If you love growing your own vegetables, you can now take it even one step further by seed saving your favorite varieties. Here’s all you need to know about saving tomato seeds or any other veggie you’d like to see grow again.
If you are a gardener who loves eating fresh vegetables grown in your own garden, then you know the routine: every year you have to purchase new seeds to start your garden. I don’t know about you, but more than once I’ve thought about saving the seeds of my homegrown vegetables so that I don’t need to buy them year after year.
And you know what? It’s actually very possible to do that!
What is Seed Saving?
Seed saving is the practice of saving seeds from vegetables (it can also happen with herbs and flowers) to use in the future (presumably the following year). Seed saving from gardens has been a long-standing practice, and for centuries this was the standard way that gardens and farms were maintained.
For a while, it seemed to be a bit of a lost art. However, seed saving has begun to regain popularity with home gardeners.
The Basics of Seed Saving
Although buying seeds in a store is generally inexpensive, there are a few reasons why seed saving is experiencing a resurgence in popularity:
- Buying seeds is cheap compared to buying produce at the store or buying seedlings, but saving your own seeds is completely free.
- Saving seeds from your best vegetable plants will help your plants adapt to their microclimate and increase yields each year.
- Seed saving can help to preserve a favorite variety you are growing – especially an heirloom variety.
It’s important to note that the seeds of certain vegetable plants save better than others and produce a good yield the following year.
For example, members of the squash family do not truly save well while members of the legume family generally save very well and produce good yields! I save pumpkin seeds every year with great success, but not my zucchini for example. You have to try and test.
How to Save Seeds From Your Garden
Especially when just starting out, save seeds from tomatoes, peppers, beans, and peas. Those are the easiest plants to save seeds from because those plants have self-pollinating flowers and produce seeds that do not need much work prior to storing.
Saving seeds requires 3 basic steps:
- Getting seeds from the best plant specimens.
- Harvesting them correctly and at the right time.
- Storing your seeds properly until you are ready to plant.
How Can You Save Seeds from Fresh Vegetables
It’s important to not use seeds from sick, weak, or unusual-looking plants.
Instead, try to harvest seeds from the most prolific plants with the best-looking fruit to naturally select the crop traits you want to encourage in your vegetables.
Here are a couple of examples to show you how to save seeds:
Saving Tomato Seeds
When you want to save your tomato seeds, this is the process that you want to follow in order to properly harvest and save them to use next year:
- Once the tomatoes have fully ripened on the plant, remove the tomatoes from the plant.
- Open the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds and pulp.
- Place the seeds and pulp in a jar of water and leave them for several days, stirring them up in the water each day.
- After about 5 days, the mixture will ferment, and the seeds will break free from the pulp and sink to the bottom of the jar.
- Discard the liquid and save the seeds. Rinse them and let them dry on a paper towel.
- Once the seeds are fully dry, put them into an envelope and store them over the winter in a cool, dry spot.
Saving Pepper Seeds
If you want to save pepper seeds for next year, follow these steps:
- Let your peppers fully ripen on the plant. Once they are ripe and starting to wrinkle, remove the peppers from the plant.
- Open the peppers and remove the seeds.
- Spread the seeds out on paper towels to dry.
- Once the seeds are completely dry, place them in an envelope and store them in a cool, dry spot for the winter.
Saving Seeds from Peas and Beans
In order to properly harvest seeds from peas and beans, follow this method:
- Let the pods stay on the plant and ripen until they start to turn brown and are dry (this could take up to a month past when you would pick the pods for eating – you’ll hear the seed rattling inside).
- Remove the pods from the plant and lay them out on a tray to dry, inside the house.
- Let them dry for at least two weeks, then shell the pods.
- Alternatively, you can shell the pods when you are ready to plant the seeds next spring.
How to Store Your Saved Seeds
To properly store your seeds so that they are viable the following spring, put them in individual envelopes.
Make sure to label your seed envelopes correctly with this information:
- Name and variety of crop
- Growing location
- The date you collected the seeds
This information will help you to verify not only that you are sowing the variety you think you are but also evaluate the success of your seed-saving efforts!
All your envelopes containing seeds can then go into an airtight container above ground level. This prevents moisture and pests (like mice) from ruining your seeds.
Additional Tips For Seed Saving
For the sake of not getting too lengthy or confusing, this post is a basic guide to seed saving. Once you begin experiencing success with saving your seeds, you will likely start branching out to saving seeds from other vegetables (and maybe flowers) in your garden!
Here are a few additional tips to help you as you get started on your own seed saving journey:
- When you let your fruit ripen on the plant prior to harvesting for seeds, pull it off the plant once it has reached what would be considered “overripe” for eating. If you try to harvest it too early, it won’t be viable next spring.
- The older the harvest date on your seeds, the lower your germination success rate will be, so plan to plant your stored seeds the following spring (or give some away if you have more than you need)
- Stick to seed saving with old-fashioned “heirloom” varieties. This is the only way for you to save seeds and know exactly what you will get with your plants next year. If you save hybrid variety seeds (not “heirloom”), you will end up with plants that have random combinations of traits.
- Make sure that your seeds are fully dry before storing them (so they don’t become moldy). To test whether they are fully dry, push your fingernail into it. If it gives, it’s not dry enough to store yet.
- If you have different cultivars of the same plant (tomatoes for instance) it’s important to avoid cross-pollination. You will need to place a see-through gauze bag over the blooms as soon as they start to develop and leave the bag on until the fruit begins to show. Mark that fruit for seed saving.
If you have never tried seed saving, give it a try! It can be a mildly tedious process (depending on what crops you save), but it’s also exciting and rewarding to know that you have gone through the entire circle of life with these plants!