How to Harvest Seeds from vegetables

Sunflower Seeds: Harvest seeds from vegetables

Harvesting your own vegetable seeds is a rewarding practice that not only saves money but also allows you to preserve the unique characteristics of your favorite vegetable varieties. In cold climates, this practice ensures a steady supply of hardy, adapted plants that thrive in your garden conditions.

You don’t need a lot of space to be able to grow and harvest your own vegetable seeds. There are several vegetables that will do very well in a small space like a balconey garden.

This guide will walk you through the process of harvesting seeds from a good selection of vegetables that do well in a cold climate.

What types of Vegetables are difficult to Harvest Seeds from?

There are many vegetables you can harvest seeds from, but some are more difficult than others, and there are certain challenges and limitations you must consider. Understanding these factors helps you make an informed decisions about which seeds to save.

Hybrids (F1 Varieties): Seeds from hybrid vegetables, which are bred by crossing two different parent plants, do not produce plants that are true-to-type. This means that the offspring may not have the desired traits of the parent plant, such as size, taste, or disease resistance. Many modern varieties of tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn are examples of H1 varieties.

Biennials: Vegetables like carrots, beets, and onions are biennial. This means they produce seeds in their second year of growth. In cold climates, overwintering these plants can be difficult without proper protection. However, it is possible with some effort and planning.

Cross-Pollinated Crops: Vegetables that cross-pollinate easily can produce seeds that do not come true to type unless strict isolation measures are taken. Examples include squash, cucumbers, melons, and some varieties of cabbage. To prevent cross-pollination, you need significant space or physical barriers. However, this can be impractical for small gardens.

Patented or Protected Varieties: Some commercially available seeds are patented or protected by plant breeders’ rights, making it illegal to save and replant these seeds without permission. Although this is more relevant for commercial growers, home gardeners should be aware of the legal implications.

When and how should you Harvest Seeds from Vegetables?

Understanding the life cycle of your plants is crucial for determining the best time to harvest seeds. Annuals, such as beans and lettuce, complete their life cycle in one growing season, while perennials like rhubarb can provide seeds over multiple years. And biennial plants like discussed above, produce seeds in their second year.

Here is a list of some common cold climate vegetables with information on how and when to harvest their seeds.

Cold hardy Vegetables you can Harvest Seeds from.
Overview of Vegetables you can Harvest Seeds from

Harvesting Seeds from Annual Vegetables

Beans, Peas, and Lentils

How: Allow the pods to dry on the plant until they turn brown and crispy. Once dry, pick the pods and remove the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the pods are fully dry.

Radishes and Arugula

How: Allow the seed pods to dry on the plant. Collect the pods when they turn brown and start to split. Break open the pods to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, after the plants have bolted and the seed pods have matured.

Lettuce and Spinach

How: Allow the plants to bolt and flower. Once the flowers fade and seed heads mature, cut the seed stalks and place them in a paper bag to dry completely. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the seed heads are fully mature and dry.

Cilantro/Coriander

How: Allow the seeds to turn brown on the plant. Cut the seed heads and place them in a paper bag to dry completely. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer, when the seeds are brown and dry.

Cucumbers and Squash

How: Allow the fruits to fully mature and become overripe on the vine. Scoop out the seeds and rinse them to remove any pulp. Make sure to dry the seeds completely.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the fruits are overripe.

Basil

How: Allow the plant to flower and produce seed heads. Once the seed heads are dry and brown, cut them and place them in a paper bag. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the seed heads are fully dry.

Harvesting Seeds from Biennials

Carrots, Parsnips, and Beets

How: In the second year, allow the plants to bolt and produce seed stalks. Harvest the seeds when the pods are dry and brown. Cut the seed stalks and place them in a paper bag to dry. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall of the second year.

Onions, Leeks, and Cabbage Family (Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Kale)

How: In the second year, let the plants flower and produce seed pods. Harvest when the seed pods are dry and brown. Cut the seed stalks and place them in a paper bag to dry. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall of the second year.

Celery and Swiss Chard

How: In the second year, allow the plants to bolt and produce seed stalks. Harvest the seeds when the seed heads are dry and brown. Cut the seed stalks and place them in a paper bag to dry. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall of the second year.

Harvesting Seeds from Perennial Vegetables

Rhubarb

How: Allow the flowering stalks to dry on the plant. Once dry, cut the stalks and collect the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the flowering stalks are fully dry.

Asparagus

How: Collect the red berries from the plant when they turn bright red and are fully mature. Extract the seeds from the berries and dry them.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the berries are bright red.

Sorrel

How: Allow the flower stalks to turn brown and dry on the plant. Cut the stalks and collect the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the flower stalks are fully dry.

