How To Save & Store Seeds

For some who garden, the magic of seed saving is every bit as fulfilling as seeing their plants thrive and enjoying their harvests. 

Saving seeds — the practice of collecting and storing seeds from your garden to grow in future seasons — creates a deep sense of self-sufficiency. It’s a way to connect with the past and safeguard the future. And in many cases, you find that you’re growing the most vibrant, flavorful food you’ve ever tasted.

A Closer Look

Let’s take a closer look at some of the far-reaching benefits of seed saving.

First, it’s cost-effective. Every time you collect seeds from your current plants, you reduce or eliminate the need to buy seeds for a future season. If you garden regularly, the savings can really add up.

And at the same time, you’re becoming less dependent on commercial seed sources. There’s something very empowering over having control over your food source. And on a more practical level, you’ll have a reliable source of crops in case of economic hardship or supply chain disruptions. 

As for the connection with the past mentioned above, saving seeds is a way to preserve heirloom varieties that go back hundreds, even thousands, of years. Many heirloom plants aren’t even available in commercial seed catalogs. When you save and plant heirloom seeds, you help protect them and ensure a large variety of plants will be available going forward.

Seed saving can impact the quality of plants you grow, too. Many gardeners would argue that heirloom plant varieties tend to surpass commercial hybrid seeds (produced by cross-breeding two parent plants) when it comes to taste, texture, and nutritional value. Plus, saved seeds often acclimate to the climate and soil conditions they’re in, allowing them to produce stronger, more resilient plants.

And as we mentioned, there’s the joy and personal satisfaction that comes from growing food from seeds saved in your own garden.

Understanding seed varieties

When you save seeds, open-pollinated seeds are usually your best choices. These are seeds that result from natural pollination by wind, insects, or self-pollination. The key benefit they offer is they’re genetically stable, meaning they’ll produce plants with the same traits as their parent plants. 

When we refer to heirloom seeds, we’re talking about open-pollinated seeds that have been passed down through generations. Examples include Cherokee Purple tomatoes, Dragon’s Tongue beans, and Black Beauty eggplants.

You’ll also want to keep the definitions of annuals, biennials, and perennials in mind.

Annuals, including tomatoes, lettuce, and beans, complete their life cycle in one growing season, from germination to seed production. Their seeds can be collected at the end of the growing season.

Biennials take two growing seasons to complete their life-cycle, In the first year they grow vegetables, and in the second year, they flower and produce seeds. Seed saving for biennials like carrots, onions, and beets calls for overwintering the plants or their parts and collecting the seeds in the second year.

Pro tips for biennials: In most cases, young crops planted in the late summer or fall are more likely to survive storage over the winter than crops planted in the spring. The exceptions are onions and leeks; they need to be planted in the spring.

Your biennials need cool temperatures to flower and produce seeds, but temperatures below 30 °F (-1°C) can kill them. If you live somewhere that regularly goes below that, dig up your crops and move them to a cool storage place.

Perennials like asparagus, rhubarb, and many herbs live for more than two years and usually produce seeds every year once they mature.

How to collect seeds

The process of saving seeds from your garden is not especially difficult. Here are the basics:

Pick your plants

Begin the process by identifying the plants you want to gather seeds from. These should be your healthiest, most vigorous plants, and they should be exhibiting traits that you’d like to live on like size, color, or flavor.

Maintain seed purity

If you plan to save seeds, we recommend taking steps to prevent cross-pollination among different varieties (two different types of tomato plants, for example) by keeping them apart or covering plant flowers with mesh bags. Cross-pollination creates the risk of producing hybrid seeds that don’t exhibit the desired traits of the parent plants.

Timing considerations

Don’t harvest seeds until they’re fully mature. Immature seeds might not germinate well or produce strong plants.

  • Dry seeds: Beans, peas, lettuce, and flowers like marigolds and sunflowers, produce seeds in pods or heads. Wait until the pods or heads turn brown and dry.
  • Wet seeds: Fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons produce seeds inside the fruit. Wait until the fruit ripens completely to harvest seeds.


Your approach to collecting seeds will vary depending on your plants.

  • Dry seeds: Allow the seeds to dry on the plant as much as possible. Collect them when they rattle in their pods or heads. Place the seeds in a dry, well-ventilated area to dry more if necessary.
  • Wet seeds: Scoop seeds from the fruit and rinse them to remove pulp. Some seeds, like tomatoes, benefit from a fermentation process to remove the gel coating. Place seeds in water for a few days, then rinse and dry them.


  • Dry seeds: Use a sieve or colander to separate the seeds from plant debris.
  • Wet seeds: After rinsing, spread seeds on a paper towel or screen to begin drying.

Drying your seeds

Make sure your seeds are completely dry so they don’t mold or rot while you’re storing them. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a paper towel, screen, or plate. Then, move them to a warm, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. The drying process can take as long as several weeks for large seeds while small seeds could take a few days.

Storing your seeds

After your seeds are dry, you can store them in glass jars, plastic bags, paper envelopes — Most containers are fine as long as they won’t let in moisture.

Label your containers by seed type, variety, and collection date.

From there, store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry place. The ideal storage temperatures are between 32-41°F (0-5°C), so if you want, you can keep your seeds in a refrigerator.

You’ll want to protect your seeds from fluctuating temperatures and high humidity levels (so your seeds don’t absorb moisture). You can keep silica gel packets in your storage containers to help with this.

We suggest using your oldest seeds first and saving fresh seeds each season, so you have an ongoing seed supply.

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