Free Seeds! A Seed Saving Primer

Located conveniently in your backyard. 

Nothing feels like you’ve leveled up your gardener skills than when you save and sow your own seeds.  My reluctance to attempt this was on par with installing a new operating system on my computer. That disappeared as I watched my garden plants do it all by themselves.  Tomatoes popped up all over, lettuces appeared, potatoes come back year after year.

Seeds are fully encapsulated little units of life. I but needed to collect them and give them a cool-ish, dark-ish, dry-ish place to be. Then next spring they were germinating at 90%-100%.

Free is always a great price, but even better, these seeds are adapted to our specific garden environment.  So cool.

Some seeds are easy to save, some are a little tricky. So I’ll give you a few principles and guidelines to help you make decisions on what to save, what not to save, and links for a deeper dive into seed saving. 

Three Tips on Selecting Seeds

Only save seeds from open-pollinated plants. They may or may not be heirloom, but in general OP plants produce viable seeds. Hybrids may have sterile seeds or seeds that aren’t true to form.

Be Choosy: Only save seeds from the plants that were badass. The ones that shrugged off pest attacks, bounced back from that time the watering system went out in July. Don’t keep the sickly ones that needed to be babied to survive. Only the exceptionally hearty survive at Second Breakfast Gardens. 

Drying Seeds: Spread out on a screen or box flat place and allow to air-dry out of direct sunlight. 

My Favorite Seeds to Save

Easy – Collect, air-dry, put in envelope or jar, label. Keep in a cool, dry, dark place. 

  • Artichoke
  • Bee-Balm
  • Calendula
  • Love-in-the-Mist
  • Garlic (Save fattest cloves and plant Sept-Nov)
  • Nasturtiums
  • Potatoes (Keep in a dark box or bag, check periodically for rot.)
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries (Cut and save runners.)
  • Sweet Pea
  • Sunflowers

Moderate Difficulty:

These ones are totally do-able, but have special instructions. 

  • Beans and Peas – Choose early, great looking pods and flag them. Then allow them to dry on the vine until the shell is hard and crisp and seeds feel loose inside. (Don’t just take the ones you didn’t harvest at the end, because you are selecting for a later maturing bean/pea.)
  • Broccoli: These I consider somewhat difficult because hybrids are such amazing producers. If you raise an OP variety, then let a few of the shoots flower and pick the seed pods when they are dry and crisp.
  • Chamomile: My favorite way to reseed is to let them dry on the flower and grab the seed heads crush them in my hands and sprinkle them wherever I want more. However, if you want to share or save, wait until the flower wilts and the center is coned out. Then pick the seed heads and allow to dry, then store in an envelope. The seeds are tiny as dust particles.
  • Eggplant –  Allow to mature fully. Open, remove seeds and air dry. 
  • Lettuces – My favorite way to use their seeds is to let it form the puffy seed heads, then I chop and drop and a few reseed themselves where ever I let them drop.  Other people put a paper or mesh bag over the seed heads to catch the seeds when they ripen before they blow away. They are tiny though, so handle with care.
  • Peppers – Flag a few early, beautiful peppers and allow them to ripen and dry on the plant. Then open and remove seeds.
  • Radish – Let go to flower and form pods. Pods are tasty, so eat some. Then let some ripen on the plant until they are dry and crispy.
  • Tomato – Save seeds from your first, best tomatoes. Remove seed pulp and put in a jar of water. Allow seeds to ferment for a few days. When they sink, they are ready. Strain out the seeds and place on a paper towel to dry. 


For these crops, leave a few of the best looking plants to overwinter and they will go to seed next growing season. 

  • Beets
  • Carrots (they may cross with wild carrot)
  • Chard
  • Onion
  • Parsley

Difficult or Unpredictable:

  • Cucurbits: (squash, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.) This family cross pollinates with other members of the family and can produce weird results.  Which I think is cool so I do it anyway. 
  • Tree Fruit: Most fruiting trees need to be propagated via a graft onto a hearty, dwarfing rootstock. For example an apple seed will produce a tree with fruit that is different from the parent and will usually be a “spitter”. Seedling apple trees also can get about 30 feet tall bringing the fruit out of easy reach.

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