Saving your own seed from this year’s crops to sow next season is the ultimate in vegetable garden self-sufficiency. Here’s how to do it:
What to Save and What Not to Save
Choose your best plants to collect seed from. Selecting in this way means that, over time, your plants will become more and more suited to your garden’s unique growing conditions.
Particularly suitable vegetables for seed saving include peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce. Onions, leeks, carrots, beets and chard are also worth saving, but as they are all biennial crops you’ll need to overwinter some plants to gather their seeds after they flower next year.
Brassica family plants readily cross-pollinate with other members of the same family, so the seeds are unlikely to come true to type.
F1 hybrid seed should also be avoided because they are created from two separate parent varieties, and won’t come true. Only save the seeds of open-pollinated varieties.
Saving Bean & Pea Seeds
As the end of the season approaches, leave some pea or bean pods to dry out on the plant. They’re ready to collect when the pods feel crisp or leathery, and are swollen with beans.
Shell the beans, discard any very small or damaged seeds, then spread them out on newspaper. Dry them on a warm windowsill for seven to ten days.
Fava beans can cross-pollinate with other varieties, so only save seeds from these beans if you are growing just one variety.
Saving Lettuce Seeds
Lettuces produce hundreds of seeds on each seed head. Lettuces grow tall before they go to seed, so you might need to stake the plants. Once the plant has produced lots of fluffy seed heads, pull it up and hang it upside down indoors to dry. They will be ready within a few weeks. Rub the seed heads between the palms of your hands to release the seeds.
Save Pepper & Tomato Seeds
The seeds of tomatoes and peppers are ready when the fruits are good for eating. Cut them open and scrape the seeds away from the pith. Spread the seeds out on paper to dry out for at least a week. Remove the pulp around the seeds before storing - this is demonstrated in our video How to Prepare and Store Seeds From Your Tomato Plants.
Saving Onion & Leek Seeds
Onions, leeks and shallots set seed in their second year. These plants need to cross-pollinate, so overwinter more than one plant of the same variety to flower the following year.
The seed heads are ready once they have dried out and can be flaked off into a bag for cleaning and sorting. However, you can hurry things along by cutting the heads a little earlier. Check that the seeds are ready by opening up a seed pod. If the seeds are black, you’re good to go. Dry the seed heads in a warm, well-ventilated place such as a greenhouse. Once they’ve turned the color of straw, release the seeds by rubbing the seed heads between your fingers.
Storing Saved Seeds
Clean dry seeds before storing by carefully blowing away any remaining chaff. Alternatively, separate out the seeds through a series of screens or sieves.
Store seeds somewhere cool, dry and dark, in paper envelopes labeled with the variety and date.
Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources
Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.
Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.
Watch more videos on gardening techniques and other self-reliance, DIY topics on our Wiser Living Videos page.