Save And Preserve Seeds For Storage – Learn The Basics


If you want to save seeds from your best plants for next year’s garden, then it is worth learning how to harvest and preserve the seeds for storage.

So, how do you save and preserve seeds for storage?  After harvesting the seeds from strong parent plants, dry them and put them in paper seed packets.  Keep your seed packets in a glass jar with an airtight lid, and be sure to label the packets and jar so that you know which seeds you saved and when.

Of course, there are other important factors to consider when storing seeds, such as temperature, humidity, and light levels.  Also, should you refrigerate or freeze seeds?  Let’s get into the details of how to save and preserve seeds so that we can answer questions like this.

How To Save and Preserve Seeds For Storage

If you are going to save seeds and preserve them for planting next year, then you want to make sure they survive the winter.  You also want to make sure you get a good germination rate (the percentage of planted seeds that sprout).

radish seedlings
If you want your saved seeds to germinate in the spring, you will need to get them through the winter with proper storage techniques.

The first step in saving seeds is to identify the type of seeds you want.

Step 1: Identify The Type Of Seeds You Want

You can save any seeds you wish, but remember that not all seeds are created equal!  For example, there are both hybrid seeds and open pollinated seeds.

Should I Save Hybrid Or Open-Pollinated Seeds?

Hybrid seeds come from cross-pollination of two different parent plants, carefully chosen by seed companies or growers.  The goal is to create offspring (seeds) that will grow into plants with certain desirable traits, such as excellent fruit, disease resistance, or cold tolerance.

For more information, check out my article on the pros and cons of hybrid seeds.

Open pollinated seeds come from plants whose flowers were pollinated by bees, moths, birds, bats, wind, or rain.  Heirloom seeds are always open pollinated, and come from heirloom plants, which have been passed down through generations of growers (usually for 50 years or more).

bee on blueberry flower
Open pollinated seeds come from plants whose flowers were pollinated by bees or other natural pollinators.

Organic seeds may be open pollinated or hybrid seeds.  For more information, check out my article on organic and heirloom seeds.

Generally, you will want to save seeds from open-pollinated plants, since they will “breed true” (the plants will have about the same traits as the parent plant).

On the other hand, hybrid seeds may not breed true.  This means that the plant that grows from a hybrid seed may not share much in common with the parent plant.  This could mean a loss of flavor, disease resistance, or cold tolerance in the offspring plants.

Which Type Of Plants Should I Save Seeds From?

You can save seeds from any plant, but tomatoes, peppers, beans, or peas make good choices to start.  These are all popular garden vegetables, and their seeds do not require much treatment for proper storage.

Here are some open-pollinated varieties of each of these four plants:

brandywine tomatoes
Brandywine tomatoes are a good variety to save seeds from.

On the other hand, cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins, and gourds can be cross-pollinated by insects, so you may not get the plant you wanted if you save seeds from these plants.

For more information, check out this article on saving seeds from the University of Minnesota Extension.

Choose The Best Parent Plants

Once you decide on which type of seeds to save, you will want to choose the best parent plants possible.  The parent plant is simply the plant whose fruit you will take seeds from.

For example, let’s say you want to save Brandywine tomato seeds.  Take a look at all of the Brandywine tomato plants growing in your garden this year.

Make a note of the plants that look healthy and vigorous.  Avoid any plants that are infected with blight or other diseases.  Carefully check the stems, leaves, and fruit for any sign of disease.

late blight on tomato stem
This tomato plant is diseased – not a good choice for a parent plant if you want to save seeds.

From those plants, take a sample of ripe fruit.  Whichever plants give the best fruit should be chosen as the parent plants.

Step 2: Harvest The Seeds From The Parent Plants

Now that you have chosen the parent plants you want to get seeds from, it is time for the next step: harvesting the seeds.  Although the basic idea is the same for many plants, we’ll look at a few different examples, including tomatoes, peppers, peas, and beans.

Harvesting Tomato Seeds For Storage

To harvest tomato seeds for storage, you must first wait until the fruit on the chosen parent plant is ripe.

Once the fruit is ripe, pick a healthy tomato from the parent plant.

Next, cut the tomato in half (from stem to bottom) and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and gel.  Put the seeds and gel into a glass jar, and add some water (the seed will float).

sliced tomato
Cut the tomato in half and scoop out the seeds along with the gel.

Swirl the glass twice per day to mix the water and seeds.  Eventually, the seeds will ferment, and they should sink to the bottom of the water by day 5.

When the seeds sink to the bottom of the glass, pour out the water.  You can also use a fine mesh strainer to separate the seeds from the water.

Then, spread the seeds out on a paper towel, and leave them out to dry.  Don’t let them get too hot in the late summer sun!

You may want to switch to a fresh, dry paper towel after the first day if the original paper towel you used is damp.

You can also use a fan to help the seeds dry out faster.

Harvesting Pepper Seeds For Storage

To harvest pepper seeds for storage, wait until some of the peppers on the parent plant are ripe and slightly wrinkled.

