You don't need a lot of specialist knowledge to start saving seeds - it can be as easy as drying a handful of beans at the end of the summer. However, some vegetables are easier than others, and if you want to be really successful there are a few simple principles to bear in mind.
Saving Seed starts with The Birds and the Bees
Well, mainly the bees. Seeds come from flowers, which is where plant-sex happens. Pollen, which is just sperm in a yellow powdery jacket is transferred from a male part to a female part. When it gets to the female part it joins with an egg and makes a seed. Different types of plant have sex in slightly different ways – some use the wind to transfer pollen, some use bees and other insects. Some flowers will pollinate themselves, some like to be pollinated by a flower from another plant. The different ways plants make their seed effects how we save it.
Saving Tomato Seed; Saving Lettuce Seed
Most plants can be described as inbreeders or outbreeders. An inbreeder will usually pollinate itself so the daughter plants will be just like their parents. Saving seeds of inbreeders such as tomatoes and lettuce is really easy. An outbreeder likes to cross-pollinate with other plants. This means that when saving the seed of an outbreeder you need to control their pollination in some way. This can mean keeping a distance between your outbreeding vegetable and other vegetables in the same family, or putting a mesh cage around them when they flower.
If you want to keep your vegetable the same from year to year, it pays to know whether it is an inbreeder or an outbreeder, and the normal method of pollination. This is often obvious from the shape of the flower, but you can also look it up in books.
Seed Saving Techniques
Gather your seed from your best plants. Consider how well the plant has grown (not just the fruit), how productive it was, what it tasted like, and how resistant it was to pests and diseases. Try not to eat all the best ones!
A plant variety will be more adaptable and vigorous if it keeps a good diversity of genes. This means growing a good number of plants to save seed from, especially if it is an outbreeder.
Processing Saved Seed
Seeds are processed differently depending on whether they are dry (eg peas) or wet (eg tomatoes). Collecting dry seeds is relatively straightforward. Let them get really ripe and as dry as possible on the plant. Then remove the seeds from the pods for storage. The weather often makes this difficult, but if rain threatens, you can pull up the whole plant and hang it up under cover to finish drying.
Seeds that develop inside fruits are a bit more tricky. Leave the fruit to get really ripe before you collect it, then scrape the seed out as best you can and wash and dry it. Try using a sieve or tea strainer for little ones. Dry your seeds in a warm airy place, but not in the oven or direct sunshine as both will damage the seed and impair germination next year.
Label your seeds carefully with the vegetable, variety and year of harvesting. Store in cool, dark conditions with a stable temperature (above freezing). Keep your seeds in paper bags and out of danger from mice.
About Dyfi Valley Seedsavers
Dyfi Valley Seed Savers is a not-for-profit organisation, based in Machynlleth, mid-Wales, and run mainly by volunteers. They promote the saving and swapping of seed with the aim of...
- preserving old or unusual vegetables
- nurturing our local knowledge and plant heritage
- promoting sustainable gardening and a flourishing local community.
FREE downloadable Guide to Seed Saving, Seed Stewardship & Seed Sovereignty