Seed Saving for BEGINNERS

Here you will find all you need to know to save different types of seeds. They range from Beans, to tomatoes, to melons. Scroll down to find the plant you are interested in starting with, and If you haven't all ready read our page about the basics, and why you should start saving seeds.




Beans and Peas

The process for collecting beans and peas is pretty well the same. They are annuals and will be ready to collect the same year of planting. Peas and beans need to stay on the vine for a while longer than if you are picking them for eating. After the edible stage the peas and beans will start to turn to a brownish yellow colour and begin to dry out. They are ready once the pods are very dry and brittle. You will need to gather the seeds just before the pods break. I like to leave them out on the counter for about 2 weeks after collecting them to insure that all the moisture is gone. If they still hold moisture when you store them they will begin to grow moldy and depending on the severity of the mold they will NOT germinate the fallowing spring.  

Quick Tips

Life cycle: Annual

Pollination: self-pollinated, insect-pollinated.

Seed maturity: seeds are mature after edible stage, when pods are dry and brittle.

Seed life expectancy: 3-5 years

Population size: 1 plant and up. The more plants the better.

Spacing between varieties:  depending on the type it can be as little as 10 ft. to as far as 500 ft.  Because my garden is small I go with about 10-20ft. 




Brassicas

There are four groups of brassicas; Brassica Juncea, Brassica Napus, Brassica Rapa and Brassica Oleracea. I’m going to be talking about the group brassica olercea which contains; broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and kohlrabi. Most of these vegetables are biennials but some are annuals. These species can all cross pollinate, if growing just for eating isolation doesn’t matter, but when growing for seeds it is important. There are some types of kale (Russian kale) that belongs to another group of brassicas and can’t be cross pollinated with this particular group. 

Annuals

Some annuals include; heading broccoli, some cauliflowers, and Chinese broccoli.  For these varieties you still need a vernalisation period but this is very little. About 1 to 4 weeks of temperatures of 10c will do. You can usually tell that the vernalisation period has been complete when you start to see the edible heads.

Biennials

Some biennials include; Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, European kale, kohlrabi, and sprouting broccoli. These biennials usually need about 10 to 12 weeks of temperatures below 10c before they can flower, and set seeds. If your area allows the temperatures to get cold enough but not too low as to kill the crops you can probably over winter in the ground! Some of these biennials can handle temperatures as low as -5c or lower. But I wouldn’t go with lower than -10c just to be sure. If you cannot over winter in the ground you will need to dig up your plants in late fall. To vernalise them in storage you will need to cut all the leaves off, except for the growing point; it will need to remain intact. The plants should then be planted in containers using slightly moist potting mix or sand. The best temperature for these crops is between 1c and 4c. Root cellars are the best option for storage but unheated sheds and other out houses will do fine. 

Most brassicas have male and female flowers, but are self-incompatible and need other flowers to produce. Most brassicas have yellow flowers, but some like Chinese broccoli have white flowers. The flowering stalks of most brassicas can grow to be 4 to 5 feet tall. You should stake the flowering branches to keep them off the ground; this will help pollinators access the glowers easier and help to keep mold or rot and other diseases away.  After your brassicas have flowered the will start to produce things called, siliques. The siliques look almost like really skinny beans. They will start out green and as the mature the siliques turn to a light brown colour and the seeds will be a dark brown. Depending on the size of plant you can either cut off individual branches or uproot the whole plant. Brassicas have a tendency to shower, which allows the release of the seeds; you will need to use something to collect the shattering siliques. You can either hand the plant over drop cloth, or a container, you can also slip seed saving bags over the siliques. If weather allows, you can leave the plants outside on breathable fabric to dry further, if not you will need to bring the plants inside. Depending on the moisture level will depend on how long they will need to dry for. 5 days is usually long enough but check if the siliques are dry by trying to dent them with a fingernail; if you cannot dent them they are dry enough!  You can clean brassica siliques fairly easily, by rubbing them between your fingers if you only have a small amount to collect. If you have a larger amount of seeds to collect; you can do this by smashing the siliques into a large container like a garbage can or on a large tarp. Once you have removed all the seeds the rest of the plant can be composted. If there is a bunch of stuff left with your seeds you can clean this easily by draping felt over a board or wide surface. Raise one end of the board and have the other end resting in a pail or container. Carefully dump the seeds and chaff onto the felted board. The chaff will stick to the felt but the seeds will roll right off into your container! Store seeds in dry cool conditions for best life expectancy. 


