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.
Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook
By Jack Rowe
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.