Grit Blogs > As My Garden Grows

Saving Seed

By Debbie Nowicki

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Fall colors

As we witness the start of the leaves falling, one by one, we are drawn to the realization that fall is just around the corner. It will happen as it does every year and we will stare in wonder at the magnificent colors that adorn the world around us. The gardens are showing the usual signs of wear with a successful season almost completed and yet there is still more work to be done. Cleaning out the old plants and starting fall crops is a necessary task, adding compost and mentally drawing our garden plans for next year as we jot down our notes on the progress from our 2008 garden.

Basil seedsFrom planting the first seed in early spring to watching our plants grow and mature, we never forget the final task of harvesting seed for the year to follow. Saving seed from our garden starts as the first tomato ripens, the spinach finishes its early crop and as the basil bolts to seed. The moment you start saving seed to grow your garden the following year or share the seed with others, you become very aware of the power of saving seeds and you look at every growing plant and wonder “where” the seed will be!

As I mentioned some plants will bolt or go to seed such as Basil. It will send out seeds, usually at the top of the plant, which signals it is done growing for the season and is putting the energy into producing seed.

These are easy to locate and need to be cut and set somewhere safe to dry before packaging up for the following season. This past year I saved spinach seed and found the lesson very interesting – the seed I saved from the spring is actually growing now for a fall crop. When spinach goes to seed – sending up stalks from the plant with seeds on them, some have pollen and others receive the pollen and develop the seed. The smaller looking seeds are the pollen and if brushed against you will witness the pollen afloat in the air.

Spinach seed

Onion if allowed to go to seed will develop a marvelous seedhead and once it starts to dry should be cut and the seed will fall out when ready.

Onion bloom

Onion seeds

Saving pepper seed is very easy – all you need do is save the seed inside a pepper plant, set somewhere to dry and package up for next season. Corn is also quite easy – I simply left the kernels dry on the cob and once dried, I pulled them off the cob for storage.

Drying corn on the cob

Blue cornMiniature blue corn was a neat crop this year and I have some crafts waiting to be created. The only problem I did experience with the blue corn was Squirrels! They destroyed half the crop before I had time to harvest it. I waited too long since I was not sure about the “blue” part of the corn and was waiting. Once the corn was harvested, it turned blue on its own.

Tomato seed takes a little more work to save. It is recommended to cut open a nicely ripe tomato and squeeze out the pulp with seed into a container, cover with water and let sit for no more than 72 hours. The seed will ferment which destroys some diseases and allows the seed to grow at the correct time. Pour off the fermentation and refill until the seed is clean. Pour the clean seed on mesh screen to dry for storage.

Flowers grow graciously among the gardens and yards and their seed is just as easy to save for future seasons. Some flowers are biennial or perennial and will grow back the next season on their own. The annuals need some help from us and discovering how their seed develops is not always the same for each different species. Marigold seed needs to only be pulled from the dried seedhead.

Marigold seed 

Zinnia seeds develop on the end of the petal – once pulled from the head and separated from the petal, save the petals for potpourri or filler for a craft project.

Zinnia seed

Anise hyssop will drop its seed freely and replants itself for the next year. You can shake the seed from the flower head and save to share or plant elsewhere.

Anise hyssop seed

Taking a picture of each plant as it matures and shows it beauty is great for your records or to use on a label as you package up the seeds. Also a very unique gift to share for any occasion: Saved seeds packaged up with a picture of the plant at maturity with growing instructions along with the actual flowers dried makes a lovely display. This year all those near and dear to me will receive a package of Zinnia and Marigold seeds with the dried flowers of each in a cute little arrangement.

allan douglas
8/31/2012 6:03:14 PM

How do you recommend storing seed for the winter season? I'm particularly interested in vegetable seeds. Just keep them dry... refrigerator... freezer? What is best?

vicki bordeaux
8/31/2012 4:10:34 PM

Last year I saved many flower seeds. Zennia, Marigolds as well as Sunflowers, Black Berry lillies, Rain Lillies, & Mexican sunflowers. aside from gardening another passion of mine is photography and I had taken many photos of my flowers with butterflies on them. I printed the photos and put them in side those envelopes you buy for CD's, the photo shows through the little window. I then I placed the appropriate seeds in the envelope and sealed with a lable I made with instructions. I tied asst. envelopes with ribbon and used as gifts. They were well received and i received calls in the spring and early summer about how well the flowers were being enjoyed. This was a very rewarding project.

4/13/2010 12:52:22 AM

I agree with your method on obtaining seeds from zinnias, but also feel you are missing the source of seeds from the head, not just from the petals. The seeds, as you show them, from the petals, are pointed and the ones from the head are flatter. If you crush the head of the zinnia, after removing the petals, you will end up with an abundance of seed, which no bears no resemblance to the pointed seed you have obtained from the end of the petals. - similiar to a flattened sunflower seed, and germinate vigourously. Pictures to follow.

cindy murphy
9/25/2008 5:55:10 PM

Hi, Debbie. I agree with Lori - what a great idea to make your own seed packets filled with flowers-to-be right from your own garden. My black-eyed susans and coneflowers are just at the right stage for this. They're so easily sown that I usually just let the flowers dry on the plant, then scatter the seeds over the ground when I cut them back. But collecting, and giving them to gardening friends is a perfect gift. I have to laugh at your sunflower getting pulled because it was mistaken for a weed. A friend of mine gave me a start of her Sweet Autumn Clematis a few years ago, and the poor thing was pulled by my husband three times because he thought it was a weed, (it grows like one). The last time, he brought it in the house, held it up by its roots, and asked, "Is this that clematis-thing I wasn't supposed to touch." I now give him a tour of the new things I plant, explaining, "I mean this to be here; don't pull it, please." Learing the hard way, he refrains from pulling plants out of the gardens for the most part. The weed-whip is another story.

9/25/2008 4:29:19 AM

Morning Lori! I think seeing the seed makes it easier to understand where the seed actually is .. some seeds can be tricky and some are SO tiny! I tried a few sunflower seeds from the birdseed mix this year and DH thought they were weeds and pulled them out! I saved one and replanted but he is just not all that lively! Sunflowers are on my list for next year with a sign "Do not pull"!

9/24/2008 9:38:40 PM

Debbie, Your photos do a wonderful job of showing how to collect seed! I like the idea of packaging them and giving as gifts! Any gardening type person would love this! I've been experimenting with drying sunflowers this year. Once they are dry, I save the petals for potpourri, and then collect the seed. We planted a couple large strips of sunflowers in our fields, and I am harvesting those with a longer stem after the flower part has died back. I'm hanging them upside down to dry completely, then this winter I will hang the whole stem and dried flower top out for the birds. They can peck the seeds out naturally, and I save money on bird food!