How to Harvest your Own Seed from Your Vegetable Garden for the Next Planting Season
Save money and use seeds from your garden for next season's planting
Collecting your own seeds from vegetables and fruit for future planting will cut your planting costs by about half. To get the most out of your seeds, you first need to give your plants everything they need to produce healthy seeds. The subsequent careful harvesting and drying of the seeds also greatly influences their quality. You'll need to harvest the seeds at the right time, clean them carefully, dry them and, finally, store them in optimal conditions until it is time to plant them.
When planting vegetables with the intention to collect and sow your own seeds, you should avoid hybrid varieties of vegetables and fruit, whose seeds are not likely to produce a good crop or do not produce any seeds at all. Also, keep in mind that if you grow different heirloom varieties of the same species of vegetable or fruit in your garden, you must expect that their seeds will be hybrids of these varieties with a combination of the characteristics of their parent plants.
Seed harvesting and cleaning
Give the seeds time to fully ripen before harvesting. This will allow them to collect enough nutrients to successfully germinate and thus have the best chance for next season.
The method of seed cleaning depends mainly on the type of the seed. They're divided into dry and wet categories depending on their level of maturity.
Harvest dry seeds after the pods or husks have dried on the plant. Then store them in a dry place until they're fully dry and the pods or husks are easily separated from the seeds themselves.
Cleaning seeds usually involves drying and crushing the pods, husks or other covers and then sieving the seeds to completely separate them from the husks and other debris. This is how, for example, beans and other legumes, peppers, basil, onions, garlic or root vegetables are processed.
Cleaning wet seeds requires washing them to remove all surrounding pulp. Wet seeds can be found, for example, in tomatoes, squash and pumpkins, courgettes, eggplants and most fruits. Place the fully ripe fruit in a deep bowl of water and start crushing the fruit in your hands. As the seeds separate from the fruit pulp, healthy seeds will fall to the bottom, while immature or unhealthy seeds and some of the flesh will remain floating on the surface.
In some cases (e.g. tomatoes), fermentation (over-ripening) for several days after harvesting is recommended to remove germination-causing substances from the seed covers. This simulates the natural process of the rotting of fallen fruit or digestion after the fruit has been consumed in the wild by animals. Fermentation can be promoted by slightly mashing the overripe fruit, placing it in a bowl and combining with water (half the volume of the fruit), letting it sit at a temperature of 24 to 27 C° (75 to 80°F) for 2 to 5 days until the mixture begins to bubble and possibly develops a white mold on it. The seeds can then be washed.
Drying of seeds
Seeds must be dry before storage. Eight percent moisture is recommended—they should be completely dry, but not so dry that they wrinkle or crack. Drying should be slow, at room temperature and in the dark.
Place the dry seeds in a paper envelope or bag and store them in a cool, dry place. The optimum storage temperature ranges from 1 to 7°C (34 to 45°F), so a refrigerator works well for storing the seeds. The paper wrapping allows the seeds to breathe without drawing in moisture from the surrounding air. An airtight container would suffocate the seeds.
Most seeds germinate and grow into healthy plants. However, some plants are attacked by various diseases that can be transmitted to the seeds. When harvesting, make sure to only save seeds from healthy plants to prevent disease transmission between generations.
Label each seed package for easy identification. In addition to the variety name, include the date and harvesting conditions on the tag for future reference.
Seed preparation before planting
Before the seeds are sown, it is advisable to let them complete their dormancy cycle by placing them in the freezer for three hours and then letting them rest at room temperature for one day. This process will ensure optimum conditions for immediate planting.
Seed viability test
You should test the seeds before planting to make sure they are viable. Soak a sample of the seeds in water overnight, and then place them between two layers of damp paper towels, which should be kept moist (constantly wet, but not so wet that water drips off them). Place the seeds in a warm place away from direct sunlight and check on them every third day to see if the seeds have germinated. You can then tell how viable the seeds are by the number of seeds that have germinated.
Seeds ready for sowing
Using your own seeds is not only economical, but you also get the satisfaction of using everything your garden has to offer and keeping the natural cycle going.
Our tip: After planting, clearly label each type of seed with a name tag so you can keep track of each plant's properties. If they do well, you can save seeds again for the next year—don't forget to keep track of the generations!
2. Find more about What to Plant in a Fall Garden