Tag Archives: Seed Saving

Fall Reads: Five Books on Seed Saving

From the outset, seed saving can seem like a rather simple affair. How hard could it be to collect seeds from your vegetable plants right? When you start trying to learn, it becomes apparent that things are a bit more complicated then that. All of a sudden your thrown into the world of seeds and you’re trying to learn about things like isolation distances, pollination dynamics, and seed cleaning methods. This fall, add one of these five books to your garden shelf for all the seed saving information you need.

Seed To Seed: Saving Our Vegetable Heritage

Written by Suzanne Ashworth , Seed to Seed provides a comprehensive look at seed saving. It’s perfect for complete beginners or those looking to improve their knowledge. Find information about both common and rare vegetables and herbs from seed collection and storage to maintaining variety purity.

The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving

This wonderful book was a partnership between The Organic Seed Alliance and Seed Savers Exchange. It’s a great companion to Seed to Seed. It focuses more on main vegetable varieties with helpful guidelines for both farmers and home gardeners. It also features new seed saving research.

Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties

Create your own locally adapted varieties. Carole Deppe provides an informative look at seed saving and plant breeding for both farmers and gardens. Plus, the book is filled with inspiring tales of such interesting vegetables as popping chickpeas, hairy mustards, purple peas, rainbow corn, storage watermelons, and many more.

The Organic Seed Grower

“An essential guide to high-quality, organic seed production: well grounded in fundamental principles, brimming with practical techniques, thorough in coverage, and remarkably well organized, accessible, and readable.” – Jeff McCormack, Southern Exposure founder. This book is a valuable tool for any seed saver, covering topics like seed-borne diseases, reproductive biology of crop plants, seed crop climates and more.

Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties

This book obviously doesn’t provide a comprehensive look at seed saving like those mentioned above, but it is perfect for any tomato enthusiast. Author Craig LeHoullier introduced Cherokee Purple tomatoes to SESE and the world. His book offers incredible insight into all aspects of tomato growing and breeding.

Perfect for your fall reading list, these 5 books can help you save seeds of your own, whether you want to help preserve your favorite heirlooms or breed a local cucumber variety. They’re also a great option to keep in mind for the holidays.

Seeds: Tips for Storing, Testing, & Saving

Almost all gardeners end up with extra seed each year. Whether you saved more than you needed from your own plants, wanted a lot of variety, or simply got overzealous when all the beautiful catalogs came in the mail chances are you’ll have a bit of seed left over from year to year. No matter if you purchased the seed or saved it yourself, you don’t want it to go to waste. Many seeds can last years like this variety of squash which was revived from 800-year-old seed found in a clay jar in Wisconsin!

Germination Test

There’s a simple germination test you can do at home to ensure your seeds are still good before planting time. Simply take 10 seeds and place them, folded into a damp paper towel in a container or bag (to help hold in moisture). Set your container in a warm place. The amount of time you’ll need to leave them will, of course, depend on how long whatever type of seed your testing requires to germinate. Be sure to keep the paper towel damp. You may have to sprinkle water on it if it begins to dry out. 

The number of seeds that germinate will give you a rough idea about their germination rate and you can plant accordingly. Even if only half germinate you still use your seed just be sure to plant thickly in the case of direct seeding or multiple seeds per cell when starting indoors. If you have a lot of seed, testing more than 10 will give you a more accurate percentage. 

Tips for Storing Extra Seed

While some seed like beans, corn, and peas naturally keep longer than others like spinach, alliums, and parsnips, storing your seed properly will greatly increase its shelf life. 

  • Extra seed should ideally be kept somewhere cool (about 50°F), dark, and dry. 
  • Unless your house is extremely humid storing your seeds in the paper packets they came in should be fine. However, you can place the seeds or entire packet into mason jars to be extra safe. 
  • Mason jars are also an excellent way to store seed you’ve saved at home.
  • Label everything with the variety and date you stored or last tested your seed.
  • Organize your seeds in the fall that way they’re ready to go and you’re not left scrambling with last minute orders when you can’t find a variety you thought you had in the spring.

Saving Seed at Home

If you’re planning on saving your own seed this year be sure that you’re processing it properly if you want it to last. Here are a few of our resources for those looking to become more knowledgeable about saving seed at home.

Even if you don’t have the time or desire to save your own seeds learning to properly care for your purchased seeds can save you time and money each year. 

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Seed Saving from Biennial Crops

Generally when people think of seed saving they think about annual crops like corn, tomatoes, and beans which all produce seed in the fall or at the end of the growing season. While these are great crops for beginners to get started with many other common crops are actually biennial.

Seed Saving for Beginners

What’s a Biennial?

Biennial crops are those that require two growing seasons to reach maturity and produce seed. They need to go through a cold period called vernalization in order to produce seed. These include crops like beets, Swiss chard, bulb onions, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, carrots, turnips, and more.


For most of these crops it is best to plant them in early fall. With the exception of bulb onions, plants that are started in fall rather than spring generally overwinter better.  When planting make sure that you give them enough space. Remember that your plants will be growing beyond the size they normally would for harvest before you’ll be able to collect seed.

You should also consider how much your chosen crop needs to be isolated. For example beets are wind pollinated, can cross with Swiss chard, and need to be isolated by 1/4 mile for home use. For pure seed they need to be isolated by 1/2 mile! Unless you have a large farm it’s probably best to stick with one variety so isolation isn’t as much of an issue. You can find this information for most crops in our growing guides.


Depending on your climate you may have different options for overwintering these crops. In southern zones it’s possible to overwinter some of these crops right in the ground especially if you have a hoop house, low tunnel, or cold frame set up over them. They should also be mulched in heavily to keep the soil temperature warmer. Many biennial crops can survive temperatures into the 20°Fs.

If you live in a colder climate where you cannot overwinter your crop in the ground it is still possible to save your own seed. Before the the ground freezes pull the plants up, being careful with the roots, and store them in moist peat moss, shredded newspaper, sawdust, or sand in a fridge or root cellar the way you would store carrots and beets for winter eating. Leave space between each plant so they aren’t touching each other. In storage you want to keep your plants cold but still above freezing. The high 30s are ideal. Onions however prefer less moisture and warmer temperatures (storage temperatures in the low 50°Fs).

Before pulling them up you can let them get frosted a few times. This will encourage them to go dormant. If they don’t go through a cold period they won’t be triggered to produce seed when you replant them in the spring. You can replant as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring.

Collecting Seed

During their second growing season biennial plants will flower and go to seed. For most crops this seed should be collected when it’s dry and brown. Some crops may have seeds on the same plant maturing at different rates so you may need to harvest your seeds while some are still green. Do no keep any seeds that didn’t fully mature and are green.

While there is a bit more involved in seed saving from biennial crops it’s still not a difficult skill to learn. If you’d like to help save your favorite heirloom variety or adapt a crop to your specific climate you  might consider trying your hand at seed saving.

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