Saving your own sounds super easy. And it is to a degree – but there are some things you need to know to get it right. Otherwise there’s a strong possibility that your saved seeds won’t germinate, won’t produce fruit, will deliver a poor or mutated crop, or otherwise won’t be stable. Learning how to save vegetable seeds obviously saves you money, but it also lets you be more self-sufficient and means you know the true source of the crops you harvest, and means you’re less reliant on commercial seed companies, growers, and retailers. And, of course, it’s a vital long-term prepping skill. Where else will you be able to get fresh produce from in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse? Okay, I’m joking – but you get what I mean. Seed vaults are an incredibly popular purchase for those who like to be prepared for disaster.
Know Which Plants Self-Pollinate
Self-pollinating plants are the easiest to save from, in theory. Because they don’t require bee or other pollinator intervention, there’s less chance that they will cross-pollinate with a different variety, so the seeds you save and the plants that grow from them should be true to type.
Start With Easy Crops
Beans, lettuces, peas, peppers, and tomatoes are, without doubt, the easiest vegetables to start saving seed from.
Pole beans/climbing beans are often self-pollinating. However, they produce a much higher bean yield with a little help from bees and other pollinators. To be absolutely certain that your beans don’t cross-pollinate, keep 150 feet between varieties. However, most sources agree that, because of their self-pollinating nature, even with bee intervention, beans rarely cross-pollinate, even when grown in close proximity.
Lettuces are so easy to harvest seed from. Whether you’re growing an open type or a heading lettuce, you can still save seeds. Separate varieties by at least 20 feet to be absolutely certain that they won’t cross. It’s rare that lettuces cross, and bee pollination is even rarer. Some lettuce flowers open for as little as 30 minutes.
Interestingly, pea pollination occurs before the flower opens. Having said that, insect pollination is still possible once the flowers do open, so if you’re growing more than one variety, leave a gap of 50 feet.
Peppers make it into the beginner’s list of seeds to save, but they are known to cross-pollinate. So, unless you have a large growing space, it’s a good idea to only grow one variety. If you want to grow different types, separate them by at least 400 feet to maintain purity.
Tomatoes don’t need quite so much space between varieties as peppers, with a recommended distance of 100 feet. However, you need to plant one or more other flowering crops from a different family in between to guarantee purity. And, once you’ve got all your beautiful tomatoes, and you just don’t know what to do with so many of them, check out our roundup of 75 tomato recipes!
Start with these easy vegetables before branching out into more challenging varieties.
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Choose the Right Starting Seeds
This is the most crucial step. Get the wrong seeds to start with and you’ll never be able to save viable seed from the resulting plants. Don’t buy F1 hybrid seeds or those marked as hybrids, sterile, or genetically modified. Aside from the fact that most people who grow their own food desperately want to avoid contaminating their families with genetically modified produce (otherwise, you’d just go to the grocery store, right?), you won’t be able to save viable seed from any of these seeds. If you’re lucky enough to get the resulting seeds to germinate at all, they’ll be mutants, produce no crop, won’t have the right flavor, or just won’t thrive.
Instead, go for heirloom seeds. Organic, open-pollinated heirloom seeds to be precise. Heirloom seeds haven’t been crossed with anything. They aren’t hybrids. These are tried and tested varieties selected for a combination of yield, flavor, and vigor. Heirloom seeds have often been around for centuries, so these varieties have stood the test of time. Hybrids are often touted as being more disease resistant or more prolific croppers, but most growers agree that flavor is always compromised, so even if you could grow your own seed, it wouldn’t be worth it to sacrifice flavor. Besides which, once you’ve got a little bit of seed-saving know-how, you’ll be able select seeds from the plants that perform best, whether that’s in terms of health or crop yield.
Choose the Right Plants to Harvest
Be selective. You want to grow plants that give the best growth, yield, flavor, and resistance to disease or infestation. So it makes sense that to achieve that, you need the right seeds. For example, don’t choose a weedy pumpkin plant with weak, thin vines and small fruits. Choose the healthiest pumpkin plant with thick, robust stems and leaves and, from that plant, choose the pumpkin that appears to be the healthiest – it should have a good color, a generous size, and thick, strong skin. Do the same with the other plants. Choose beans that aren’t stringy and papery and tomatoes and peppers that withstand everything Mother Nature throws at them and still deliver great flavor and healthy, unblemished fruits.
Keep It Clean
Make sure whatever seeds you save are completely clean and free of any debris. If you leave flesh on seeds, they’ll rot and be useless. And, depending on the type of seed, just one or two bad ones can turn the entire harvest.
Maintain Dry, Cool Conditions
Firstly, before you even attempt to store seeds, you need to make sure they’re totally dry. Put them in a dehydrator, leave them on absorbent kitchen paper, or on a sunny windowsill until they are completely dry. Make sure you store them in dry, cool conditions. Too much warmth and moisture will rot your seeds or result in early germination. If you let the temperature drop too low, the seeds may decay and no longer be viable. Once completely dry, you can seal the seeds inside mylar bags with a food-grade desiccant packet. This is the method many people use to create their own seed vaults for survival preparation and, when done correctly, can help the seeds maintain their viability for years.
When you’re ready to plant them, treat them just as you would any other seed. As you can see, with a bit of basic knowledge and following a few simple steps, it’s pretty easy to save your own seeds. Remember to sign up to our newsletter to get all the latest news and tips right to your inbox – not to mention your free ebook.