How to Save Seed From Your Garden

Clarice L. Moon shares a guide to save seed from your own garden while saving money, and the best methods for maximizing crop reproduction for the following seasons.

| July/August 1975

I've saved flower and vegetable seed from my garden for many years and every summer, as the tomatoes redden on the vines and the bean pods plump out, I look forward to the satisfying ritual that hands the qualities of my best plants on from year to year.

I find this seed-keeping project rewarding for several reasons. First, of course, it's a big help in the money department. Now that commercial seeds are priced at 35 cents to 75 cents per packet, my budget is healthier because I can save seed and sow at least part of my plot without a trip to the garden supply store. Second, the garden is healthier too since each successive crop is descended from plants that flourished right here on my place, and the offspring of those vigorous specimens are especially well suited to my particular growing conditions. Third, it's also good to know that part of my seed — which assures me of food for the future — can double as extra rations during the winter months. (Potatoes are always potatoes, whether you put them in the ground or in the cooking pot.) And to tell the truth, even if my hobby didn't offer the above practical benefits, I'd go ahead with it anyway just for the fun of it all.

How to Save Seed from Your Garden

My seed gathering project, of course, began with an original supply of plants which I grew from store-bought seed "way back when". If you decide to follow this example, purchase your stock from a reliable firm and take care to pick the most suitable varieties (standards, not hybrids) for your purpose and locality. When the vegetables are well grown, select the best specimens of each and let them mature instead of using them for food. (Mark the chosen individuals in some way by tying strings to them, for instance so that they won't be harvested by mistake.)

How long the seed will take to form varies from one crop to another and depends especially on whether the plants need one season or two for full development. The former group — the annuals — includes such garden favorites as beans, peas, radishes, mustard, lettuce, spinach, corn, cantaloupes, pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes. The seed of all these annuals is easily collected.

Any radishes you leave in the ground, for instance, will send up tall stalks with flowering tops that attract honeybees. Later on, seed pods will form, ripen, and dry.

Harvest the pods by breaking them off the stalks, and then shake them as a test for dryness. Any that don't rattle should be hung (out of the hot sun) for further drying. Those that have reached the rattling stage can be opened and their contents placed in a saucer to dispel any remaining moisture. The seeds can then be packed in an envelope. Seal the container, mark it with the name of the vegetable and the date, and file it in a dry place until the following season.

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