Seed Saving Basics

The Basic Rules of Seed Saving

1) Plants of the same species are close genetic relatives and can cross breed or interbreed. It is best to grow either different species of a variety or have them flowering at different times. ie plant them at different times or plant early producing varieties/late producing varieties. Isolation is another approach.

2) They are however, only likely to cross if they are natural cross pollinators. For example beans and peas are unlikely to cross because they are usually already self pollinated by the time the flower opens. They must usually also be planted in close proximity to each other.

Average Vegetable Seed Life under reasonable conditions

· Beans:  3-4 years                            Mustard:  4 years

· Beetroot:  5 years                           Nasturtium: 3 years

· Borages: 5 years                             Onion:  1-2 years

· Broccoli:  5 years                            Parsley:  3 years

· Brussel Sprouts:  5 years               Parsnip:  1 years

· Cabbage: 3-5 years                          Peas:  3 years

· Cape Gooseberry: 3 years              Pepper:  2-4 years

· Chinese Cabbage: 3 years              Pumpkin:  6-7 years

· Carrot:  3 years                                Radish:  3-10 years

· Cauliflower:  5 years                       Rocket: 2 years

· Celeriac:  5 years                              Spinach:  3-4 years

· Celery:  5 years                                 Spinach (NZ):  3 years

· Chilacayote: 5 years                        Squash (Cucurbita maxima):  6-7 years

· Collard:  5 years                               Squash (Curcubita mixta):  6-7 years

· Coriander: 3 years                          Squash (Cucurbita moschata):  6-7 years

· Corn:  3-4 years                               Squash (Cucurbita pepo):  6-7 years

· Cucumber:  7 years                        Sunflower:  7 years

· Eggplant:  6 years                           Swiss Chard:  6 years

· Endive:  7 years                              Tomato:  4-5 years

· Kale:  4 years                                   Turnip:  5 years

· Kohlrabi:  5 years                           Watermelon:  5 years

· Lettuce:  3 years                              Yam Bean (Jicama): 5 years

Tips for Selecting Plants to Grow and Save Seed

• Heirloom varieties handed down from one generation to another over several generations.

• Local varieties grown as long as local people can remember that have adapted well to local conditions.

• Varieties taken off the market that are not easily sourced anymore.

• New seeds released onto the market from overseas stocks carrying particular traits.

Traits to look for when Saving Seeds

Observe the plants and their fruits during the growing season to discern which plants are worth preserving to ensure the seeds continue the particular traits. You can select for different qualities of the plant and its fruit though usually only three are used in general. Once selected mark the plant with a ribbon or some form of identification so that you know which plants you will be taking material from. Some examples are plants that:

• Survive in drought or really wet conditions

• Tastes delicious, has good flavour or texture

• Have many fruits or seeds – is heavy yielding or has few seeds ie. tomatoes for tomato sauce making

• Has early maturing fruit (special traits) or late leaf and root crops

• Grows well in a special soil e.g. clay or sandy, acid or alkaline

• Bears well in hot or cold seasons

• Has large fruit or seeds

• Is particularly resilient to insect pests, mildew, diseas

Good Fruits and Roots: The fruit or root is of good size and is either ripe or over-ripe and has no disease and has not been attacked by insects or their larvae, mould or fungus

Good Seeds: The seeds you collect to save should be a healthy size for the plant with no insect attack or damage. For tiny seeds like rocket and lettuce collect either a branch or the whole plant for easy harvesting.

Some of the easiest plants to save from are: Basil, Broad Beans, Chilacayote, Choko, Coriander, Dill, Fennel, Garlic, Garlic Chives, Lemongrass, Lettuce, Marigold, Nasturtium, Okra, Pea, Sage, Salad Burnet, Shallots, Snake Bean, Sweet Potato, Tomato, Water Cress.

When and what seed to collect

• Collect the seed after morning dew has dried from the stem and fruit. Select according to the tips above.

• Collect only ripe fruits and vegetables. For chilli and capsicum, collect the seed when the outside skin is soft.

• For herbs see that the seed is very ripe, pull the stem and root from the soil and hang the whole plant in cool dry place upside down. Cover with a paper bag so seed is not scattered or lost and keep the stem dry.

• Collect seedpods of beans and cabbages when the outside skin is quite dry and full of seed.

• For vegetables with roots, make sure the fruit and seed is very ripe and collect the whole root and stem.

Cleaning and drying seed

• Seeds must be thoroughly clean before they are stored for a long time.

• Seeds must be dry before they are stored or they can deteriorate from fungus or moulds, attract pests, or get diseases from virus or bacteria.

• Seeds are heavier when alive – dead seeds or seeds which insects have attacked are light and float in water.

Ways of cleaning, testing and drying seeds

• Dry seedcoats e.g. Herbs and vegetables with roots, amaranth, lettuce, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, carrot,

• Pick the whole plant i.e. harvest the seed on whole plant

• Hang it up in the shade until the seed and stem are quite dry

• Remove the seed and clean it

• Dry in mild sun then move and continue to dry in the shade

• Do this every day until the seed is dry.

Dry fruits and vegetables e.g. Bitter gourd, luffa, pumpkin, beans, chili, eggplant etc.

• Take the seeds out of the fruit and clean it – some need rubbing, crushing, winnowing

• Place seeds in glass of water and let settle

• Select heavy seed from the bottom of the glass and dry.

Fruit with a high water content e.g. Cucumber family, and tomato.

• Cut the fruit, take out the seed, and put pulp in a glass of water for one to two days.

• Then stir all the pulp in the glass and let it settle

• Discard floating seeds etc and keep the seeds that remain on the bottom

• Wash them in clean water and dry

Drying seed properly

Seed is properly dry when you cannot dent the seed coat with your thumbnail or you do not leave a tooth impression when you bite it.

Ways you can dry it:

• Place the seed evenly on newspaper and place it out of the wind either by a window but out of direct sun.

• Place it in paper bags and hang them in a breezy spot below 45oC.

Sorting the dry seed

• When the seed is dry shake it into an open basket or sieve and let all the broken seed drop through.

• Store the biggest and cleanest seeds in a paper bag, write on the bag and record the details.


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