Once the fruit is ripe, pick a healthy pepper from the parent plant.

Next, cut the pepper in half (from stem to bottom) and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.  Pepper seeds do not have gel like tomato seeds do, so this will probably be easier and less messy than harvesting pepper seeds.

pepper seeds
Cut open the pepper plant and scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Then, spread the seeds out on a paper towel, and leave them out to dry.  Don’t let them get too hot in the late summer sun!

You may want to switch to a fresh, dry paper towel after the first day if the original paper towel you used is damp.

You can also use a fan to help the seeds dry out faster.

Harvesting Peas And Beans For Storage

To harvest peas or bean from a parent plant, you must first wait until after the pods ripen.  After a few weeks, the pods will turn yellow and then brown.

Pick the brown pods from the parent plant, but do not open them yet!

Next, spread out the pods on a paper towel to dry further.  Be sure not to leave them out in the hot sun!

pea plant
Wait until the pea pods are past their prime to harvest them – they will turn yellow and then brown.

The pods may already be somewhat brittle when you harvest them, but give them at least two weeks to dry on the paper towel.  You can also use a fan to help the pods dry out faster.

Then, open up the pods carefully, and take the seeds (peas or beans) out of the pods without damaging the seeds.

Note: you can store the entire dried pod, or just the seeds after shelling them out of the pods – it’s up to you.

Step 3: Prepare The Seeds For Storage

Now, we have harvested and dried the seeds from the fruit of our parent plants.  The next step is to prepare the seeds for long-term storage (many months, or possibly years!)

Test The Seeds For Dryness

Before you do anything else, make sure that the seeds are dry enough for storage.  If they are too wet, they may sprout or rot in storage, even if you do everything else correctly!

One good way to tell if seeds are dry enough to store is to use the bend vs. snap test.

pumpkin seeds
If your seeds bend, they are too wet. If they snap, they are dry enough for storage.

If the seeds bend when you apply pressure, then they are too wet.  If they snap, then they are dry enough for storage.

For more information, check out this article from seedsavers.org on how to store seeds.

Package And Label The Seeds

For each type of seed, put the dry seeds in their own separate paper seed envelope, and label them carefully with the following information:

  • Plant or crop (e.g. “tomato”)
  • Variety (e.g. “Brandywine”)
  • Date Seeds Were Saved (e.g. August 25, 2020)
  • Lifespan of Seeds (e.g. 3 years)
  • Expiration Date (date seeds were saved plus lifespan: August 25, 2020 plus 3 years = August 25, 2023)

For more information on the lifespan of seeds, check out my article on how long seeds last.

For each type of seed you save, record all of the above information again on a “master seed information sheet” (more on this later).

seed package
Use paper envelopes and label them to keep careful track of what seeds you have saved.

Once all of the seeds are in paper envelopes (one per variety), you can put the seed packets in a glass jar.  Depending on how many seed envelopes you have, you can use a quart or half-gallon Mason jar.

Along with the seed packets, you will want to put a desiccant in the jar to absorb moisture and prevent the seeds from getting damp.

You can use silica gel packets (available at a craft store or online) as a desiccant.  You can also use powdered milk (available at a grocery store) wrapped in a paper towel to get the same effect.

silica gel
Silica gel will absorb moisture and keep your stored seeds dry. You can also use powdered milk in a paper towel.

Use a screw-on lid to cover the glass Mason jar, and then use a dark cloth to cover the jar.  This is an extra precaution prevent the seeds from being exposed to light – if you keep them cool and dry, they should not sprout.

mason jars
Mason jars with screw-on lids are perfect for storing seed envelopes.

Tape the “master seed information sheet” (mentioned above) to the top or side of the glass jar.  This will tell you exactly what is in the jar at a glance.  That way, you will know what seeds you do or do not need to buy for next year’s garden.

Step 4: Store The Seeds

Once the seeds are packaged and labeled properly, all that is left to do is to store them.  The most important things are to keep the seeds in a dry, cool, dark place.

We have already handled the “dry” part, since the seeds are in packets and sealed away in a glass jar with a desiccant.  We have also handled the “dark” part, since the dark cloth over the jar will keep light out.

All we need to do is make sure that the seeds stay cool!  The ideal temperature for seed storage is from 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) to 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius).

The refrigerator is probably the only place in your house that stays cool enough year-round to maintain these temperatures.  Of course, you can freeze the seeds, but this is not necessary.

There are some short lived seeds that may do better if frozen, such as lettuce, spinach, onions, and herbs (parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme).

Conclusion

By now, you know the steps to take to identify plants for seed saving.  You also know how to harvest the seeds, prepare them for storage, and label them properly.

This knowledge will allow you to continue growing your favorite plants next year.  If you continue to save seeds every year, you can grow the same plants for many years to follow.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.  If you have any questions about saving and preserving seeds for storage, please leave a comment below.

Want to get started by germinating saved seeds from last year? Check out my article on how to germinate tomato seeds.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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