This season’s seed, next season’s harvest: A seed saving primer


As I scooped seeds out of a melon and into my compost bucket, it dawned on me how little economic or environmental sense it made. I discard thousands of seeds during a single season’s eating, only to turn around and order new ones each spring. I salvaged what I could from compost and made a commitment to save seed this year.

The majority of fruits and vegetables I grow are heirlooms. Heirloom plants are perfect candidates for seed saving because they are open-pollinated; the seeds produce plants true to type and identical to the parent plant.

Related: The self-sufficient gardener: How to save seed

Hybrid plants are crosses between two inbred lines. They do not produce plants true to type. I won’t bother saving seed from the few hybrids I grow — primo tomatoes, garden salsa peppers, diablo brussels sprouts — because hybrid seeds produce plants inferior to the parent plant.

Pollination considerations

Of open-pollinated plants, the easiest seed to save is self-pollinating peas, beans and tomatoes. Self-pollinating plants are in no danger of producing unwanted crosses within cultivars.

Cross-pollinated plants like corn will pollinate with other cultivars of its kind. Saving seed from sweet corn that has cross-pollinated with popcorn may give you sweet-popcorn or tough and inedible sweet corn the following season. If you want to achieve true plants from cross-pollinated cultivars you must take preventative pollination measures to maintain straight genetics. I hand-pollinate squash, gourd, melon and cucumber plants to avoid growing tough gourd-skinned zucchinis and green-streaked yellow squash next season. Isolation is another technique I use to keep straight genetics. The rule of thumb is to keep each cultivar separated by at least 200 yards to obtain seed that replicates the parent plant.


How to save seed:

Only save seed from your best fruits and vegetables. Look for desirable traits you’d like to reproduce and harvest the produce when it is ripe and ready.

Flowerheads: Cabbage, beets, carrots and other biennials produce seed in their second year. You must leave a portion of the crop to overwinter, and then harvest and dry seed from the flowering portion the next spring.

  1. Allow flowering stalks to dry completely outside or hang dry indoors.
  2. Place the flowerhead in a paper bag and shake to remove and catch seeds.
  3. Store in paper bags or envelopes in a cool, dry place.

Podded seeds: Beans, peas, peppers

  1. Allow pods to dry on vine or hang dry indoors.
  2. Remove seeds from shell or skin.
  3. Spread seeds on paper towels and dry for about two weeks.
  4. Store in paper bags or envelopes in a cool, dry place.

Fleshy fruit seeds: Cucumbers, tomatoes, melons

  1. Scoop seeds from fruit into a container. Remove as much pulp as possible.
  2. Cover with water and allow seeds to ferment 24-48 hours at room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove and discard any seeds that float with wastewater.
  4. Spread remaining seeds on paper towels and dry for about two weeks.
  5. Store in paper bags or envelopes in a cool, dry place.

Get our Top Stories in Your Inbox

Next step: Check your inbox to confirm your subscription.


  1. I NEED SOME ‘Old Time Tennessee’ Melon SEED. I use to grow these years ago. But I have lost my seed for them. Can you help me?

  2. My address is: Jerry Jackson
    609 West 2Nd. Street
    Corbin, KY 40701.
    I will pay for the seed and shipping if you want to. I used to be able to eat a whole melon by myself.


We are glad you have chosen to leave a comment. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated according to our comment policy.

Receive emails as this discussion progresses.