Seed saving is an important and powerful act. Too often seeds are treated like a commodity that can be bought, sold, discarded or disrespected. But we need to think about where our seeds come from. Often seeds are produced on seed farms, where conditions have to be so closely monitored to prevent cross-pollination or incorrect pollination. This can mean conditions that are essentially disastrous for our environment.
There are a lot of positive reasons why seed saving is such a great thing to do too. For example the return rate is usually really good. One seed can produce thousands more seeds in the first year, and if you continue to harvest the seeds could keep you going for the rest of your life! You’ll also be blessed with enough to be able to share with your friends and community, and might even get some back via seed swaps and the like.
Moreover, plants become accustomed to the specific environment within which they are grown. If, year on year a plant is grown in your garden, on your soil, under your management practices, that is what the plant will become accustomed to. Gradually it will adapt to that environment and you should find your plants becoming more and more healthy each year as they adapt.
There are a few pitfalls to look out for with seed saving: F1 varieties are created by cross pollinating two different plants. If you plant the seeds of an F1 plant then the resulting plant won’t be true to form. So choose open pollinated varieties if you can.
I’ve tried to put together a list of 5 easy seeds that you can go out and collect and save right now, but this list is far from exhaustive! So without further ado, allow me to introduce my top 5 easy seeds to save (and you can do them right now!)
5. Annual Flowers
You might not associate flowers with a vegetable garden, and if this is the case, I urge you to reconsider! Flowers are a great thing to grow as part of a vegetable garden to increase biodiersity, encourage pollinators and as another “crop” that you can enjoy in the form of cut flowers.
Most annual flowers simply require you to allow them to go to seed. Towards the end of the season stop dead heading them and let some of the seed heads develop. When they are brown and dry the seeds are ready and it really is as easy as just collecting them and popping them in an envelope.
Try this with Cosmos, Sunflowers, Calendula, Marigolds, Strawflowers, Cornflowers, Antirrhinum, violas, nasturtiums and many more. You’ll never need to buy another flower seed in your life!
Beans are so easy to save seeds from. The only thing you have to do is let some of the pods dry out on the plant. When the pods are fully dried out simply open them up, remove the beans and put them in a packet for next year. If they are a little damp (as things can be this time of year!) I recommend leaving them to dry spread out on some kitchen roll or something for a few days so you don’t risk them going mouldy over winter.
Lettuce seeds are so easy to harvest, it feels like there should be a catch! The only thing is that you have to do is let your lettuces go to seed. After they have flowered, the flowers will die back and little seed heads appear. Then it really is as easy as taking the seeds out, and popping them in an envelope.
Chillis are such fun to grow because of the wonderful diversity of shapes, colours and tastes. They are also more often than not self pollinating, which means that plants grown from their seeds will come out true to form. It’s really easy to save chilli seeds but do watch out when handling really spicy chillis as they can cause irritation, so you might want to consider wearing gloves, or as a minimum not touching your eyes mouth or nose afterword!
Simply let a fruit fully develop on the plant, then open the fruit up and harvest the seeds. Again, let them dry for a few days on a piece of kitchen roll and then pop them in an envelope.
Ok, so these aren’t quite so easy BUT I think it’s an important (and fun!) skill to learn and its really not that hard so why not give it a go? Imagine never having to buy another tomato seed again!
Firstly, be careful with F1s, they are everywhere in the world of tomatoes. Also cross pollination is a big thing with tomatoes, but the good news is that if you aren’t fussy, they can create some really interesting results!
All you have to do is take the seeds out of a fruit, however you prefer to do this (I just slice them and squeeze the seeds out). Put the seeds in a sieve and wash off any excess tomato juice. You will notice that the seeds are covered in a kind of jelly. In order to get rid of this we place our seeds into water for around a week. Just enough to cover them. I recommend doing this in a jar as it can get quite smelly! Once they have soaked for a few days, take them out, rinse them again and let them dry out on some kitchen roll before storing them away safely.
A word of warning
Whilst seed saving is great fun, I recommend staying away from saving any squash or pumpkin seeds. As frustrating as this is because they’re so easy to just pick up and pop in a packet, they can create some quite toxic hybrids. Last year a major seed manufacturer had to recall some courgette seeds because eating the fruits was making some people seriously ill. This is called toxic squash syndrome. So unless you’re prepared to go the extra mile of hand pollinating and making absolutely sure that nothing else has pollinated your squashes other than itself – it’s not worth it!
It can also be really upsetting if you spend a lot of time saving seeds and they get destroyed over winter. That’s why I recommend making sure that they are dry before putting them into a packet and I also recommend storing them somewhere that is cool, dry and away from any rodents! Mine just sit in a box in my living room after too many disasters trying to store them in the shed or the greenhouse.
Check out my video about these 5 easy seeds to save for a little bit more information on how to actually save them!
If you want to know more about seed saving, or you are interested in saving more seeds I highly recommend this book: Back Garden Seed Saving by Sue Stickland