Chives and Tarragon

How: Allow the plants to flower and produce seed heads. Once the seed heads are dry and brown, cut them and place them in a paper bag. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the seed heads are fully dry.

Artichokes

How: Allow the flowers to turn into seed heads on the plant. Once the seed heads are dry and brown, cut them and shake to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the seed heads are fully dry.

Horseradish

How: Let the seed pods dry on the plant. Harvest when the pods are brown and dry. Break open the pods to collect the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the pods are fully dry.

Lovage and Perennial Kale

How: Allow the plants to bolt and produce seed stalks. Harvest the seeds when the seed heads are dry and brown. Cut the seed stalks and place them in a paper bag to dry. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the seed heads are fully dry.

Perennial Onions

How: Allow the plants to flower and produce seed heads. Harvest when the seed heads are dry and brown. Cut the seed heads and place them in a paper bag. Shake the bag to release the seeds.
When: Late summer to early fall, when the seed heads are fully dry.

Methods for Drying Vegetable Seeds

Drying seeds properly is essential to prevent mold and ensure long-term viability. Common methods include air drying, using paper bags, and mesh screens or racks.

Air Drying

Air drying is a straightforward and effective method for drying seeds. To do this you spread the seeds in a single layer on a clean, dry surface such as a plate, tray, or screen. Place them in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Stir the seeds occasionally to ensure even drying and to prevent mold. This method is ideal for small batches of seeds and requires minimal equipment.

Paper Bags

Drying seeds in paper bags is another simple and effective technique, especially for seeds from plants with seed heads that might drop seeds as they dry. You place the seed heads or pods in a paper bag and close it loosely. Hang the bag in a warm, dry place. The bag will catch any seeds that fall naturally, and the paper bag allows for good air circulation, reducing the risk of mold. Once the seed heads are completely dry, shake the bag to release the remaining seeds.

Mesh Screens or Racks

Mesh screens or drying racks are excellent for drying larger quantities of seeds. Spread the seeds in a single layer on the screen or rack. The mesh allows air to circulate freely around the seeds, so they dry evenly. Place the screens or racks in a well-ventilated area, out of direct sunlight. For smaller seeds, place a fine mesh or cheesecloth on the screen to prevent them from falling through. This method is efficient and helps speed up the drying process for large amounts of seeds.

How to Store Harvested and Dried Vegetable Seeds

When you harvest seeds from vegetables, proper storage of the seeds is crucial to maintain their viability and protect them from pests, diseases, and environmental factors. Here are some effective techniques for storing seeds.

Airtight Containers

Using airtight containers is essential to keep seeds dry and free from moisture, which can cause mold and reduce seed viability. Glass jars with tight-fitting lids, plastic containers, and metal tins are excellent choices. Ensure that the containers are clean and dry before storing seeds.

Use of Desiccants

Adding desiccants to your seed storage containers can help control humidity levels and keep seeds dry. Silica gel packets, dry rice, or powdered milk can serve as desiccants. Place a small amount in a breathable pouch or directly in the container with the seeds. Replace the desiccant periodically to maintain its effectiveness.

Cool, Dark Storage Locations

Seeds store best in cool, dark environments. The ideal temperature for seed storage is between 32°F and 41°F (0°C to 5°C). A refrigerator can provide a consistent, cool environment. Ensure the seeds are in airtight containers to prevent moisture from condensation. Avoid storing seeds in areas that experience frequent temperature fluctuations or direct sunlight, such as garages or attics.

Freezing Seeds

For long-term storage, freezing seeds can significantly extend their viability. Place dried seeds in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags before freezing. This method is particularly effective for seeds that need to be stored for several years. When you are ready to plant, allow the seeds to come to room temperature before opening the containers to prevent condensation from forming on the seeds.

Avoiding Pests and Rodents

To protect seeds from pests and rodents, you need to store the containers in a secure location. Metal tins or heavy-duty plastic containers with tight lids are more resistant to pests. Check stored seeds periodically for signs of pests and address any issues right away.

Organizing and Labeling

Proper organization and labeling help keep track of seed types and harvest dates. This help ensure you use the oldest seeds first. It also helps maintain seed viability. Use waterproof markers or labels to mark each container with the seed variety, harvest date, and any other relevant information. Organize the seeds in a way that makes it easy to access and rotate them. You can for example store them in a filing system or labeled containers.

Preserve your own unique vegetables varieties

Harvesting your own seeds is a valuable practice that enhances your gardening experience and preserves unique vegetable varieties. By following these guidelines, you can ensure a successful seed harvest and enjoy the fruits of your labor for years to come.

Happy gardening!

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