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Seed Saving Basics

Seed Saving Basics

Mary Smith |

Seed saving is becoming more and more popular with backyard growers. It is exciting to see so many people ask about the "how to" of seed saving. Without generations of seed savers before us, we would not have the precious few heirloom varieties we have today.

Onion flower almost ready for seed collecting


When you think of seed saving you might be focusing on flowering plants producing seeds and the actual collecting of those seeds. In some cases it is the actual act of saving a food crop seed from disappearing, never to be grown again.

In an 80 year period, 1903 to 1983, it is estimated that 93% of heirloom seed varieties were "lost" or became extinct. Now more than ever, the act of saving seeds and protecting biodiversity is critical.

I wrote Protecting Seed Diversity & Our Future back in 2017 and it is still relevant today.

Let's start with the basics.

Why is it important to save seeds?
There is something truly amazing about planting seeds that you grew and saved.
Protecting genetic diversity is a great reason to save seeds. Working towards a more sustainable, sufficient lifestyle/garden is another great reason. Saving seeds is like printing money only better because you can't eat money (gross).

When you save seeds from your best plants each year you're gradually making improvements. Future seeds will be more adapted to grow in your particular climatic and soil conditions.

Make sure you start with open-pollinated, not hybrid, seeds or plants. Saving seeds is easier than most people think. For many vegetables and flowering plants, it’s as easy as plucking dry seeds off the plant and storing them. Wet seeds that come packaged inside of fruits take just a few more minutes of easy work.

The vegetables recommended for beginning seed savers are beans, peas, tomatoes, and lettuce. That is because these vegetables are self-pollinating, reducing the chance of undesirable crossbreeding. However, there is still a chance that they may be insect pollinated with another plant of the same species in your garden.

If you plan on harvesting seeds, it is important to understand "market maturity vs. seed maturity." By this, I mean that some crops are ready for eating long before the seed is mature. Examples of this include cucumbers, eggplants, peas, beans, and cabbage.


 Many of the heirloom seeds we offer at Mary's Heirloom Seeds have a rich, unique history. They have a "story" to tell. By saving and planting seed, you add your own chapter to the story.

Collecting Seeds

This is the fun part! Collect seeds from healthy plants, specifically plants that are not diseased or stunted. This is an important step. You can also choose to select seeds from that's with specific traits, such as heat tolerance and productivity.

Keep in mind that if you are leaving pods on the plant for seeds or allowing them to "bolt" your plant might slow down on producing food. Basil for example, for leaf production it is recommended to pinch off flower. However, if you are working on saving seeds, you will need those flowers for seed production.

Wet Seeds

I mentioned earlier that "wet seeds" take a little more time. Wet seeds are seeds inside fruits/veggies like tomatoes, cucumber and eggplant. These seeds will need to be rinse and left to dry before storing them. It is important to remove any damp plant matter from these seeds to prevent molding. Tomato seeds are usually fermented for optimal germination. I will discuss this in depth in a later article.

Once you have collected your wet seeds, place them on a drying rack or plate to fully dry. This can take a few days to a few weeks. I do not recommend storing on a paper towel as the towel can hold moisture, causing it to mold and the seeds might also stick to the paper towel. A plate or drying screen will allow you to move the seeds around to adequately dry seeds. Your drying area should be in a cool spot, away from direct sunlight. Do not use an oven to dry seeds.


Dry Seeds

Dry are usually the easiest seeds to collect. A few examples of dry seeds include Zinnia, Sunflower, Basil, Cilantro and Beans. These seeds are either right out in the open or left in the pod to dry out. As we get into specific seed varieties and saving seeds from them, you'll see that there are a few different ways to collect dry seeds. This Sunflower seed head is HUGE and not even the largest one we grow!


Storing Seeds

"Seeds in good condition and stored properly should last at least one year and, depending on the plant, may last two to five years." This is specific for optimal germination. If you are going to plant old seeds, you can perform your own germination test to check their viability.

Seeds should be stored in cool, dry and dark spot.

You can use Jars, bags and bins.  You can re-use containers and get creative

Some people store them in a jar in their refrigerator or freezer. I don not store my personal seed stash in a refrigerator or freezer as my seed stash would not fit. Instead, I store individually packaged containers in a large tote inside a large closet in a cool spot

If you intend to keep your seeds in a basement or area that might flood, a watertight container is a MUST. One of my customers let me know that they learned this the hard way.

Be sure to seal up your seeds to keep out bugs and rodents. Another customer let me know that she learned this the hard way.

Seed storage is a frequently asked question. This video is great for those of you that have purchased extra seeds and/or saved seeds.



As a special request, we also offer seed saving envelopes. You can choose from printed or plain. These are the same material as our seed packs at Mary's Heirloom Seeds.

Made from 40% post-consumer recycled paper and 100% compostable.

Made in the USA. Acid free

This is just the first in our Seed Saving Series. In case you missed our live chat about Seed Saving, here's the replay



Stay tuned for specific seed saving techniques and seed varieties. -Mary


If you have additional questions, please feel free to ask!
Email: mary@marysheirloomseeds.com



I cut the heads off of garlic and the bulbs grew bigger. Can you still plant those next year?

Bob Cubley,



Thank you for your time and effort to teach us all….we all need to be gardening, big or small.

Ann Marie,

Thanks for the great tips! I’m a beginner and love information like this!


I definitely need to practice saving more seeds.

Jessalyn ,

In these times of uncertainty…always advisable to travel with a seed bank…you can grow food anywhere….

Aaron Aveiro,

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