Monday, February 11, 2013

Seed Collecting And Storage

"I sure enjoy your blog! I am learning little by little how to grow my own garden. I grew up with my grandfather and my uncle having a big garden to feed the whole family.Somehow, I never learned before they passed away. I have been canning tomatoes on my own, but learning from you I am branching out to canning other things more. I am almost 50 years old, and it is never too late to learn.:) I have a question (request)....would you consider doing a post on how to choose, collect,package, organize and store your seeds? I am very interested in doing this, but have no idea where to begin.Thanks so much for teaching me.:)Thanks, PhyllisSouthern Arkansas"

Dear Phyllis

I am so glad you enjoy this blog and welcome to Hickery Holler! I have in the past mentioned seeds here and there but would be happy to touch on this for you. It is kind of the wrong time of the year because most gardeners concentrate on collecting seeds in the autumn but as you say it is never too late.  

Seed collecting and saving is a very important part of my gardening life. If I bought all the seeds for the vegetables I plant it would cost me hundreds every year. By saving seeds it allows me to plant much more at a substantial savings each year therefore cutting down on the expense connected with gardening and producing part of my own food, cover crops and animal food. Neither do I save everything that I plant. I still purchase new seeds that I would like to experiment with and any hybrid seeds that will not come back true if saved.   

How To Choose

First of all to get started purchase open pollinated or heirloom seeds of those vegetables that you would like to grow. Experiment with varieties that grow well in your area. When you find a variety you like the taste of that grows well for you save those seeds. It's just that simple. When I save tomato seeds I try to save the biggest, sweetest tomatoes in the field with the healthiest plants in the field. That way hopefully I am passing all those positive traits on to the next generation of seeds that I am collecting. I love that red zinnia flower above therefore I saved plenty of seeds from it last year. That way I can plants lots of red flowers next year.  
Just remember open pollinated or heirloom because most hybrids will not come back true.  

How To Collect

Most plants will naturally set seeds and all you will have to do is collect them. Above are purple coneflowers ( a perennial). I planted these seeds years ago from seeds and now they set seeds every year on their own. See how the flower has turned brown and gotten sort of crunchy. It is now a seed head ready to be collected. If I choose to collect and save them I can but instead I leave them for the yellow finches to dine on since they love them. The easiest way to collect them is to cut the stem and put the flower head in a paper bag and  usually you can just shake the bag and the seeds will fall out into the bag. Sometimes you have to crush the flower to get the seeds to come out.   

Above are Bok Choy flowers. When I picked my Bok Choy I deliberately left 2 plants in my garden and allowed them to go to seed. This helped to attract beneficial insects with their flowers but also allowed me to collect the seeds once the flowers dried up and became seed pods. This allows me to have a large amount of Bok Choy seed to plant next year. Once the seed pods were harvested then I pulled the remaining plants up and composted them. 

This is Dill and like the Bok Choy above I allow it to seed freely in my flower bed. I collect the leaves and dry it for dill weed to use as an herb. The flowers I allow to set seeds.  

Some of the seeds I then pick when they become dry and they are saved not only as seeds but also as the herb that is used to make dill pickles. I allow some seeds to stay on the bush and fall naturally to the ground and self seed for the following year. 

Everyone has those giant zucchini at the back of the bush that you miss when picking. Those are the greatest ones to save seeds from. Simply split the fruit and scoop the seeds out. If collecting seeds from vegetables you want that vegetable to be very mature. For instance summer squash are best eaten when picked very young and immature, for seeds you would want that fruit to stay on the bush and get really too large for eating but great for seeds. 

Once my seeds are collected notice that I have them in pie plates with wax paper laying on my seed shelves to dry. This is the lighted shelves that I use to start my seedlings on but it makes great drying shelves for next years seeds.  I just label the wax paper in the corner as to what each seed is and  let them dry naturally.  

Some seeds like beans and peas I simply allow to dry naturally on the bush. I plant an extra row just for next years seeds. When they get crunchy and turn brown and dry then  I pick them and either shell them by hand or if they are really dry the shells will simply just fall apart.

How To Package

After my seeds are dried really well then I find whatever container they will fit in and that is what I use. I remember my parents having old pillow cases of flower, bean and corn seeds hanging in the top of the shed. I am sure there is someone somewhere that will tell you that you have to have special envelopes or bags, climate control or refrigeration, humidity control and a special blessing from the Pope,  etc.........

