Seed saving is one of the lost arts to many modern gardeners. It's my aim to change that. Learning how to seed save is one of the most important skills you can do for you self-reliance, preparedness, and frugal nature. It's also an important tradition we're in danger of losing.
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We've been saving our own bean seed for over a hundred years as far as I can tell. Seed saving is something I love to talk about.
You can only successfully save heirloom garden seed. I recommend Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds if you're looking for heirloom seed.
Reasons to seed save are no cost for garden seed, it's frugal ya'all! It's the only way to be self-reliant, prepared and what the pioneers used. It keeps us from being dependent on stores. Did I mention it's free? Yeah, I kind of love that. But more importantly I love the taste of heirloom seeds.
Want to know the real difference between heirloom, hybrid, and GMO seeds? Here's my intro on Heirloom Garden seed. You can also get my free e-book Heirloom Gardening Guide-Plant to Save Money here. Can you tell I'm a little bit in love with heirloom seeds?
Don't know if your seed is heirloom? Just put the name of you variety in Google and see if it's heirloom or hybrid.
Hybrid seed is usually sterile, or if you do get it to sprout, the harvest won't taste right, grows stunted or unlike the plant it was saved from.
Reader Question of the week: How do you save pea and cucumber seeds?
Answer: You save peas the same way you do bean seed. Cucumber seeds need to be fermented, following the steps for tomatoes below. However, cucumbers will cross-pollinate so if you didn't take measures to keep them from cross-pollinating, you may get a new variety when planting next spring.
To save seed you need to let it get overripe and go past the point you'd eat it at. Let it get mature.
Bean and tomatoes are self-pollinating plants for the most part. You don't have to worry about cross-pollination with seed saving. I still separate two kinds of white beans if planting in the same garden space. Here are pictures on stages and how to save bean seed.
You can pull up the bean vines to continue drying and maturing if a big rain or hard frost is coming. Otherwise allow them to mature and dry on the vine. You can hand shell the beans (this is the method we do). Bean should be hard. If your fingernail makes a mark, it needs to continue drying. You can store beans in the dry pod in a bucket in a dark cool place, but you run the greater risk of mold, so be sure to check periodically.
To let seeds dry put on a rimmed cookie sheet and allow them to dry out of direct sunlight. Seeds should not be touching. If seeds are allowed to reach 95 degrees or higher, they'll no longer be viable. If you have high humidity, you can put a fan on low on the seeds for the first day or so.
Some people like to store their seeds in the freezer. We did not have luck with this method. Plus, if you lose power, your seeds may thaw and have too much moisture if you're not ready to plant right away.
We store our seeds in a glass jar on the pantry shelf, out of the light and away from moisture.
For tomato and cucumber seeds you need to ferment them. Seeds that are in really wet plants have a special gel to keep them from germinating or sprouting while inside the tomato or cucumber. Fermenting breaks down this coating and also kills any seed borne diseases or bacteria.
Cut your tomato in half. Scoop out with a spoon or your hand the seeds and the gelatin-like coating surrounding them, they'll be wet and sticky. Place in a clean glass jar. I use these Fido jars without the rubber gasket. You can also use a Mason jar and cover it with cheesecloth or plastic wrap with holes. It needs oxygen to ferment. However, if not using the Fido jar it will stink and you might want to store in the garage.
Stir the seeds once a day. Look for bubbles and mold. Once mold covers the entire surface of the seeds (can take between 1 and 5 days, mine took 3 days this year), pour water into the container. The good seeds will sink to the bottom, the hollow seeds and the rest of the ick will float to the top. Pour off the junk, being careful not to pour out the tomato seeds. Continue doing this until they're clean.
Put seeds in a fine mesh wire sieve and rinse well. Use an absorbent towel and then place seeds on a high gloss plate or rimmed cookie sheet. Be sure they're not touching. Stir every few hours the first day with your fingers, then once a day.
Make sure to label each variety of seed your saving. Only save seed from healthy plants. Be sure to save seed from several plants. You'll eventually create a garden of your best producing and tasting plants, completely tailored to you and your growing climate!
Do you seed save? I'd love to hear any stories about your seeds that you've been saving.
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8 Foods You Should Be Storing - Best Preparedness
[…] make sure and have heirloom seed (non-hybridized bean seed) in order for this to work. Here’s my info on seed saving and heirloom gardening. Beans can be used in multiple dishes. I make this easy and frugal bean and ham soup and these 10 […]
Maria @Ten at the Table
What about peppers? Thanks! 🙂
Do you mean saving the pepper seed? You always want mature fruit when saving the seed. Clean the seeds of all debris and dry fully before saving.
I know how to save seed on everything except brassla plants:broccoli, cabbage,etc If you know how I’d sure love to hear!
I don’t have personal experience in that, but I’ll see if I can find someone who does to interview for a future podcast! I believe Scott does and you could ask him in the webinar tonight during the live Q&A
When saving carrot seeds beware how many carrots you let go to seed. I let three carrots go to seed. Way too many, I now have hundreds of carrot seeds already harvested and more ready to harvest.
Good tip, Cheryl! My lettuce is going to seed like crazy now!
Would love your books but it wouldn’t let me enter?
I would like to buy some hierlome speckled beans…can you advise me where to buy?
This really help me out. I’m starting to save seed this year. With your help I thank I can do this. Thank you God Bless you.
How to Start a Garden on a Budget | Tenth Acre Farm
[…] Saving your own seeds is a really rewarding experience. How amazing would it be to start off spring planting with your own seeds that you saved from your own plants? This is a worthwhile skill to learn that doesn’t cost you a thing! Check out Seed Saving 101 and How to Save Garden Seed (podcast). […]
Hey, Melissa! Great article. I am confused about something… I want to grow scarlet runner beans for use as a dry bean, and I know to leave the bean on the vine until it is fully mature and dry, but I always thought to keep a bean vine productive, one should harvest the young beans often. So if we leave them on the vine, won’t this signal to the vine to stop producing? thanks for any advice on this
Hi Chrissy, I will harvest some of the beans as they begin to mature to cook fresh, that way it still produces and we’re getting fresh beans to the table. Towards the end of the season I leave the majority of them.
Hi, planted 2 scarlet runner’s this summer and I have found a few pods that completely dried on the vine and was wondering if i can A, eat them after being shelled, and B, keep the seeds to plant next year? Thank you.
Yes to both, they can be used as a dried bean or as seed
Thanks Melissa for all the great information you give. Quick question on seed saving. For the plants which you save seeds from , do you grow them in a different area, or do you just leave a few plants at the ends of the rows to mature into seeds?
When seed saving you need to save from multiple plants to ensure genetic diversity. I’ll leave a few from each plant to mature and no different planting spots.