The process of collecting and saving seeds is a powerful act, igniting a cascade of positive change. On one hand, it might seem like saving seeds is the simplest way to grow your garden for free (which it is), but it’s also the best way to ensure diversity in our land and foodscapes. Here are some easy tips for harvesting seeds.
Where to Begin
The simplest place to begin when harvesting seeds is with flowers and fruits that are dry when mature, like these scarlet runner beans. You can see the fruit (in this case a bean pod) is parched and papery and long past the point of eating straight off the vine.
Store and save seeds like these scarlet runner beans for cooking later in the season (just like a pinto bean) and set aside a handful for planting out in spring and for sharing with friends.
Harvesting and saving seeds is a process that’s truly as simple as it looks.
Here’s What You Do
- Let a handful of beans dry on the plant or vine (refrain from eating them all when they’re green – you can do it).
- Harvest whole pods or flower heads to keep it simple.
- Place in a paper bag, envelope, or another dry, out-of-the-sun location where beans can continue to dry.
- When you have a minute, separate seeds from the other plant parts.
- In the case of bean pods, open along the sides or sutures.
- Have a collecting jar or another air-tight container handy for seed storing.
- Place jarred seeds in a cool, dark location until you’re ready to use or until it’s planting time.
- Note, it’s generally best not to freeze seeds but place them where temperatures are consistently cool. However, there are exceptions.
- So, get to know your seeds and the plants you’re growing because some need scarification or freezing to germinate and grow again.
More Seed Saving Tips
This dried flower head (above) is what it looks like when the seeds are ready. You can see the seed head, what was the flower, is primed to come apart and fall to the ground. You can save these seeds or, depending on your climate, let them volunteer.
Methods for Gathering Seeds
- Larger seeds are easily grasped by hand. I often take some and leave the rest.
- Or, remove the flowering stalk and place the entire stalk with flower in a bag, jar or envelope. Once in enclosed environment seeds can be shaken free. This is particularly helpful when working with smaller seeds and seeds in capsules or follicles like with poppies or delphiniums.
- Let the chaff fall away or not. Bits of flower parts won’t affect seed viability as long as they’re dry and completely free of moisture.
What To Do About Volunteers
Many flowers produce dry seeds and fruits, again like the calendula in the above photograph. It volunteers or self sows in my garden. But, I generally don’t hedge my bets for volunteers each season, so I collect seeds when they’re mature to plant the succeeding crop the following season or to share with friends and neighbors.
Types of Seeds
Harvesting seeds with fleshy fruits like tomatoes or cucumbers is more involved. See How to Collect and Save Tomato Seeds to get started or stick with the basics for now.
Gather seeds from heirloom or open-pollinated plants. Organic is a good rule of thumb too. Read Seeds 101 | Seed Selection & Terminology to learn more.
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*This article was originally published in September of 2015.