Seed Saving: Where to Start

Whether you’re new to seed saving or want to brush up on the practice, these seed saving basics are a smart place to start.

Gardening starts with planning

If you want to save seed from your garden, understanding basic concepts when you are planning your garden will make seed saving much easier.

Read our garden planning basics

Know whether your parent plant is a hybrid or open-pollinated variety.

Hybrids, which are created by crossing plants of two different varieties, generally do not produce offspring with the same traits as the parent plant. Seeds saved from open-pollinated varieties, on the other hand, will produce plants identical to the parent. Heirloom seeds, which Seed Savers Exchange sells, are open-pollinated varieties with a history of being handed down from generation to generation.

Know your plants’ specific name (genus and species).

Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen between plants. To save pure seed, you want to prevent cross-pollination between two different varieties in the same species. Planting just one variety in a species will help ensure you save pure seed.

If you know your plants’ scientific name, you will know which ones may cross-pollinate.

For example, the squash commonly grown in the Seed Savers Exchange gardens could fall into one of three species: Cucurbita maxima, C. moschata, and C. pepo. These species won’t typically cross-polinate. On the other hand, Brassica oleracea includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, and kohlrabi, all plants you might think wouldn’t cross-pollinate, but actually do. Read up on the cross-pollination habits of the plants you are saving seeds from to ensure you won’t run into issues.

Know how your plants pollinate.

Understanding how garden plants are pollinated will help you prevent cross-pollination. Some plants will self-pollinate before the flowers are even open, making them less susceptible to cross-pollination. Examples of “selfers” are tomatoes, peas, and beans, On occasion, insects can cross-pollinate selfers. Plants that are insect-pollinated (squash or cucumbers) or wind pollinated (corn and spinach) are more likely to cross-pollinate.

Understand market maturity vs. seed maturity.

Some fruits are market mature, or ready for eating, long before the seed is mature. Examples of this include cucumbers, eggplants, peas, beans, and cabbage. Take into consideration spacing and timing when planning your garden for seed saving. For example, imagine a carrot-- you pull this sweet root out of the ground after about two months, and there is not much plant showing above ground. However, the seed is not mature for harvest at this point. The carrot plant must grow for a longer period so that the seed can reach the proper maturity. When you harvest the seed, a carrot plant can be up to four feet tall and one year old.

For beginners, keep it simple.

Remember, some plants are easier to save seeds from than others. Saving seed from “selfers” is a good way to get started. There are ways to prevent cross-pollination, but if you’re just starting out, planting just one variety per species, can ensure your seed has not cross-pollinated.

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