How to Harvest and Store
Seeds from Your Garden
Choosing seeds for the upcoming growing season is one of the best parts of gardening. Flipping through seed catalogs, perusing the seed section at the garden store, and scrolling through countless options online are sure to excite any gardener! But knowing how to harvest and store seeds from your garden adds a whole new level of excitement.
Imagine going through your own seed catalog from last year's plants! We’ll cover everything you need to know so you can grow your favorite plants year after year and even provide food security for you and your loved ones.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid Seeds
You may have noticed that some plants are labeled as an heirloom, and others are hybrids. These classifications matter a lot when it comes to seed saving, so it’s good to know what kind of seeds you have before you start collecting them.
Heirloom varieties are “purebred” plants that have been around for centuries and haven’t had many changes genetically. They’re often associated with home gardeners and indigenous groups because they’ve been grown in small-scale gardens. Heirloom plants are bred with the same variety to stay genetically pure and keep the same traits. When you harvest heirloom seeds, you can expect the same results next year because the seeds are true-to-type.
Hybrid plants are a cross between two heirlooms. Hybrids are popular among commercial growers because the plants are often bred to be disease resistant, grow bigger yields, or be extra hot or sweet, depending on the plant. When you harvest hybrid seeds, they likely will taste different because they lose quality between generations and will eventually stop tasting like the mother plant you first collected seeds. If you want that hybrid plant again, you’ll have to keep growing and breeding the parent plants.
If you want to collect heirloom seeds, isolate the plants from other varieties, so they don’t cross-pollinate and create something new!
How to Obtain Seeds
Obtaining seeds is easy when you know where to find them. You can find seeds in the mature fruits you harvest and eat or on the seed heads after the flowers die. Make sure you know how each of your plants grows!
Getting Seeds from Mature Fruits
Make sure you only harvest seeds from ripe, mature fruits. Harvesting them too early may result in immature seeds with low germination rates. You can still harvest them from overripe fruits that are almost rotting, but your germination rates may vary. When the fruit is ripe enough to eat, it’s ripe enough for seed saving.
Don’t forget that many culinary “vegetables” are fruit, such as peppers, tomatoes, and squash. While you may not think of these things as fruits, they technically are, and that’s where you’ll find the seeds! True vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and onions will develop seeds after flowering.
Getting Seeds from Seedheads
Vegetables and flowers develop seeds after they finish flowering. The timing of their flowering will vary and depends on if they’re annuals, biennials, or perennials.
Annuals complete their lifecycle in one growing season, so you can collect seeds in the same year you planted them. Biennial plants take two years, so if you plant the seeds this year, you’ll have to wait until next year to harvest seeds. Perennials come back year after year, and you can collect seeds once the flowerheads die back and are completely dry.
How to Prep Seeds for Storage
You can’t just throw freshly harvested seeds into a bag; there’s some prep work to do! Seeds need to be clean and dry to prevent mold from growing while they wait to be planted.
After harvesting the seeds, clean them by removing any fruit flesh that may be stuck on them. You can rinse them in water by hand or put them in a fine sieve and then pat them dry.
Once the seeds are clean, lay them on wax paper or a coated paper plate and allow them to dry for up to one week. Keep the seeds out of direct sunlight and avoid humid areas. The seeds must be completely dry before you can pack them away for next year.
Check the seeds daily to make sure mold isn’t growing. Once they’ve dried out, you can choose your storage method and put them away.
How to Store Seeds
There are a few different ways to approach seed storage, so feel free to choose the best option that suits your needs.
Paper envelopes are an easy way to store seeds for a couple of years. Plastic bags can encourage moisture buildup and cause mold, making paper the preferred option by many gardeners. Seal and label the envelope and store it in a cool, dark place.
You can also store seeds in airtight glass jars. This method is great if you have a lot of one type of seed to store. You’ll need to make sure there isn’t any moisture left in the seeds, or you’ll risk growing mold in the jar. Sanitize and dry the jars before using them.
If you want to store seeds for a long time, you can store them in the refrigerator at 35-45°F or freeze them to keep them even longer. Frozen seeds can last up to 10 years, but be sure there isn’t any moisture that could cause your seeds to form an ice block.
Start Saving Seeds with Seed Bank Box
Saving seeds will allow you to have food for next year and improve your gardening abilities. If you need help figuring out where to start, check out our monthly seed box program, which will deliver 8-10 seed varieties to your door each month. If you love gardening and getting mail, this is the subscription for you!
Seed Bank Box subscriptions are an exciting way to discover new plants you might not have chosen otherwise. Grab a box and see what’s inside, and once your seeds have grown and developed mature fruits, you can save those seeds and have more next year!