How to Save Seeds

Deborah Mitchener
Monday, 18th January 2016

Simple techniques to saving your fruit, vegetable and flower seeds for future planting.

I may cause a backlash here from far more experienced seed savers but I just save everything I can and that looks viable. If you have used an F1 variety there is no point as the majority will be sterile, but once you get into saving and swapping anything is possible. To make sure that you can save seed, try buying heritage varieties, or attend a seed swap event. Seedy Sunday in Brighton is fantastic, if you can get there, and where the majority of our seed has come from in the past.

When you are taking seed to save, try to choose good quality produce with lots of plump looking seeds. For runner beans leave some beans on the plant until they are dry, and choose the ones with the best colour. Also look for seeds undamaged by pests or rot. It sounds obvious but you open a pea seed packet from a large retailer and see how many of those are brown or have wormholes.

Preparing seeds

Obviously it is best to remove as much pulp as you can from the seed before setting it to dry. A variety of different colander and strainers are ideal for this. A small tea strainer is fantastic for tomato seeds, whereas a colander can be used for the much larger pumpkin seeds. Having said that I do know of one person whom swears by cutting the tomato into slices and drying like that ready to plant the next year. I am thinking I might have to try this in 2016.


Beautiful Goats Rue from Seedy Sunday stash - planted 2015 seeds from 2013

Drying Seed 

Newspaper and kitchen towel seem to be two of the favourites. Newspaper is a cheap choice for drying your seed on and also allows for you to write on its variety, date and area grown which is all useful information for the next growing season.

Kitchen towel will mean that the seeds stick to it especially if they are small. For tomato seeds this can be a bonus as the following sowing season you can just cut the paper and plant direct into the soil. No fiddling about with teeny tiny seeds. If the seeds are larger and you don’t want them to stick then you will need to roll them around on the kitchen towel once a day.

However, a favourite of mine is old fruit packaging as per the photo. Seeds don’t stick, they don’t get blown off, and I can pin a label to the edge. I dry my seeds on a window ledge slowly for about a week before storing.


Dry and cold is the mantra here, remember dry and cold. No storing in a lovely tin box on a shelf in your sunny shed or windowsill. Warmth and humidity shorten the seed's shelf life. The very best place is the fridge, as long as they are sealed and fully dry. Top tip for keeping them dry during storage is the addition of a silica packet or make your own with four facial tissues layered up and two heaped teaspoons of milk powder wrapped in the middle.

If there is no room in the fridge then a cold, dark, dry space in sealed plastic containers, jars, and zip lock bags.

The other buzz word at this stage is label, label, label – include type, variety (if you can remember), date saved and area grown i.e. sunny south facing, alkaline soil. Oh and please check the seeds every 4-6 months to make sure they are still in a good condition. 

Before Using

Take your seeds from their winter home, and warm them up a little before using. Do not open them at this stage as moisture in the air may well cause them to clump together and then render them useless. Also check the date.

With pea and bean seeds I like mine to have a little soak in warm water for 24 hours before planting. I am even going to try this with my pumpkin seeds this year.

Life Span

Potency of seeds reduces each year – much like us humans really. However with seeds you can normally calculate it at 10-20% per year. This means that after three years the majority of seeds will not be viable and need to be thrown away. This is why it is important to date any seed you save so that you can disregard seed once past its prime.

Having said that we were given some wildflower seed last year for our community garden and told its potency was probably 60% so not to expect too much from it. Just look at the poppies we had in June!


Wildflower seeds donated by Kew Gardens said to be at 60% potency


Further resources

Top tips for seed saving

How to grow heritage seed potatoes

Monsanto buys up heirloom seed suppliers

The Organic Seed Grower


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melissagreen |
Tue, 27/09/2016 - 10:25

Great tips! One of the most important steps is labelling because it's too easy to forget the details by the following spring.
Best regards,
Melissa from