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How to Collect Vegetable Seeds

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How to Collect Vegetable Seeds

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Dry beans in the pods. image by Irish_Eyes: morguefile.com

Overview

Saving vegetable seeds insures you will have just the seeds you want when it comes time to plant next year's garden. How you collect and dry those seeds depends on the type of vegetable. Fleshy fruits like melons and eggplant require steeping the seeds in water before drying; while seeds like lentils can be dried on the vine using the dry method. With a little patience and time, you can save seeds from your garden, eliminating the need to rely on commercial seed companies.

Plant Selection

Step 1

Select a vigorous disease-free plant with abundant fruit for seed production. Hybrid varieties (those that have been crossbred from two or more varieties to develop the desired traits) may not germinate or may produce fruit that is significantly different from the original. You may discover some interesting varieties if you collect seeds from hybrids, but do not expect it to match the size, color or flavor of the original. Keep in mind that you want to save seeds from plants that exhibit the traits you wish to encourage. Consider blooming time, size and flavor of the fruit, and its resistance to disease.

Step 2

Allow the plant to bloom and set fruit naturally while providing the water and nutrient needs of the plant. To produce healthy seeds, you must maintain the health of the plant.

Step 3

Leave fruit on the plant to ripen fully before picking.

Dry Method

Step 1

Dry vegetables like beans, peas and other legumes on the vine. Pods shrivel and become brittle when seeds are dry. If fall frost threatens, pull the plant by the roots and hang upside down in a cool well-ventilated area.

Step 2

Remove pods and shell by hand. Spread seeds on a screen or layer on newspaper to dry completely if moisture remains.

Step 3

Store in an airtight container. Zippered food storage bags make convenient storage containers if you have a few seeds. Label the container at the time of storage.

Wet Method

Step 1

Pick fleshy vegetables, such as like squash, pumpkin, cucumbers and tomatoes, when ripe. Cut the fruit open and remove the mass of seeds.

Step 2

Place the seeds in a jar or bucket of warm water and allow to ferment for three to four days. Stir the contents daily to hasten the process. Fermentation kills viruses and separates the seeds from the pulp. Viable seed will sink to the bottom, while pulp and bad seed will float to the top. Some mold or scum is expected and will not harm the seeds.

Step 3

Skim off the pulp and scum at the top of the jar and drain the seeds. Retain seeds from the bottom of the jar and dry on a screen, newspaper or paper towels in a dry, well-ventilated area.

Step 4

Store in an airtight container. For only a few seeds, zippered food storage bags make convenient storage containers. Label the container at the time of storage.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid waiting until the end of the season to gather seeds. Plants that fruit late in the season are likely to produce seed with that trait. Always check if your seed is a hybrid variety before attempting to save seeds.

Things You'll Need

  • Newspaper/paper towel
  • Screen (optional)
  • Airtight containers
  • Permanent marker
  • Jar or bucket
  • Warm water

References

  • University of Illinois Extension
  • University of Wisconsin Extension Specialist
  • Mother Earth News

Who Can Help

  • Saving Seed (List of Specific Vegetables)
Keywords: save seeds, gathering vegetable seeds, saving vegetable seeds

About this Author

Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with more than four years' experience in online writing. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in teaching 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.

Photo by: Irish_Eyes: morguefile.com