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Seed Saving Basics

Tomato seeds on a table with a collectible button of a tomato in the background.

Many homeowners can probably remember seeing their grandparents save seeds from the garden to plant the following year. This practice skipped a couple of generations, but now that people are more interested in growing their own food, seed saving is popular once again.

For the best results, use seeds from your healthiest plants with well-formed leaves and fruit. Collect only fully mature seeds so the embryo will be able to survive the drying process. Fine mesh bags work universally well for collecting seeds and seed structures.

Annual plant seeds are the easiest with which to start. Rarely do they require special treatment to germinate.

Whenever harvesting your own seeds, remove as much of the chaff and other vegetable material as possible before storing. This material, if sown along with the seed, tends to rot and may encourage fungal diseases.

For moist fruit, such as tomatoes or cucumbers, the seed is surrounded by mucilage. When the fruit is ripe, scoop out the seeds and wash in a fine sieve under running water to remove the mucilage. Allow to dry in the shade.

For seed pods, extract the ripe seeds by hanging them upside down over a paper bag in a shaded, dry, airy place and wait for the seeds to fall. Cut clustered seed heads whole, such as those of marigolds, and lay on a newspaper to dry.

The two deadliest enemies of stored seeds are warmth and moisture. Inspect the seed one last time before storing in a cool, dry environment, such as a refrigerator. Label all envelopes with the plant name and collection date, and store in a plastic zip-close bag. Consider joining a seed exchange group to increase the availability of saved seeds.

By H.R. Scott WVU Extension Agent – Monongalia County