Harvest heirloom seeds from your garden for planting next season to produce plants that are good candidates to bear fruits, vegetables and flowers true to those of the original parents. Harvesting heirloom seeds does not require a great deal of expertise or effort. It does give the gardener a deeper connection to the success of the garden since the harvesting process is all about selecting the best plants, allowing them to ripen properly and then harvesting the seeds correctly. When heirloom seeds are harvested and planted, the gardener knows the plants harvested will be exactly what are expected.
Select the healthiest plants in the garden that exhibit the characteristics most desired by the gardener.
Harvest only fully mature seeds, as immature seeds will not germinate. Vegetables should not be harvested until about six weeks after they would be harvested for consumption. Do not harvest seeds from plants until the flowers are wilted, dry and faded.
Pick individual fruits and vegetables as they become as over-ripened as possible, before birds or animals begin to eat them. Do not wait for the entire crop to become ready to harvest at one time. Seeds are mature when the color turns from white to cream, or light brown to dark brown.
Utilize the wet process of harvesting seeds in flesh fruits such as tomatoes, melons, squash and cucumbers by scooping out the seed masses in the center and placing them into a bucket or container with enough warm water to generously cover the seed mass.
Allow the mixture to ferment for at least two days. The fermentation process will kill viruses and cause the pulp, mold and bad seed to float to the top of the container. Carefully pour off the layer that has floated to the top, refill the bucket and repeat the process. Harvest the denser, heavier, viable seeds that remain at the bottom of the container.
Harvest seeds from beans and peas by waiting until the plants are fully mature, generally about six weeks after they would be harvested for the table. Use a fingernail to pry open the pod and pour out the seeds or pull up the fiber at the bottom of the pod's seam to open the pod. Plants with pods are mature when the pod turns brown and so dry that the seed can be heard rattling in the pod.