Quick Tips

Life cycle: annual or biennial

Pollination: insect

Seed maturity: seed maturity happens after

market maturity, or in the second season for biennial crops.

Expected seed life: 6 years

Isolation distance: 800ft or more

Population: 5 plants or more




Corn

There are different varieties of corn; pop-corn, flour corn, dent-corn, flint corn and sweet corn.  To start your corn to grow for seeds start just as you would when growing corn for eating. The only difference in the growing process is that you need to keep the corn on the plant for longer than you would for eating. This allows the corn to dry out and for the seeds to continue maturing. Corn has both male and female parts on a single plant. The tassels (on the top if the plant) are the male part (sperm) and the actual cob is the female plant. The silks that come out of the top of the husk are the stigmas, each silk strand attaches to an ovary which then develops into a kernel (if fertilized properly by the tassels). A good way to tell if the seeds are mature enough to save is husk colour. It should start changing from green, to yellow, to brown. When the husk is brown the seeds are mature. It is best to allow the seeds to continue drying on the stocks if the weather allows. If frost is going to threaten your crops remove the cobs from the plant and continue drying inside. You can also remove the husk to allow more air circulation. You can remove the kernels by hand. That’s how I do it. Once the kernels are dry it’s very easy to do. You can also get a hand Sheller or a mechanical one. The only thing with the Sheller is that you need to take extra care to prevent damaging the kernels, especially in sweet corn. Keep seeds stored in a cool dark place for best results and longevity.  

Quick tips

Life cycle: annual

Pollination: wind

Seed maturity: seeds are ready when the husks are dry and the kernels are hard.

Seed life expectancy: 2-3 years

Isolation distance: 800ft.

Population:10 plants or more




Cucumber and Melons

For melons (honey dews, cantaloupe, Armenian cucumber) and cucumbers, seeds are cultivated the same as for growing for eating. Most varieties need to sprawl along the ground, but smaller fruit varieties can be trellised. The fruits may need extra support even for smaller sized fruits. The flowering process is similar to watermelons with the males appearing first and females appearing later. Cucumbers usually continue producing fruits if picked throughout the season. So it’s nice to trellis them since they will be in the garden for a long time. Once seeds start to mature fruit production will begin to slow. You can reserve a few plants just for seed saving and others just for eating.  

Seeds that ripen past the maturity date by about 20 days have the highest seed viability rate. Market-mature melons often produce plenty of viable seeds! To extract the melons seeds cut fruit in half, scoop the seeds into a strainer and rinse away attached pulp. Seeds that float to the top aren’t usually good so it’s best to save seeds that stay at the bottom if rinse in a cup of water. Soaking the seeds in water also makes it easier to remove the pulp. Seeds should then be spread out in a thin layer on a coffee filter, and set in a cold dark place with plenty of air circulation.

To harvest cucumber seeds you will need to wait until the cucumbers grow a lot bigger than there “market size”. The cucumbers will also start changing colour, usual a yellowish colour and begin to soften. It’s best to wait a few weeks after this colour change before removing the seeds. If the weather is good and plants are healthy they can continue to ripen on the vine or be removed and ripened in a container to soften. Once the cucumbers are ripe and soft cut the cucumber in half length-wise and simply scoop out the seeds. Once the seeds are scooped out this mixture needs to undergo a fermentation process for a few days, just like tomatoes. Once you finished the fermentation process add water to rinse seeds and allow the “duds” to float to the top. You can continue this until the water is clear. Once the seeds have been rinsed clean set them on coffee filters to dry, in a thin layer. 

Quick Tips

Life cycle: annual. 

Pollination: insect

Seed maturity: cucumber; seed maturity is after seeds have reached their edible stage. Melons; seed maturity is at the same time as the edible stage

Seed life expectancy: 5 years

Isolation distance: 800 ft. or more

Population: 1 plant or more




Peppers

Unless you live in the tropics peppers are usually grown as annuals. Most sweet peppers can self-pollinate, but some are self-incompatible. Most peppers need to be separated, but, there is a variety that has black seeds that will not cross pollinate with the other varieties and will be planted close to another type of pepper. The cross pollination range is from 2-90% so the further you can plant different varieties from each other the better! 

