You’ve sown it, grown it and harvested it. But how can you take your vegetable growing one step further? Easy: by saving your own seed from this year’s crops to sow next season. When you come to think about it, saving seed is the ultimate in self-sufficiency. It’ll save you money, closes the loop on your growing but, above all, it’s delightfully satisfying. So here’s how to do it...
Best Vegetables for Seed Saving
Some vegetables are easier to save seed from than others. Especially suitable candidates include peas and beans, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce, which can all be saved at the same time they are harvested or very soon afterwards.
Some biennial crops, such as onions, shallots, leeks, carrots, beetroot and chard are also worth saving, though you’ll need to overwinter a few plants from one season to flower and set seed the next.
...And the Worst Vegetables for Seed Saving
Avoid saving seeds from the cabbage family. These plants readily cross-pollinate with other members of the same family, so you’re unlikely to get what you hoped for.
Saving seed from F1 hybrids won’t work either, which because they are created from two separate parent varieties simply won’t come true to type. For this reason only ever save the seeds of traditional, open-pollinated varieties. F1 hybrids should include ‘F1’ in the variety name on the seed packet.
Saving Bean & Pea Seeds
OK, so let’s begin with the easiest of the lot: peas and beans! As the end of the season approaches leave some pods to dry out on the plant. You’ll be able to see and feel the beans swelling within their pods. They’re ready to pick and collect when the pods themselves turn leathery or crisp to the touch.
You can get a lot of seeds from just a few plants, which makes saving these seeds very worthwhile indeed. Shell the pods to reveal the beans or peas inside, then discard any very small, misshapen or damaged seeds. Save only the best clean seeds. Spread them out onto newspaper to dry out on a warm windowsill for seven to ten days.
Broad beans can cross-pollinate with other varieties, so only save seeds from these beans if you are growing just one variety.
Saving Lettuce Seeds
Lettuces produce literally thousands of seeds on each seed head. You may find you need to stake the plants as they stretch out to flower. Once the plant displays its fluffy seed heads, pull it out of the ground and hang it upside down indoors to dry. After a few weeks like this the seed heads can be rubbed between the palms of your hands to coax the seeds free.
As with any vegetable, it’s important to choose the very best plants to collect seed from. This way you will actively select for those plants that perform the strongest and are best suited to the conditions in your garden.
Saving Pepper & Tomato Seeds
The seeds of tomatoes and peppers are ready when the fruits themselves are good for eating. Wait until sweet peppers and chillies show their mature colour, then simply scrape away the seeds from the pith. Spread the seeds out on paper to dry out for a week or more before storing.
Before drying and storing tomato seeds, the pulp around them must first be removed. This isn’t difficult but there is a specific process to do this correctly. See our video and article How to Prepare and Store Seeds from Your Tomato Plants for more on this.
Saving Onion & Leek Seeds
Onions, leeks and shallots set seed in their second year. These plants cross-pollinate, so you’ll need to overwinter more than one plant of the same variety to flower the following season. The flowers are beautiful though, and provide welcome food for local bees and other pollinators.
The seed heads are definitely ready once they have dried out and can be flaked off into a bag for cleaning and sorting. But if you need the space, you can hurry things along by cutting the heads a little earlier. First check the seeds are ready by opening up a seed pod to observe the seeds inside. If they are black then you are good to go.
Leave the seed heads to dry out in a warm, well-ventilated place such as a greenhouse. Once they’ve turned a straw colour, simply rub the seed heads between your fingers to release the seeds.
How to Store Saved Seeds
Dry seeds can be cleaned before storing by carefully blowing away any remaining chaff, or separating out the seeds through a series of screens or sieves. Seeds should be stored in paper envelopes labelled with the variety and date. Store them somewhere cool, dry and dark until you’re ready to sow in spring.
Saving these vegetable seeds isn’t challenging and it’s amazing how many seeds you can get from just a few plants. If you save seeds we’d love to hear your top tips for doing so – don’t be shy, please drop us a comment below!