How To Save Seeds: A Guide For Summer Crops

Why purchase vegetable seeds year after year when nature supplies them for free?

Saving seeds is the ultimate in eco-friendliness, frugality and saving money.

Getting connected with other gardeners is a great way to swap locally adapted seeds. You could also join a local Seed Savers’ Network.

If you do need to purchase seeds or seedlings, buy heirloom varieties and save the seeds from them.

It’s easy to access heirloom seeds from places like The Digger’s Club or Eden Seeds, or to buy heirloom seedlings from the retail giant Bunnings Warehouse.

It’s very important that we grow heirloom vegetables to help protect the diversity of plants for future generations.

We’ve lost 94% of our vegetable varieties in the 20th century

Why Grow Heirloom Vegetables?

  • There’s a much greater variety of vegetables
  • Seeds become adapted to local conditions
  • Plants like tomatoes are flavoursome and tender, rather than tasteless and tough ‘cricket balls’
  • Heirloom crops ripen progressively and not all at the same time
  • You are helping to protect plant diversity
  • You won’t need to buy new seeds every season

Which Seeds To Save?

Only save the seeds from strong healthy disease-free plants as these are the plants you’ll want to reproduce.

When you’ve chosen which plants will produce seeds for the following year, it’s a good idea to tie a piece of string on the plant as a reminder to not eat that produce.

These plants will need to grow to full maturity.

Tomato Seeds

A variety of tomatoes for saving seeds.
A Plethora Of Heirloom Tomatoes Varieties

Tomato seeds are very easy to save.

Select the fruit of the healthiest plant on the lower three hands for seed saving.

Leave the tomatoes on the vine until they are over ripe and very soft. Then pick them, cut them in half and squeeze out the jelly and seeds into a jar or bowl.

Meatier tomatoes will have less jelly surrounding the seeds and may need a little added water.

Keep in a warm place for two to three days. You’ll notice a foam will form on the top. This is a beneficial fermentation, similar to an antibiotic, against diseases such as bacterial rot, speck and canker.

After the foam has formed, scoop it off and rinse the seeds in water in a sieve.

Dry the seeds away from direct sunlight in a single layer on a piece of newspaper or cloth (I use washable micro-fibre cloths).

Put the dry seeds into a labelled paper envelope and hang to dry for another two weeks.

Tomato seeds can be stored for up to four years in a cool dark place.

Note: commercially prepared seeds are chemically cleaned with hydrochloric acid. Whilst this is a quick cleaning method, it skips the beneficial fermentation process.

Pumpkin Seeds

Heirloom pumpkins for saving seeds.
A Huge Variety Of Heirloom Pumpkins

If possible, keep pumpkins for seed from more than one vine for genetic diversity. Although, if you only have one plant for seed saving then it’s still okay but not ideal.

After picking the pumpkin, leave it whole for a few more weeks to allow the seeds to mature inside the fruit.

Then scoop the seeds out, wash them and leave them to dry on a piece of cloth or newspaper out of the sun.

Leave to dry for around a week to 10 days.

To check if the seed is ready for storage: bite the seed with a reasonable amount of pressure and if no impression is made by the teeth, then the seed has sufficiently dried.

It’s now time to put the seeds in a labelled dated envelope.

Pumpkin seeds can last up to ten years if stored in a dry place with an even temperature.

Zucchini Seeds

A photo showing a variety of zucchinis for saving seeds.
Zucchinis: Why Eat Boring Mono-Cultures With So Much Choice Available?

Choose a zucchini for seed saving from a strong healthy plant without any sign of powdery mildew. If the plant shows a susceptibility to disease then it’s not suitable, as that susceptibility will be reproduced.

Leave one healthy zucchini to grow to full size and become hard. This can take about two months from flowering.

As with pumpkins, after picking the zucchini store it for a few more weeks to give the seeds time to fully mature.

Remove the seeds, wash, and then dry them for around two weeks.

Store the seeds in a labelled and dated envelope.

Zucchini seeds may last up to ten years in storage.

Bean Seeds

A photo of four different coloured beans for saving seeds.
Heirloom Beans Are One Of The Easiest Seeds To Save

Beans are a great beginners seed to start saving. They rarely cross pollinate with other bean plants and stay ‘pure’ for decades.

As with any seed saving, choose to save seeds from the best plants.

Leave the bean seeds to dry in the pods on the plants. However, in wet weather it’s best to bring them inside to finish drying.

With dwarf bean varieties, uproot the entire plant leaving the pods on the plant. Hang the plant in an airy dry place.

Test the bean seeds by biting it with gentle pressure, if no impression is left then dry the seeds for another one to two weeks.

Bean seeds stay viable for three years. Store them in air tight containers to avoid weevils getting into your seeds.

Melon Seeds

A photo of a variety of melons for seed saving.
A Huge Variety Of Melon Seeds Await You

As always select the healthiest plant for seed saving.

You’ll know when a melon is ready to pick as the little tendril next to the fruit will turn brown.

Store the melon for another week to allow the seeds to mature.

Then save the seeds by washing and then drying them on a cloth or newspaper.

Seeds will last around five years.

Facts about watermelon:

  • The rind can be used for candying and jam
  • In the African desert, watermelons are a major source of water
  • Kalahari Bushman have survived months with watermelon as their only source of water
  • The seeds can be roasted and eaten
  • They can also be roasted and ground and made into a meal

What Next?

If you’d like to know more about why it’s so important to protect our seeds, have a look at this documentary. It’s free to watch on YouTube.

‘Our Seeds’ documentary

Looking for other ways you can make difference?

Try making your produce bags, or beeswax food wraps, or environmentally friendly ways to wrap gifts.

Please share your experiences with seed saving in the comments box below.

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