I feel the garden police closing in!!!!! They're gonna confiscate my trowel and hoe if I'm not careful : )

Then I just put them on the bottom (coolest darkest corner) of my pantry in my sealed containers. Mayo jars, yogurt cups, peanut butter jars of peas beans and various vegetable seeds all languishing in the cool corner of my dark pantry. Lions and tigers and bears...oh my! They keep there for years so that's how I am going to keep on doing it. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  Find what works for you!!!    

How To Organize

Does this look like organization to anyone out there? I know what everything is and the year it was collected. I guess you could keep a notebook with plant descriptions etc but I just keep it all in my head. I'm just that kind of gardener. This blog is a wonderful way of recording the information for me as well. 

Now my recipes are a different story and are organized down to the last rice kernel. 

Please don't judge me!

Spinach setting flowers.

Potatoes setting seeds


 Asparagus setting seeds

  Hope this helps. If not my best advice would be to find a good book on seed saving there are several out there. Most overall gardening books will have a section on saving seeds. Experiment, have fun, and if you don't know if it is a hybrid or not save the seeds anyway. What's the worst that could happen? They don't come up true but you might get something really cool. That's my biggest beef with the new garden/back to the land movement, everything is just so life threatening and serious. Everybody has the RIGHT way to garden.  Just learn to love gardening and have fun with it. Find the points that work for you from the different gardening philosophies and stick with them until you find something better. The zombies aren't here yet and nobody is going to give you an exam at the end of this post or ever. Nobody ever died from saving the wrong seed. 

Don't be afraid to break the rules: )

Everyone will tell you that fruit trees can't be started from seeds. You have to order special hybrid, grafted expensive fruit trees to really have good fruit.  

Just don't tell my peach trees that. Almost all of them  were started from seeds!

And this is why the garden police are gonna show up on my front door step one day.  

Hugs To you all !



  1. What a timely and helpful post. I have purchased all heirloom seeds this year and plan to save my own seeds. Your post has given me so much important information that I feel confident I can do the job.

    My granny passed away before she was able to pass on all her farming knowledge to me (she did teach me to knit and crochet and sew). My mother was not the least bit interested in gardening or farming or....well a lot of things that I wished she had been able to teach me. What you do on this blog is important.... thank you for being willing to share it.

    By the way, I embarked on my little homesteading life at retirement at age 62. I am now 67 and the learning curve has been steep but fun and very satisfying.

  2. Excellent post, and right on time so folks will remember to buy heirloom/OP varieties so they CAN save the seeds. :-D I have a question: I know that tomatoes must be fermented to get that growth inhibiting gel off them, but what about other stuff. Are tomatoes the only ones like that? I did my cucumbers like tomatoes last fall since they were in little gel sacs, too.

    1. The only seeds that I ferment are my tomatoes. I have never fermented cukes and they have always come up but if in doubt better safe than sorry. I soak beet and okra seeds in water overnight before I plant them.

    2. Really?! So for everything but tomatoes you allow the fruit to fully ripen on the vine and then collect the seeds, clean them, and air dry them. That's it? I thought it was much more complicated than that!

  3. That's my kind of organization, CQ. Thanks for this great post!
    Have you ever dried 'wet' seeds in the dehydrator? Do you only use plant lights to dry them, or do you use a sun/heat lamp?
    Have a blessed week, CQ!

    1. Occasionally when seeds are very wet I will put the dehydrator on very low for a short amount of time. I put them on my light stand but do not turn the lights on. Occasionally I will lay seeds out on the picnic table in the sun.

  4. Dad taught me to save mustard seed couple years ago , this year I'm trying with a lot more plants. bok choy went to flower first here. mustard I let flower justfor the honey bees that I have seen lately until more things bloom, but don't need seed this time.
    loved this post as always very informative:) Ty.

  5. now, I have come to read this page (as you can see, have been looking around tonight...grin)

    I see, above, that you ferment tomato seeds...I guess you likely got my posting on another page, about the other method?

    also, I just had a quick read, but I wonder if you have tried this with lettuce? I tried it by accident, and it works a treat

    a few yrs back, bought open source lettuce seeds. At the end of the season, there were several plants which had gone too old, and I just left them/they developed flowers/seeds. I meant to harvest the seeds, but never got around to it. come unexpected snowfall, at that point I pulled the plants.

    Come spring, I had a nice surprise. these lettuce had re seeded themselves. Nice bed of lettuce. Have done it this way for three yrs now. This yr I just pulled the tops/seeds off, and purposely sprinkled them in the bed. Am hoping to have even better results come spring.

    now that is one easy way to grow lettuce..


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