Sunday, May 29, 2011

Saving seeds for sustainability and survival

Civilization has been saving and exchanging seeds for 10,000 years. It was a practice created out of necessity. In order to survive, mankind had to eat. In order to eat, mankind had to have food. For there to be food, there had to be seeds to grow plants.

The ancient Romans, Greeks and Persians understood the importance of saving and exchanging seeds. Around 100 BC, administrators of the Roman Empire exchanged information on agriculture, animal husbandry and botany. In addition to this information sharing network, they also had an active seed and plant exchange system. During Aristotle’s time, the Greeks and the Persians actively exchanged seeds and plants.

Out of this necessity to save seeds, our ancestors created the agricultural diversity that we enjoy today.

Do you have heirloom seeds that you'd like to share?
Are you looking for unusual seeds?
Join the seed exchange network at
Seed saving in the modern world

At the beginning of May, I received a collection of seeds from the Seeds of the Month Club. My monthly package contained beets, parsley, sunflowers and zucchini. I live in Zone 9 and these seeds should have been planted a few months back. Since these seeds can’t be planted right away, I plan to store them away until next fall. At the same time, veggies that I planted a few months ago are ready to harvest. Because the economy is bad and I live on a tight budget, I’ll save seeds from many of these vegetables for my fall vegetable garden.

If you have some favorite vegetables that you’d like to grow again next year, consider saving the seeds. It’s fun and easy to save the seeds from the vegetables that you harvest from your garden. Besides, you can save a few dollars in the process.

There are several advantages to collecting and saving seeds from your vegetable harvests.
  • You’ll feel a sense of self-sufficiency because you won’t be dependent on a seed company to start next year’s garden.
  • It’s an excellent way to learn about plant biology and if you have children, get them involved in seed saving.
  • The seeds you collect will be accustomed to your climate and resistant to the pests that frequent your garden.
Vegetables for first time seed savers

To ensure the most success with your seed saving endeavors, start your vegetable plants with open-pollinating, non-hybrid seeds and do not plant more than one type of each vegetable at a time. This will ensure that your plants do not cross-pollinate. Annuals will give you seeds in the first year; biennials send up seed stalks in the second season of growth. Biennials include beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, onions, parsley, and Swiss chard.

The easiest vegetable seeds to save are non-hybrid tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, cucumbers, summer squash and watermelon. Collect seeds from the fully mature and ripe fruit of these plants.
The International Seed Saving Institute

Here are a few hints to get you started on your seed saving journey.

Tomato seeds need to be fermented before storing. To ferment the seeds, remove the seeds from the fully ripe tomato and place in a bowl of water. Let the seeds soak for three days. When you notice mold on the top of the water, the fermentation process has begun. Add more water, stir and gently remove the mold and debris from the top of the water. Repeat this process until all that is left is clean seeds. Then strain off the water, rinse the seeds and let the seeds sit at room temperature until they are completely dry. Cantaloupe seeds may also be processed using this method.

Pepper seeds only need to be dried. Scrape the seeds from a ripe, red pepper and place them in a plate. Let the seeds dry in a non-humid and shaded place. The seeds are dry when they break when you bend them.

Beans, peas and other legumes should be left on the plant until the seeds rattle inside the pods. Remove the seeds from the pods and allow them to finish drying (on top of the refrigerator is a good place). When the seeds are completely dry, they will shatter when struck with a hammer. Place the seeds in the freezer for 72 hours to kill any insects that may be hiding inside the seeds. If the rain is making it difficult to dry the pods, pull up the plants and hang upside down in a garage or other area that stays dry.

Leave eggplants on the vine until the fruit is overly ripe. The eggplant will be dull, off-colored, and hard. Cut the eggplant in half and pull the flesh away from the seeded area.

Cucumbers also need to be overly ripe before you can collect the seed. The cucumber will be mushy. Cut the cucumber in half, scrape the seeds into a bowl, and soak the seeds for two days. Rinse the seeds to remove the fleshy covering and let dry.

Summer squash is ready for seed saving when the squash cannot be dented with a fingernail. Cut open the squash, scrape the seeds into a bowl, wash any fleshy pulp off of the seeds, drain and allow the seeds to dry.

