Saving Seed

You’ve grown some wonderful vegetables, annuals or perennials and you would like to save some of the seed from those plants to have for planting in the future. This is a great way to get more of the plants you know and love while saving on the expense of new plants. One exception are plants that are F1 hybrids; seeds from these plants will produce crops quite dissimilar to the parent.

First, you need to collect ripe seed from the desired plants. How do you know when the seeds are ripe and ready to harvest? The strategies for annuals/perennials and vegetable plants differ.

The ripe seedhead of a coneflower. Photo credit: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS Extension.

The ripe seedhead of a coneflower. Photo credit: Mary Derrick, UF/IFAS Extension.

For annuals and perennials that flower without making a fruit, wait until the flower has dried up and the seed head is brown and dead-looking. The seeds are then mature and ready to harvest. Take a look at the photo of the coneflower seedhead for reference. These seeds are already dry and can be put into an envelope and then into a sealed jar or plastic stage bag that contains a desiccant to absorb any excess moisture. There are a few options for desiccants: the little packets that come in vitamin bottles and purses to keep them dry, cornmeal or dried milk in bottom of the bag. Be sure to label your envelope with the date and name of your plant seeds. Store in the refrigerator.

When you are saving seed from a vegetable that has seeds inside it such as a tomato, pepper or squash, harvest the vegetable when it is ripe and ready to eat and scoop out the seeds and wash away all other plant parts from the seed. These seeds are very moist and if stored in this state, they will rot into a mess. You want to get the moisture content below about 8% for long term storage. There are several methods:

  • If the humidity is low and the temperature high, (I know, those can be rare conditions for Florida) you can put the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet in the shade to let them dry all day.
  • Another option is to take that baking sheet with a single layer of seeds and put it in a 100° oven for 6 hours with the door open. It’s crucial to monitor your oven temperatures as those above 100° will kill the seeds.

Once the seeds are dried sufficiently, store them as described above for flower seeds. Your seeds can then last for several years.

For more information:

Seed Saving from Colorado State Extension

Saving Vegetable Seeds from University of Minnesota Extension

 

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