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Quick & Dirty Study Guide for Seed Saving

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I have been getting a lot of questions about how to save seed from this year’s crops. While I have done my best to answer them, the fact is it is really too late to look at saving seed when the crops are about ready to harvest. It is a great time to look at saving next year’s seed, however. Like many other garden tasks, seed saving works better when it is planned and studied for. So now is the time to really kick in and make sure you know what you want for next year. Here is a checklist to help you get ready:

  • Pick varieties that are known to work in your area. Too often we get fascinated with plants that do not do well where we live. These are not the first plants you should use to learn how to save seed.
  • Make sure to find heirloom and open pollinated varieties. Hybrids are interesting because you never know what will happen, but you will not get consistent seed from them. You may not even get edible plants from hybrids.
  • You need to know what different species will cross with each other and how to prevent it.
  • Know how your plants get pollinated, this includes being able recognize male and female flowers.
  • Being able to pollinate flowers by hand. It is important to know where to find pollen on the male flower and where to place the pollen on female flowers.
  • Know how to keep flowers you are working with from being pollinated by natural means unless it will give you the results you are looking for.
  • When the plant is ready to harvest for seed. Very often I see photos of people’s harvest when they want to save for seed. They picked it when it was good to eat, but not when it was ripe enough to plant for seed.
  • How to clean and prepare the seed for storage and planting.

Excellent Resources Available

You can see there is a large skill set involved in saving seed. It gets more complicated when you realize that different types of plants require different ways of pollination, harvesting and processing. Though I am comfortable saving seed, I will not claim to be and expert. When I decide to save seed for a garden vegetable that I haven’t done before I take out my copy of Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. Ashworth put a lot of research and effort into finding answers for herself and has shared it with us in her book. To date, I do not know a better source with as much detailed information. If you are hoping to find information on ornamental flowers, tree and bush fruits, or field crops it gets a little harder. For those you will have to look for experts in those areas. But realistically, starting with a few garden vegetables is the best way to get started. After a few years of learning with easy to research crops, you will be better able to ask the right questions to help you with the more difficult plants.

Have fun over the next year and let us know how you did!


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