaf Spot

Bacterial Shoot Blight

When the grower knows what diseases are most likely to affect his plants, then he or she can take steps to correct the problem very early.

3 – Weed Management

Weed management is especially important for plants where you intend to gather the seeds, as it can affect the yield and vitality of your seeds.

After all, weeds steel nutrients, water and light that your plants need to thrive. Furthermore, weeds can introduce diseases into your seeds.

If weeds remain, they can even contaminate the seeds during harvest. Finally, they can make seeds hard to clean for storage.

The earlier you spot the weed and stop it, the better your plants will be. Many growers choose to use a hoe and simply remove the weed, but this can cause damage to the root structures of the plants that you are growing particularly later in the growing season as your plants reach full maturity.

One possible method of controlling weeds is to put a solution of white vinegar on the weed. The acid in the vinegar kills the weed. Simply put the vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it on the plant.

Make sure that you do not get any spray on your crop, as it can kill it. The best time to do this is when the ground is damp and when there is no wind blowing. If you must spray even when a light breeze is blowing, then try to stand so that you are spraying away from your best plants.

Another possible method is to flame the weed with a propane torch Hold the torch a few inches away from the plant. Light the torch and catch the plant on fire. You need to be very careful when using this method because of the possibility of the fire spreading.

Therefore, always carry a bucket of water with you. In addition, think about your own safety when you are starting the fire. Gardening is a rewarding hobby, but not if you burn yourself.

Third, you can choose to put vegetable oil on the weed, as the oil will smother the weed. Just like with the vinegar, the best way to apply vegetable oil to the weed is in a spray bottle.

Make sure to submerge the weed in oil so that it cannot get the nutrients that it needs to survive.

Regardless of the method that you choose, the best time to control weeds is when they are young. Young weeds are easier to kill than older weeds.

Therefore, you should know what the plant you are trying to grow looks like at each stage of its life. Allowing you to spot unwelcome weeds quickly before they can do damage to your plants root structure.

Keeping the Seeds

After you have harvested the seed, then you need to clean the seeds. The easiest way to do this is to use two seed-cleaning screens. The first screen should have holes slightly larger than the seed while the second screen should have holes slightly smaller than the seed.

Hold the two screens flat and together while a partner pours a small amount of the seeds with chaff on top of the screen.

Shake vigorously and have your partner rub his or her hands over the screen. Then, remove the top screen. Again, shake the screen vigorously, so that any small chaff goes through the screen.

Again, the partner may have to rub his or her hands over the screen. The seeds should remain on the second screen where the grower can pour the seeds into a bucket. Repeat this process until all seeds have been cleaned working with only a small amount of material at any time.

How to Dry Seeds

After cleaning seeds, they need to be dried. Pile the seeds on a non-stick surface where temperatures will stay below 80 degrees. No pile should be thicker than .25 inches.

The grower needs to stir the pile daily ensuring even drying. Seeds love the air when they are drying, so put a fan near them if drying them in a closed area.

1 – Test For Moisture Content

The raisers goal is to get the moisture content in the seed to below five percent for most crops and below seven percent for larger seeds, such as squash. Therefore, the raiser must determine this value.

Take a small sample of the seeds and count the number. Then, weigh it carefully. Put the seeds on a cookie sheet and place them in a 140-degree oven for an hour leaving the oven door slightly ajar.

Remove the seeds and weigh them again. Keep doing this until the seed sample no longer loses weight.

Then, take the fresh seed sample weight and multiple it by 100. Then, divide that number by the dry sample weight. This formula gives you a percentage allowing you to know when your seeds are very dry.

2 – Creating Very Dry Seeds

Bacteria, fungus, insects and rodents can harm wet seeds so it is essential to get to your seeds very dry. Once you have very dry seeds, then you will want to protect them because they contain the plant’s embryo that you will be growing during future growing seasons.

In many environments, it is not enough to let the seeds dry naturally. Therefore, people saving seed may need to employ a secondary technique.

One possible technique is to use silica gel packets. Place the seeds in an air-tight container along with the gel packet. One packet is enough to do many seeds. Make sure to check the seeds for dryness on a daily basis starting on day number two because the gel can dry out the seeds very quickly. Seeds that become too dry become dormant and do not produce.

A second method is to use a food dehydrator that reaches down to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not dry your seed at temperatures above 85 degrees as it will kill the embryo within the seed. Use only a small amount of seed in each batch until you are sure that you know exactly how long it will take. Test for dryness on a regular basis.

3 – Seed Storage

Once your seeds are dry, and then decide how you will store your seeds. Some seeds like amaranth will last for 40 years. Others like onions and leeks only last a season or two. Regardless of how long the seed can be stored, the better the environment for the seed the longer it lasts.

Growers have several options:

Option for Storing SeedPositives and Negatives
Paper or Cloth BagsAllows for moisture release allowing more room for seeds to not be very dry


Offers little protection against rodents and insects

Plastic BagsLittle moisture release so seeds need to be very dry


Offers little protection against rodents and insects

Plastic Tubs or BucketsSome moisture release possible


Some protection against rodents and insects

Glass JarsRestricts moisture release


Protective against rodents and insects

Air-tight container in RefrigeratorProtective against insects and rodents


Presents problems bringing seeds to planting temperature

Air-Tight Container in FreezerProtective against insects and rodents


Problems bringing seeds to temperature

The best method for you is the one that you are most comfortable using. While refrigerators and freezers provide the best protection, they can be very expensive if you are using them solely for this purpose.

Regardless of the method chosen, it is important to keep your seeds in a cool dark environment as moisture and light can cause them to germinate before you are ready.


Plant your seeds and watch them grow. Treat them like any other crop in your garden. When the time comes, harvest them in the correct manner so that you have seeds to grow your next crop.

You may never have to pay for seeds again, and you will know that you are providing your family with great tasting food that you grew yourself.

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