You can harvest pepper seeds when the fruits are ripe, you can also store peppers between 18-24 degrees Celsius, to allow the seeds to ripen more, but don’t let the fruits start to rot.  To harvest the seeds, simply cut open the fruit and scrape out the seeds. Rinse the seeds to remove any pulp stuck to them and lay them out to dry. Lay them out on a piece or parchment paper or coffee filter to prevent sticking. Keep them in a warm dry place with lots of air circulation. Some peppers need to be wet processed. These are usually the smaller types like chilies. To wet process them you will need a food processor or blender. The fruits should be blended with ample water until the fruits are broken apart and the seeds removed. The mixture can be agitated until the water is fairly clear and it’s just mostly seeds that remain. The seeds should then be rinsed in a strainer and rubbed with a strong pressure of water until the remaining pulp is removed. Lay the seeds on a piece of coffee filter in a thin layer with lots of air circulation. Store in dry dark conditions.   

Quick Tips

WARNING: When cleaning hot peppers wear gloves, eye protection to prevent the capsaicin (what causes the heat in hot peppers) from irritating or burning the skin, eyes, and lungs.

Life cycle: sensitive perennial usually grown as an annual. 

Pollination: self-pollinating, insect.

Seed maturity: Seeds are mature when the fruits are ready for eating.

Seed life expectancy: 2-4 years.

Isolation distance: 300-1,500 ft.

Population: 1 plant or more




Sunflower

Sunflower seeds can be planted just as you would typically plant them just for show or eating. Just after the last frost date when the soil stays above 10 C. A sunflower is actually made up of large clusters of flowers surrounded by ray flowers (the brightly coloured petals). If pollination is successful each of those tiny flowers will produce a single fruit (each seed). Commercial seed growers sometimes separate seed varieties by 1.6-3.2 Kms.  Sunflower heads may start to drop, don’t worry that’s a good sign. They are just starting to get there seeds and the heads getting bigger that’s all. Once the ray petals drop and the green petals (back of the head) turn to a yellowish brown they are ready to harvest.

     The seeds mature from the outside in and can be harvested that way too by rubbing them gently but firmly with your thumbs. Even though the seeds feel dry they aren’t. You will need to continue to let them dry. You can do this by cutting the stock a few feet from the head and hanging them to dry in a dry, sunny place. I like to harvest the seeds completely from the head and lay them in single layers on a baking sheet and leave them to dry that way. Remember to leave the hard part of the shell intact when storing for seeds. 

     Birds such as blue jays love sunflower seeds. You may even notice them hanging upside down on your sunflower head pecking away. Yes they are eating your seeds. You can purchase Mesh nets or bags at the dollar store, or at some garden centers. I used a large feed bag and tied them with bailing twine. As long as the tiny flowers have all been pollinated and have started setting seeds they will be fine... If not the bees ants and other insects won’t be able to reach the seeds and pollinate them.

Quick Tips

Life cycle- Annual

Pollination- insects

Seed Maturity- seeds are mature when bracts turn yellow and seeds release easily.

Expected seed life- 6 years

Isolation distance- 800 ft. per variety

Population size- 5 plus plants




Tomatoes

You can plant your tomatoes just as you would for eating. They are one of the easiest seed groups to save! The fruits should be harvest at the same time as you would when harvesting for eating. You can tell which tomatoes are ripe because they will change colour usually from green to red, or orange, or yellow, although there are some green varieties. They will also be slightly soft to the touch, where immature tomatoes are quite hard and green. Over ripe but not rotten tomatoes can still be used for seed saving. 

To extract the seeds you really just need to cut the tomato in half and squeeze the seeds and “guts” into a cup or container. The “guts” are the juices and the pulp by the way. If you are working with a lot of seed you might want to just add all the tomatoes (of the same variety) into a big pale and just mash them up. After the seeds are removed you will need to ferment your seeds for 2-3 days. This will remove the gelatinous covering. The gelatinous covering contains germination inhibitors. The seed mixture should be kept in an open container at room temperature; you can put a thin layer of cheese cloth to keep bugs out if you wish. After fermentation add more water to the mixture and agitate it a little bit. This will help the viable seeds settle to the bottom and the poor seeds and gunk to the top. This should be repeated until your viable seeds are cleaned off completely. Once you have rinsed them clean, spread them in a thin layer on a screen or coffee filters. 

Quick Tips

Life cycle: frost sensitive-perennial, usually grown as an annual. 

Pollination: self-pollinating, insect

Seed maturity: Seeds are ready when fruits are ready to be eaten. Harvest as fruits mature.

Seed life expectancy: 4-6 years

Isolation distance: 10-50 ft.

Population: 1 plant or more

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