Saving seeds from this year’s crop can save you the money and hassle of buying seeds for next year’s garden. It’s also a practice that can make home gardening more sustainable: If you have a tomato or string bean variety you particularly enjoy, saving some seeds to replant next year can take the guesswork out of selecting which type you’d like to plant in the future. There are some practices, though, that will make saving seeds simpler and more successful.
How to select the right plant to harvest seeds from
Selecting the right types of seeds to save is the first step. Keep in mind that seeds from hybrid vegetable plants won’t necessarily produce the same results as the parent plant. If you’re looking to get the same tomato as the one you planted this year, sticking to “open-pollinated” or “heirloom” varieties rather than “hybrid” will give you the best results. This is because hybrid, also known as F1 plants, are a cross pollination of two different plants with specific traits, while open-pollinated plants, also known as OP, are bred for several generations to produce a predictable result. If you’re up for a surprise, you can try using hybrids, but otherwise, open-pollinated is the way to go.
Another thing to keep in mind is that self-pollinated species like peppers, peas, beans, tomatoes, and eggplant are a better bet for consistency than plants that require cross-pollination. Squash and other vine plants, as well as wind-pollinated plants like corn are more likely to cross-pollinate because they require cross-pollination with another plant rather than providing their own genetic material. Cross-pollination can cause unpredictable results at harvest, although again, if you like surprises, you can certainly give it a shot.
How to harvest your own seeds
Once you’ve chosen some seeds to save, you should harvest a mature fruit from the best-producing and healthiest plant you have and remove the seeds. Plants that are thriving are more likely to have the strongest genetic adaptations, and using their seeds will likely pass those traits along to offspring. Rinse them in a mesh strainer or some cheese cloth, depending on how small the seeds are, and place them on a paper towel or clean cloth to dry. Make sure the seeds dry out completely or they will sprout.
If you want to see how well the seeds will germinate, you can take a few and place them in a plastic ziplock on a wet paper towel and leave them on the windowsill. The rate at which your sample sprouts will be the approximate germination rate of the seeds you store. This can give you some idea of how many seeds in a given batch will sprout and grow into a plant.
How to store your seeds
Once the seeds are dried, you can store them between 32 and 41°F in a sealed mason jar or in a paper envelope. Don’t forget to label your containers so you’ll remember what they are next year when you take them out to plant. You’ll need to keep the temperature consistent to ensure the seeds are healthy when you plant them in the spring.