If you find a variety of plant that grows well in your garden, it’s natural that you would want to continue growing it. This is where seed saving comes in.
Why keep paying for seeds year after year when you can get them for free!
Different plants reproduce in different ways, but as a rule, any flowering plant will produce seeds.
This is an overview guide to seed saving. For individual guides to saving seeds for a variety of plants and vegetables, check out the links below.
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Why Seed Saving is Important
Seed saving is important for many reasons.
First, it is a cheap and reliable method for you to keep producing plants year after year.
Another reason is biodiversity. By keeping different varieties growing and reproducing we can keep our planets rich plant life diverse, which is good for both us and our ecosystem.
With modern selective breeding and genetic modification, there is the danger that only a few varieties will be left available in the future.
You may have heard of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway. This vault is built into a glacier and is designed to keep many varieties of seeds safe in case of a global disaster. However, if the knowledge of seed growing and storage is lost, this effort may be in vain.
The best way to keep seeds in case of an emergency is to grown them, year after year, to ensure you are capable of producing crops and saving your seeds properly.
What Seeds Can Be Saved?
While any seeds can be saved, you will get the best results from open pollinated and heirloom varieties. This is because they are bred naturally to produce consistent seeds.
- Related Articles: Open Pollinated vs Hybrid vs Heirloom Seeds
The seeds will always produce plants that are like the parent plant, and in this way you can find varieties that suit your soil and climate and successfully grow them every year.
You can try saving hybrid seeds, but I would go for organic as they may not grow if they have been chemically treated. If you’re in doubt and you have the space, you can always try the hybrid seeds to see how they’ll grow.
The main problem with hybrid seeds is that they will be from two (or more) different lines. This means you can’t be sure what your seeds will produce until they have grown.
In the case of Halloween pumpkins, for example, you may find half your crop produce large green pumpkins, while the other half produce small yellow ones.
You can also save seeds from the wild. If you see a grass or flower you like, you can always grab a few seeds to see if you can grow them at home.
How to Save Seeds
Each plant produces seeds in different ways, therefore how you save them will depend on the plant.
Some seeds, like peas and sweet corn, will dry on the plant and so you simply leave them until the leaves go papery. Then store those seeds as necessary.
Other plants, like some root vegetables, tend to seed in their second year. This means leaving some in the ground until they flower and form seeds.
Plants like cucumbers generally have to be left until the fruit is beyond edible for the seeds for form properly. So pick some to leave specifically for seed saving purposes.
- Related Article: How to Save Tomato Seeds
How to Store Saved Seeds
Seeds are best stored somewhere cool, dark and dry. Seeds don’t like fluctuations in humidity or temperature.
The seeds’ shelf life will depend on the type of seed. Here are some examples of various seeds and how long they can be stored:
- Carrot:1 year
- Bean: 3-5 years
- Beetroot: 2-3 years
- Brassica: 3-7 years
- Lettuce: 2-5 years
- Onion: 3 years
- Parsnip: 2 years
- Green Pea: 5 years
- Pepper: 5 years
- Tomato: 8 years
- Cucumber: 10 years
- Melon: 10 years
You can freeze seeds, although this method requires the seeds to be very dry, as any water will expand and crack the seed. It is usually easier and more reliable to just store them in a cupboard in your house.
If you have an old packet of seeds outside the standard shelf life, it’s always worth seeing if they germinate before throwing them out.
To do this, place a couple of seeds on some damp paper towel. Loosely wrap it in plastic wrap so it stays damp, and place somewhere warm. If, in a few days, they haven’t sprouted, then the seeds are no good.
Final Thoughts on Seed Saving
Seed saving is a rewarding and cost effective practice. You will gain delight out of knowing exactly where your seeds have come from, as well as having the practical knowledge of how to grow your plants.
There is something very special about witnessing generations of plants grow. And your friends and family will benefit from the surplus of plants that you will inevitably have every year!
FAQs Frequently Asked Questions
What are the easiest seeds to save?
There are many plants that are easy to save seeds for, but I would say one of the easiest is peas. You simply leave a few peas on the plant until the pods turn papery and brown. Then pop the seeds out and into an envelope or paper bag. They can last for up to 5 years, sometimes even longer!
Is it legal to save seeds?
Yes, it is legal to save seeds that are wild, open pollinated or heirloom varieties. The only seeds that are illegal to save are ones that are owned by a large corporation. This usually only applies to farmers that buy GMO seeds. They are not allowed to save those seeds, but instead must buy new seeds each year from the corporation. Seed saving in factory farming is actively discouraged.
How long do seeds last?
How long seeds last depends on the plant, but a rough guide is 2-5 years for most varieties. This is based on seeds that are properly harvested and stored. Some seeds will be last for a shorter or longer time. For example, carrot seeds only last one year, whereas cucumber and melons can last for up to 10 years.
Why are hybrid seeds bad?
Hybrid seeds are not ideal seeds to save because hybrids are a mix of two selectively bred lines. Hybrid seeds will not produce plants that are the same as the parent plant where the seeds came from.
Is it better to buy plants or seeds?
Buying plants or seeds depends on personal preference. Open pollinated and heirloom varieties are usually sold as seeds, but growing from seed is more work than buying plants.
Will 20 year old seeds grow?
20 year old seeds will probably not grow if not stored well. Seeds can stay alive and come back to life as long as they are well cared for. You can try them.
What seeds should be soaked before planting?
All seeds can be soaked before planting, but it’s not necessarily beneficial to all seed sizes. Larger seeds are more appropriate for soaking, while smaller seeds aren’t.
Seeds should be soaked before planting because it increases the oxygen and moisture attained in soils, two things that are integral to plant growth. The benefit to presoaking seeds is it will speed up the germination process. That leads to plants growing faster.
To soak, put the seeds in a bowl of water for 24-48 hours before being planted outside or inside a container.