Seed Saving 101

What is seed saving? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like—saving the seeds instead of harvesting the produce from a plant. Seeds are often saved for a favored trait like the tastiest fruit or the biggest flower. Seeds can be passed down for generations and become heirloom varieties. 

For indigenous peoples, seed saving can be a way of preserving their culture and history. Because much of their culture connects to their relationship with their land, saving seeds is an important manifestation of their cultural identity. 


Why should you save seeds?

  1. Growing crops establishes a connection between you and the land and nurtures an appreciation for your environment. Watching the life cycle of plants (and getting involved through seed saving) allows you to treasure each crop. 
  2. It preserves food culture and history. 
  3. Frequently, planting seeds rather than transplants is cheaper.
  4. Over time, your seeds will adapt to local growing conditions. 

Here’s how you can start saving seeds:

StepTask
Step 1Plan your plants.
Step 2Observe your plants’ traits.
Step 3Know when your seed matures.
Step 4Harvest your seeds.
Step 5Store your seeds.
Step 6Next season, sow the saved seeds.
An overview of the process.

Step 1: Plan your plants.

Before planting, research your plant to see if it self pollinates or cross pollinates. Self pollination maintains the genes of the single plant while cross pollination combines genes from other plants of the same species. 

If your plant is a cross-pollinator, make sure to distance it from plants of the same genus and species as they may cross-pollinate (which you do not want). If you are not able to distance plants, keep the plants you want to collect seeds from and pull up the other plants before they go to seed. This spacing is not necessary with self-pollinators. Some self-pollinators that make seed collection easy are lettuce, beans, peas, and tomatoes.  

Step 2: While the plants are maturing, observe their traits. 

Before harvest, choose 1-2 plants per variety that will not be harvested. Pick the healthiest plants that display your favored traits. As these plants mature, observe the differences between maturation stages. At this step, another benefit of seed saving is the longer availability of plants to pollinators. 

Step 3: Know when your seed matures. 

This stage varies for different plants as different cues indicate readiness for seed harvest. Some seeds will be in dried pods (e.g. peas), inside or outside the over ripe fruit (e.g. tomatoes), or attached to a reopened flower petal (e.g. carrot).  Many plants begin drying as the plant devotes its energy to seed production. 

Step 4: Harvest your seeds. 

Harvest the seeds from your chosen plants (from step 2). Once harvested, separate the seeds by variety and label each group with their variety and traits. Dry the seeds in the sun or in a jar of rice. 

Step 5: Store your seeds. 

Store the seeds in a cool, dark, and dry place. You can use mini glass jars, metal containers, or tightly sealed cloth bags. 

Step 6: Sow the saved seeds next season.

Sow your seeds and repeat the seed saving process. Crops grown from saved seeds can become heirloom varieties that preserve genes without modification through generations.