Trott column: Seed saving for beginners

Robin Trott
Robin Trott

ALEXANDRIA — Why would anybody go to the trouble of saving seeds? Sometimes seeds are in short supply, or maybe there is one particular variety you like, but you have trouble finding it each year.

Saving seed is easy and you will always have a supply of your favorite flower and vegetable varieties.

It is important to know that not all varieties are suitable for seed saving. If the variety you want to save is a hybrid, seeds from that plant will not reproduce genetically true. To avoid this, choose heirloom varieties. Heirlooms will produce offspring that are identical to the parent.

To harvest seeds, wait until the fruit is ripe and the seeds are mature. Tomatoes are easy—everybody knows when they are ripe. But fruits of some plants are enjoyed before they are fully ripe. For example, we eat cucumbers when they are green, but to harvest seeds, let them turn yellow. Most peppers tend to turn red when they are fully ripe.

Be selective and save seeds from only the best plants or fruits.


For plants such as peas and beans, preparing the seeds for saving is simply a matter of separating the seed from the plant and letting them dry. The best way to accomplish this is to dry seeds on small frames with a nylon mesh screen. The screen allows air to circulate freely around the seeds, and keeps them from developing mold. Let the seeds sit in a cool, dry area for about one week before storing.

Some seeds require slightly more work. Tomatoes and cucumbers have wet seeds coated with a gel which contains germination inhibitors that prevent the seed from sprouting. Place the gel and seeds into a small jar about half full of water. Swish the seeds and water around for a minute or two, then place the jar in a cool location to settle. Continue to shake the jar a few times a day for three to four days, then strain the solution through a fine mesh, leaving the seeds. Rinse away any remaining gel and dry the seeds on your mesh screen for at least one week.

To store seeds after they are dry, package them in paper envelopes and label them. Plastic bags can trap moisture inside the bag and can foster mold or even induce germination.

In addition to labeling the seeds with the variety name you may want to include any other information you have about the parent plant.

As you are wrapping up your summer garden, try saving a few seeds. You will save money, preserve favorite heirloom varieties, and enjoy the satisfaction of growing plants entirely on your own!


“When life hands you dirt plant seeds.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

Robin Trott is a horticulture educator with University of Minnesota Extension. Contact her at 320-762-3890, or at trot0053@umn.

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