When to Harvest Seed
- You can do it following any season, says Griffie, but late summer into fall is a perfect time to start. // How to Save Seed
- For example, Griffie’s already collecting seeds from beans, cucumbers, peppers and flowers in early September.
- He allows about 10% of his beans to go to seed (rather than harvesting them to eat), then dries them for next season.
- The best time to harvest seeds for saving on fruiting crops (i.e., okra or tomatoes) is at their peak ripeness, says Latimer.
- For non-fruiting crops, wait to harvest the seed from the crop’s flower, which will “bloom” at the end of its lifespan – that’s any plant you eat the leaves or stem of, such as lettuce, carrots, broccoli or cauliflower.
- The one thing to avoid here is harvesting seeds from any diseased or blighted plants.
Methods for Harvesting Seeds
- First, you need to determine if you’re dealing with a wet-seeded crop (i.e., fleshy fruit, such as tomatoes, squash, melon, watermelon, cucumbers and peppers) or a dry-seeded crop (think beans, collards, radishes, corn, kale and cabbage), says Philip Kauth, Ph.D., director of preservation with Seed Savers Exchange based in Iowa.
- With wet-seeded crops, you must first remove the seeds from the flesh and rinse away any residue.
- For tomatoes and cucumbers, ferment the seeds a few days in their own juice to remove the gel around the seeds, Kauth says.
- Dry-seeded crops are easier because you can simply harvest the seeds straight from the pods when they’re brown and brittle.
- Pick off the seeds, then let them rest on a baking sheet lined with newspaper or another quick-drying material for a few days.
- A small fan can also help to dry the seeds out, but use a screen over the baking sheet when doing this to ensure they don’t blow away.
How to Store Seeds
- You should always use an airtight container, like a Mason jar or something else that seals tightly. // How to Save Seed
- Keep your seeds in a cool, dark and dry place, as moisture could cause the seeds to sprout prematurely and/or grow mold.
- They should last for about two years this way, says McCormick.
- Alternatively, you can make your seeds last even longer by sticking them in the freezer.
- Kauth says that when you store seeds at 0° F, some varieties can last for 100 years.
Using Seeds Next Year
- When you’re ready to plant your seeds next season, bring out the containers from storage and allow them to come to room temperature before opening, as you don’t want any moisture to ruin the seeds, says McCormick.
- Then, sprout them in seed trays or, in the case of flowers, you can directly plant them, says Griffie.
- Be aware that even with perfect storage conditions, not all seeds will germinate (as with any seeds you plant), so account for this as you’re sowing.