Growing your own food. It is the basis of homesteading and a big part of why we love homesteading so much.
When we first started gardening, we bought cheap seeds from the store and put them in the ground or bought seedlings that had already grown a little bit. We didn’t know about different kinds of seeds or that some seeds were better suited for saving. Heck, we didn’t even know you could save your own seeds. We thought you just bought seeds from the store every year from whatever looked good on the package.
And let me tell you, I love looking at seed catalogs! When Christmas is over and it is still snowy outside, I love to order new seed catalogs and dream of spring!
But now we are in a seed crisis! Did you know that in the last century, 94% of seed varieties have been lost. Big companies have gotten rid of most of the seed “gene pool” because they didn’t work for large operations. This means that they didn’t look as pretty or do as well in storage as the other seeds.
But as backyard gardeners, we don’t need those things. We are going after taste, and heirloom varieties almost always taste better than their store bought counterparts.
So now that we have been doing this for several years, we have researched which seeds to grow and why. We want to grow the best food and be more efficient in our gardening from year to year. Seed saving is the way to do just that!
Why save your seeds?
- Save money-by saving your seeds each year, you won’t have to buy seeds for that plant, which will save you money.
- Save certain varieties-as discussed above, by saving your seeds you can keep that variety from going extinct.
- Emergency Preparedness-in case of a long term emergency, you can grow food for your family from saved seeds.
- Better plants-if you only save the best seeds, you will end up with a strain of plants that grows best in your area.
- You can save and trade with other gardeners-seeds make great gifts and if you work with other gardeners you can all reap the benefits of many types of seeds.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid Seeds:
You only want to save seeds from heirloom (or heritage) seeds. These are seeds that have been used for many generations without modification. Hybrid seeds are made in a laboratory by scientists who have taken the best traits of several seeds and put them together to make a better seed for a certain trait. This could be a pretty fruit or one that functions better in certain climates. These are not GMO seeds, but they will not produce true seed in the 2nd generation. You ALWAYS want to use heirloom seeds for seed saving.
How do you save seeds?
The best seeds to start with for beginner seed saving are self-pollinating plants. These plants don’t share pollen with other plants, and therefore they stay pure from year to year.
For wet seeds, you need to allow the fruit to go to maturity or a little past. Then you wash off the seeds and dry them out on a flat surface until they are completely dry. This will take several weeks.
For dry seeds, you leave them on the vine as long as possible. Then shell them (as in the case with beans) and let them dry longer to make sure the moisture is out of them before storing.
We have provided a template to make your own seed packets for storage. You can print them out on different colors of paper to make them unique. Click the button below to access the free download. Don’t forget to write the name and date of the seeds for future use.
What are the best plants to start with?
- Summer Squash
Things to watch out for:
- Don’t save all of your seeds from the same plant. You want to spread the seeds over several plants to make sure they don’t have the same genes.
- You want to pick the best varieties of the fruits of the plant to seed save. That way you can perpetuate plants that do well in your area.
- Don’t wait until the end of the season to seed save, just in case there is an early frost or inclement weather that destroys the end of your harvest.
- Cross-pollinating plants will cross with their own species. So if you put 2 of the same species of cross-pollenating plants near each other, you may get seeds that have qualities of both plants. This can keep next year’s seeds from being pure to the plant you had that year. So don’t plant sweet corn near popcorn, zucchini near pumpkin, etc.
How do you store seeds?
- Make sure they are completely dry before you store them.
- You can use the thumbnail test to see if they are dry enough for storage. If they are indented when you press your thumbnail into the seed, it isn’t dry enough.
- Pick the prettiest, true to form seeds for seed saving.
- Store your dry seeds in an mason jar with a tight canning lid.
- Keep in a cool, dry place on a low shelf.
- Label seeds with the name and date.
- You can also keep seed in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer.
- As a general rule, seeds save for 2-3 years for optimal viability. After that, you can still plant them but some of them may not germinate.
Seed Saving Resources:
How to Save and Store Your Heirloom Garden Seed by Melissa K Norris
Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth
Seed Saving by Caleb Warnock
Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook by howtosaveseeds.com
Seed saving is an advanced gardening skill that takes some time to master. You may use this article and the resources above to get started. I recommend starting with beans first, since these are usually the easiest seeds to save.
Just start with one kind of plant at a time and grow your knowledge each year. You can do this! And just think how proud you will be when you don’t have to buy that seed next year!
What kinds of seeds do you like to save? Please let us know in the comments below. Thanks!