Being able to save seeds from the food you’re growing—and then turn around and grow even more food from those seeds—is so empowering! As vegetable gardeners we know what seeds look like when we plant them, so the seed-saving process is quite intuitive.
We want to start by saving seeds from the healthiest, largest fruits and vegetables. Starting with heirloom and open-pollinated vegetables is best. Whether you started from seed or potted seedling, you should be able to check if it is open pollinated or hybrid. Hybrid plants won’t always grow back true to type. Next year’s fruits or veggies can end up being a little (or a lot) different from the parent plant. But, crossing plants is how we come up with all kinds of delicious new varieties, so also keep that in mind.
Here are the easiest vegetables to start your seed-saving journey.
Beans & Peas
These are simply left on the vine or bush to dry and harvested afterwards. Try to mark out some of the earliest beans or peas to form so you can reserve those for seed saving.
Trying to save a few seeds from the final peas or beans to mature will be frustrating and leave behind sad foliage. Wait until fully dry on the plant/vine before harvesting.
*Legume seeds stay viable for around three years.
While these seeds take a long time to mature, they’re beautiful and easy to harvest. The lettuce will bolt, sending up a center stalk which will flower. Eventually those flowers become seeds.
I usually wrap some netting around the flowers once they start to dry out to capture seeds as they mature over a few weeks. Then I bring the seeds inside in a paper bag to fully dry. Shake seeds into a bag, then blow off the fluff. One lettuce plant will give you years of seed.
*Lettuce seeds are viable for three to four years.
Harvest tomatoes when the fruit is fully ripe, then scoop out seeds. These seeds have a gel coating on them that prevents from germinating too soon. This coating is easily broken down by submerging the fresh tomato seeds in a jar of water, covering with a paper towel and letting ferment two to four days.
Be warned, this ferment will get stinky! Seeds that float to the top are not viable, so scoop those off, then rinse the rest of the seeds and set to dry.
*Tomato seeds stay viable for four to six years.
Harvest from the fully ripe fruits, being careful not to damage the seeds as you separate them from the pepper’s ribbing. Set to dry. All seeds should be fully dried before storing. Seeds can be stored in a cool, dry, dark location in paper bags or in airtight containers..
Try to harvest seeds from different times of the season, like the first large tomato, if you’re trying to grow earlier-maturing crops.
*Bell pepper seeds stay viable for two to five years.
It is so powerful to be able to grow food from seeds you’ve saved yourself. Saving vegetable seeds can take your homesteading and gardening to another level. Having something homegrown to share other than jams and pickles is pretty neat, too.
—Michelle, Forks in the Dirt