The Joys & Benefits of Seed Saving

Saving your own seeds can save you money, create plants better adapted to your local growing conditions and personal tastes, help preserve genetic diversity, and create satisfaction through self-reliance and a closer connection to your food.

Sweet Corn "Balinese," an heirloom variety.

Sweet Corn "Balinese," an heirloom variety.

Why Save Seeds?

If you grow food to save money but you buy new seeds year after year, are you saving as much as you could? One of the most obvious reasons to save seeds from the plants you grow is that it’s more economical than buying them from a seed company every season. But it’s also a good idea to save seeds from plants that have thrived on your property because they’ll be better adapted to the microclimate, weather, soil, and other unique conditions of your garden. You can select the qualities that suit your own culinary taste and gardening methods by choosing the plants you save seed from thoughtfully. By saving heirloom seeds, you can help heirloom varieties from becoming extinct. It’s important for food security to maintain a diverse range of plant varieties because it improves resiliency in the face of changing conditions. There are a few rules you need to follow, but saving seed is easy and satisfying. You’ll get a great feeling of empowerment and self-reliance from knowing how to produce your own seed, and a connection to the whole life cycle of your food.

Seed Types

It’s important to recognise there are two types of seed, hybrid and heirloom (also called open-pollinated).

1. Hybrid seeds: favoured by big seed companies and commercial growers because of their uniform characteristics. However, the traits they want, shipping quality and long storage life, might not be what you want, plants that taste great and are easy to care for. Since seeds saved from hybrid plants produce offspring that can be very different than it’s parents, new hybrid seeds have to be bought every season.

2. Heirloom seeds: on the other hand, if you buy heirloom seeds you can grow plants selected for traits more suited to the home gardener.  In addition, if you save the seed from heirlooms, you can plant them repeatedly.

Harvesting Seed

Cucumber seeds processed using the wet collection method.

Cucumber seeds processed using the wet collection method.

How you harvest and process your seed depends on the type of plant. There are three methods of collecting seed; dry, wet, and fermentation.

1. Dry collection is for seeds that dry on the plant, like lettuce. The three steps are harvest, threshing, and winnowing. Cut the seeds from the plant, remove the seed covering by rubbing it between your fingers, or a sieve with holes smaller than the seeds, to release the seeds, then clean the seed of all fine material by gently blowing on them.

2. Wet collection is for seeds contained inside a fruit or vegetable, like cucumber. Scoop out the seeds and wash them in a sieve to separate the seed from the flesh. Repeat until clean, then allow to dry.

3. Fermentation is for certain seeds, like tomato, that have a coating that prevents germination. Process with the wet collection method, then put them in a jar of water for a few days to ferment, which will “digest” the coating.

Butternut squash seeds almost ready for storage.

Butternut squash seeds almost ready for storage.

Storage

Dry your seed quickly and thoroughly, label them, then store in a dry, cool place out of direct sunlight. Seeds are often stored in paper envelopes, but hermetically sealed jars are best.

Seed Saving Tips

  • Plant more of the variety you plan to save seed from than you intend to eat.
  • Observe your plants and choose seeds from those that have the qualities you want. Mark those plants with coloured string or fabric so you remember which ones to harvest.
  • Grow one variety at a time to avoid cross-pollination with similar varieties.