How to Save Seeds

The Basics of Seed Saving:

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Saving seeds is incredibly easy! First, check if your seeds are ready. Second go get them! Third, make  sure they’re really dry. Fourth, drop your seeds off during business hours at any of Oberlin’s new Seed Banks, listed on the back of this pamphlet. Getting good seeds at the right time, though does take some technique and involve understanding the life cycle of a plant. It’s important to know whether your plants are annual, biennial, or perennial.

~Annual plants (such as lettuce and tomatoes) flower and mature seed in the same year.Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 1.18.06 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-29 at 1.18.09 PM

~Biennial plants (such as carrots and beets) are normally harvested as food in their first summer or fall but do not flower or produce seed until the next year. In most of continental North America, biennials must be dug up and carefully stored elsewhere during the winter to be replanted in the spring.

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~Perennials live and bear seed year after year.

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~Clonal Reproduction: Plants that reproduce clonally do not rely on seeds. However, it is still possible to maintain these crops for future plantings.

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Seed Saving, the Practice:


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The seeds from annual and perennial plants are the easiest to save. They will last for four or five years.

Fruit Seeds

  • Most annuals and perennials produce seeds inside their fruits. These include tomatoes, peppers, corn, squashes, pumpkins, cucumbers and asparagus.
  • To save these seeds, open the fruit or vegetable (or, in the case of asparagus, the berries growing on its stalks), dig out the seeds, clear away extra pulp or hair, rinse and dry
  • In the case of corn, wait until kernels are hard, dry and brown, scrape them off, and harvest.

Pod Seeds

  • Some annuals and perennials produce seeds in pods. These include beans, grains and broccoli.
  • To save these seeds, harvest pods when they are dry and brittle, or when you can hear seeds rattling inside.
  • Dry pods for several days.
  • Open each pod and release seeds.
  • Let seeds dry further until they do not dent when you poke them with a fingernail.

Flower Seeds

  • Lettuce produces seeds in flowers on top of its stalks.
  • Pluck flowers when they have become feathery and rub seedheads between your fingers to release seeds. Then let dry.

Stalk Seeds

  • Spinach produces seeds directly on the plant’s stalks. Strip them with your hands and let dry.


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The seeds from biennials are much more complicated to save because plants produce them during season two. Biennial plants must additionally be harvested and stored during the Winter between seasons one and two. (Beets are an exception, and can be left in the ground during Winter.) They will last for four or five years.

Pod Seeds

  • Some biennials produce seeds in pods. These include brussel sprouts, kale, collards, cabbage, and cauliflower
  • Harvest pods when they are dry and brittle.
  • Dry pods for several days.
  • Open each pod and release seeds.
  • Let seeds dry further until they do not dent when you poke them with a fingernail.

Flower Seeds

  • Some biennials produce seeds in flowers on top of the plant’s stalks. These include carrots and parsnips.
  • Pluck flower head and rub between your fingers to release seeds. Then let dry.

Stalk Seeds

  • Some biennials produce seeds directly on their stalks. These include beets and Swiss chard.
  • During season two, strip brown, mature seeds off branches by hand and dry.


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Clonal Reproducing crops sometimes produce seeds. However, these seeds are often useless. In addition, the “clippings” it is useful to harvest will last only a year or two.

Tuber/Bulb Crops

  • Some clonal reproducing crops develop tubers or bulbs that can be saved. These include potatoes, onions and garlic.
  • Harvest only the healthiest of these bulbs and let dry.

Flowers and Herbs

  • Flowers and herbs go to seed in numerous different ways
  • Usually, seeds are easily shaken or stripped by hand into a container.
  • At times, you have to get there before the birds or the wind!

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Drying your Seeds:

It is a good rule of thumb to let harvested seed dry for at least a few more days after being removed from the plant. The larger the seed, the longer the drying period required. Most seeds will dry adequately for home storage if spread on wax paper, newspapers, trays, plates or screens in an airy place for a few days to a week. They should be turned and spread several times during that period. An equally good drying method is to let the seed heads or stalks dry in open paper bags for one or two weeks. The drying process can be quickened by spreading the seed in the sun, if they are covered or brought in at night. Lacking sun and/or greenhouse, you can speed up drying with gentle heat so long as the temperature never rises above 100°F.

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Info from the Canada Seed Sanctuary:


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