Watermelon should be ripe before removing the seeds. Place the seeds in a strainer and add a drop of dishwashing liquid to remove the sugar from the seeds. Allow the seeds to dry.
Storing your seeds

After you’ve cleaned and dried your vegetable seeds, you’ll need to store them properly to retain their viability. The following storage technique also works for seeds you purchased this past growing season and want to use next season.

  • All seeds (except legumes) should be stored in airtight jars. Legumes store best in breathable bags.
  • Fill a small cloth bag with 1/2 cup of dried powdered milk and place it in the bottom of the jar with the seed packets on top.
  • Label the jar with the vegetable variety and the date.
  • The seeds should be placed in a cool, dark, and dry place (such as the refrigerator).
  • Don’t open the jar until you are ready to plant the seeds.
Most seeds will retain their viability for two or three years when processed and stored using this method. Some seeds (such as sweet corn) will only be good for one year. Melons can last as long as five years. 

Happy Gardening!
The Seeds of the Month Club is distributed by Mike the Gardener Enterprises, LLC, who also administers the largest Vegetable Gardening page on Facebook.


  1. Excellent post! The kids and I have even gone as far as creating our very own custom seed packets! Great fun. So much, we posted full instructions on our family blog --


  2. Hello Dianne! Thank you. Love the instructions for the seed saving packets ( I posted a link to this page on my Facebook profile. Love your blog too! Great job.
    Happy Gardening!

  3. Interesting post. I've just previewed and added your blog to Blotanical. Welcome.

  4. Hello Crafty Gardener! Thank you!

  5. Some great practical advice here. Love it. Also like your profile, because what you describe is just what is happening with my 2-year-old granddaughter, who is already a keen gardener.
    Hope you will visit my blog to take a look as well.

  6. Thanks for the notes..., I have tried fermenting tomato seeds once, but within two days roots appeared! probably our hot weather needs different treatment.

  7. Hello Bangchik and Kakdah!
    Tomato seeds have to be fermented. If they aren't fermented, they won't sprout. Here's a more in-depth article about saving tomato seeds. Hope this helps!
    Happy Gardening!

  8. Hi Mark! Great that your granddaughter is so into gardening. It is so fun watching the little ones in the garden. Everything is fascinating and exciting for them. I will check out your blog. Have a great weekend!

  9. Great info and tips! I like the resources as well...will have to check them out. Welcome to Blotanical!

  10. Hello Sage Butterfly! Thank you very much. Glad you enjoyed this post. Looking forward to visiting with you on Blotanical! Have a great weekend!

  11. Great information. Seed saving is one of my goals along with canning.

    Glad I found you on Blotanical!!!

  12. Hi DivaGardener! I checked out your blog. I love it. It is so cool that your kids get in the garden with you.

    One of my goals is to get back into canning. I canned all the time with my mom when I was a kid...fruits, veggies, jams. The easiest way to start is to learn the Hot Water Bath method then graduate to a pressure canner. Your kids can help too. Start them out by teaching them how to prepare the fruits and veggies for canning. The kids can also clean up the jar rims after the food is put in the jars. The jar rims have to be real clean before you put on the canning lid if you want a good seal.

    I have a few food preservation articles planned for the near future.

    Looking forward to more sharing gardening information! Happy Gardening!

  13. Bravo! Nice discussion of seed saving. Took some time from your otherwise busy life. Thank you! I have been using my own seeds for years and really got into it during the whole Y2K thing, but some folks are just getting started and you gave them an excellent reference.

  14. Hi Sara! Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed this post. I may have a busy life but I do enjoy sharing my gardening experience and teaching people how to be self-sufficient.

  15. Hi Coletta.... obviously a woman like me - mad seedsaver and lover of writing about it.
    I never ferment my tomato seeds and they always germinate fine. I just spread out the wet pulp on a piece of paper towel and leave them to dry. When I want to sow them, I tear off a bit of the paper towel and put in on the soil, with some fine compost sifted over.

  16. Hi Kate, Thanks for the tomato seed tip! I'll have to give it a try. Must be that the reason for fermenting is to get the pulp off the seeds. But sounds like you've found a way around that. This is what I love about gardening... It isn't set in stone science. There's always a bit of art to it. Thanks again! Happy Gardening!

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