You’ve probably noticed your grocery bill just keeps getting higher and higher. However, you probably have a way to save some cash right in your vegetable bin. If you collect and save the seeds from your vegetables, you can plant them next year and slash some of that supermarket spending.
Harvesting seeds from veggies is an age-old tradition that anyone can do. While it does take a bit of effort, collecting, storing, and planting seeds is rewarding in so many ways. Not only will you save money, but you’ll be sure your produce is free of any additives, pesticides, or pollutants. Plus, your family will always have healthy foods available to eat.
We’ll help you finally start that vegetable garden in the easiest way possible!
Why Save Vegetable Seeds?
Collecting seeds from your produce is an excellent way to save money by growing your own food. It also ensures that you’ll always have ingredients on hand to make healthy, nutritional meals for your family. With a bit of knowledge, guidance, and practice, you’ll soon have tiny seed packets ready for the next growing season.
After you start growing your own produce, you’ll notice there’s a unique flavor to your harvest due to your growing conditions. It’s a taste you can’t get from any store-bought seed pack. Plus, you’ll have the advantage of growing a generational legacy for your family.
While this tradition hasn’t been common in today’s fast-paced world, as food costs continue to rise, more and more folks are discovering the savings and (joy) of growing their own food. Developing local vegetable varieties is also a lovely gift to leave for your children and grandchildren.
Knowing how to save seeds and grow new produce from them is also an incredibly handy survival skill to have and pass down through the generations.
Before you learn how to go about saving vegetable seeds, you have to know which varieties work best and how to tell when the seeds are ready to collect. Review the following basics before you scoop or plug any seeds:
- Save only open-pollinated varieties: To grow a plant that’s as similar as possible to its parent plant, you’ll want to use seeds from open-pollinated (or heirloom) varieties. Avoid hybrids, as they won’t give you the same quality every year.
- Avoid mixing varieties: Certain plants will cross-pollinate if they’re planted too close to each other. To avoid this, plant your different veggies 100 yards apart or more.
- Learn how to recognize viable seeds: Typically, a seed is viable when the plant itself is no longer edible. For example, when beans and peas turn brown at the end of the harvest season, they can no longer be eaten, but the seeds within the pods are dry and ready to be saved.
- Start with easy vegetables: Annual plants complete their life cycle in one growing season, while biennial plants flower (and produce seeds) every other year. Annual plants are typically easier to grow for beginners, so start with those. Some of the easiest to grow and save seeds from are tomatoes, peppers, peas, and beans.
Growing your own pure vegetables is incredibly rewarding, and the hard work really pays off come harvest season, and then again the following year.
Peas and Beans
Peas and beans are ready for seed harvesting when they turn brown and dry out. When you shake them, the pod will make a rattling sound and crunch if you pinch it.
Follow these steps to harvest seeds from peas and beans:
- Leave at least 7-10 pods on your plant at the end of harvest season.
- When the plant has dried out, pull off the pods.
- Open each pod with your fingers, collect all the seeds, and place your pod shells in your compost bin.
- Let your beans sit in a cool, dark, dry location for at least 2-3 weeks, and then store them in a seed packet.
Lettuce and Other Bolting Plants
Bolting plants transition from leaf-based to flower and seed-based. These plants put all their energy into making seeds, rather than making edible plants. You’ll know this is happening when the flowers bolt upwards.
Those pretty flowers are an exciting sign; It means those lettuce seeds are almost ready to be collected. Once the flower turns from petals to fluffy heads (see the image above), you’ll know the seeds are fully mature and can be pulled off.
Follow these steps to gather those lettuce, onion, beet, leek, broccoli, bok choy, or cauliflower seeds:
- Pull the seedhead from the stem with your fingers, and then place them directly in a large ziplock bag. The seedhead should come off clean without much effort if it’s fully mature.
- Gentle pinch and crush the seeds in the bag. You can also roll the bag in your hands to separate the seeds from their pods.
- Pour your seeds and crumbled chaff (the inedible pod surrounding the seeds) over a plate, so you can more easily see the seeds.
- Separate the seeds by blowing very gently over the plate. All the tiny crumbled-up chaff pieces will blow away, and the seeds (which are heavier) will stay in place.
- Allow your seeds to dry for a week or two, and then place them in a seed packet and store.
Tomatoes and Cucumbers
Tomato and cucumber seeds are coated with a slimy gel that you can remove via fermentation. Fermenting your seeds will allow you to pick out the good from the bad, and leave the yucky pulp behind.
Follow these steps to ferment those precious seeds:
- Slice a cucumber lengthwise and a tomato in half to expose the seeds.
- Using a small spoon, scrape the seeds and pulp into a container or plastic cup.
- Add a small amount of water to the cup, and then cover the top with a paper towel. Secure it with a rubber band.
- Let the cup of water and seeds sit in a warm spot out of direct sunlight, and stir once per day. It will start to smell pretty foul, which is a good sign.
- After three days, use a spoon to scoop the white moldy gunk from the top and discard it. All the viable seeds will sink to the bottom.
- Transfer your seeds to a fine-mesh strainer, and then rinse the seeds well.
- Place your washed seeds on a plate and let them fully dry in indirect sunlight over the next several weeks.
- Store them in a labeled seed packet.
Pepper seeds are super simple to harvest because they’re easy to spot when you cut one in half. Follow these steps to collect pepper seeds:
- Cut the pepper in half.
- Brush the seeds out of the central stem.
- Place the seeds on a paper plate or towel and let them dry for 1-2 weeks in indirect sunlight.
- Put the seeds in a properly labeled seed packet.
If you touch your face or eyes after handling peppers, it can burn. So, if you’re working with the spicier varieties, be sure to wear some gloves.
Winter squashes, like spaghetti, butternut, acorn, and sugar pumpkin, are all delicious vegetables you’ll love harvesting for their seeds.
Follow these steps to plant your own squash and enjoy some delicious new meals every fall and winter:
- Cut and break open your squash, and then scoop out the seeds.
- Wash the seeds under cool running water. Rub or pick off any flesh or stringy membrane.
- Lay your clean seeds on a paper plate or towel and place them in a dry place, out of direct sunlight. Let them sit there for at least two weeks.
- Place your ready-to-plant squash seeds in a labeled seed packet.
How to Store Seeds
Storing your vegetable seeds correctly is critical for them to flourish after they’re planted. Before you can store them, you need to make sure all your seeds are completely dried out. If they’re not, they can mold and won’t be any good to you next spring.
To check, apply a bit of force to a few; If they shatter or snap, your seeds are thoroughly dry. If they feel squishy or have a little give to them, your seeds need a bit more time to dry.
Follow these steps to ensure all your seeds are properly stored:
- Keep all your seeds properly separated to avoid mixing varieties.
- Label all seed packets or containers. Include the date of collection, the name of the plant, and any critical planting information.
- After they’re all labeled, place your seed packets in a box or sealed jar.
- Keep the box or jar in a consistently cool, but dry location, like a basement or the fridge.
Whether you plant flowers, shrubs, or food, gardening is an incredibly rewarding hobby. Harvesting your own vegetable seeds to plant next year is an easy way to start growing your own produce, eat healthier, and save some cash at the grocery store.