Lee Reich / AP

Tips for collecting your own seeds for next year

Published: Friday, Sep. 20, 2013 - 11:12 am

September finds me saving seeds of some of this year’s best peppers and flowers to plant in next year’s garden.


Saving my own seeds from year to year gives me a bit of independence from seed companies, which may stop offering certain varieties. It’s also a way to maintain an annual supply of seeds that seed companies never offer, such as some so-called heirloom varieties handed down for generations.

And with a packet often costing more than $3, saving seeds is also economical.

This year, for example, I grew a tomato plant from seeds a friend gave me. Where did my friend get them? From another friend.

Avoid hybrids for saving seeds

Heirloom seeds are from plants whose flowers self-pollinate. Some varieties of vegetables and flowers may not have been around long enough to be called “heirlooms,” but still might be from self-pollinating plants.

Hybrid seeds, in contrast, are produced when the pollen of one selected plant is made to fertilize another selected plant. Hybrid plants often are more robust than their parents.

Producing hybrid seed of a known variety is beyond the capabilities of most gardeners. Male and female plants must be known or chosen, and then pollination must take place without contamination from other plants or even the female plant.

Seeds taken from a hybrid plant will not, when planted, yield plants the same as the parent plant. Take the seeds out of a hybrid sweet pepper, such as Candy Apple, and you will not get Candy Apple fruits on those plants next year.

You must buy hybrid varieties’ seeds if you want those varieties.

Give seeds development time

If you save seeds from your own garden plants, select healthy plants. Let fruits or flowers mature, whether they’re dry pods of bean plants or radish plants, the fruits of pepper or cucumber plants, or dry seed heads of marigolds or zinnias.

Mature pepper fruits generally are red, though some may be yellow or purple; the fruits are very tasty at this point. Mature cucumber fruits are hardly edible, with thick or hard skins and hard seeds. Rinse well and dry the seeds.

No need to do anything with the dry seeds you pop out of radish pods or rub from the heads of marigolds or daisies, except to pack them away. (Botanically, the “pod” of radish or other members of the cabbage family is not a pod, but a siliques, which is a podlike structure with a membrane separating its two halves.)

Cool, dry conditions keep seeds at their best. Small envelopes are good for storing seeds such as pepper and radish. A jar is a good long-term home for larger seeds such as beans and corn.

And next year?

What kinds of plants you end up growing next year will depend on whether the seeds you collect are from hybrid plants, and whether the seeds were from plants that self-pollinate or cross-pollinate.

Cucumbers, for example, have separate male and female flowers, so they readily cross-pollinate. To perpetuate a non-hybrid cucumber variety, either grow the plants in isolation from other cucumber varieties or else bag and hand-pollinate a few female flowers with male flowers on the same plant. A female cucumber or squash flower is easily recognizable by the small fruit at the base of the flower.

The most predictable outcomes from saved seeds will be from those taken from non-hybrid plants that have not cross-pollinated or do not do so readily. Expect some interesting results with the others.

Read more articles by Lee Reich

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