Seed Saving Sense

First published in The Journal on August 8, 2022.

The season for seed saving is here!

Gardeners mid-harvest of fruits and vegetables are often curious about how to save seeds from beloved plants for next year’s garden or to share with friends. OSU Extension encourages this activity, both for self-sustainability and to help our Caldwell Community Seed Library grow. In order to be a successful seed saver, there are some basic facts you need to know.

First, let’s address why seed saving is an advantageous

Cantaloupe full of seed.

Cantaloupe full of seed.


Strategically saving seeds allows growers to select and save plants from their home gardens that have specific traits that they value (ex: tasty flavors, appealing texture, color, size, etc). Seed saving also plays a role in preserving historically significant plant varieties through the passing of seeds from one generation to the next. Keeping novel or heirloom varieties of seed circulating helps add diversity to the populations of plants grown in our communities. It can also help gardeners save money. What may be most appealing for some growers is that seed saving can spark new curiosities and adventures in gardening.

Whether saving seed from ornamental plants or food crops, in order to be successful, seeds must be saved from fully ripened fruits. Botanically speaking, a fruit is the ripened ovary of a flower in which seeds develop. Beans, melons, tomatoes, apples, and peppers are all fruits. All flowering plants produce a fruiting structure of some kind to hold their developed seed until the timing is right for distribution. Seeds are ready for dispersal from the fruit when the fruit is fully ripe. In many cases, we consume fruits and vegetables or pick flowers before they are fully ripe. Seeds saved from unripened fruits will rarely germinate when planted.

Have you ever found a swollen yellow cucumber hanging from a hidden vine? A cucumber like that is fully ripened. It is not the stage of growth that we prefer to eat cucumbers in, because they are typically very watery and full of large seeds. Those large seeds are exactly what you want to save! Almost always, you can tell that fruit is fully ripened when it is ready to fall from the plant and splatter on the ground. The trick is to find the ripened fruits before they go “splat” and are eaten by animals or contaminated with soil or fungus.

Once you have a fully ripened fruit, you are ready to collect the seeds and prepare them for storage. To prepare harvested seeds for storage they must be clean and fully dry. Then seed must be kept clean and fully dry until you are ready to initiate growth. Some seed may need to be exposed to cold temperatures and moisture to mimic winter in order to grow when planted. This process is called stratification. Some seed will need to be scuffed, heated, or soaked in order to grow when planted. This process is called scarification. These steps should be completed in a way that lines up with the planting date for each specific plant. The steps to follow depend on what seed you are caring for.

Some plants will take more than one year of growth to develop seeds. It is important to know if your plant is an annual, perennial, or biennial in order to know when to harvest the seeds. This information is available on the seed packet or plant tag of purchased plant material. Once you are familiar with the specific needs of your seed, you have the knowledge and power to create more of the plants you love.

However, not all plants can be grown successfully from home harvested seed. Because seeds are created through sexual reproduction, many plants will cross pollinate with other varieties of plants to create a completely new plant. In horticultural terms, we say that these seeds will not grow “true to type”. These seeds can lead to mysterious results that are fun to observe. Plants that self-pollinate are ideal for seed saving if you want to have baby plants that perform the same way as their parents. There are also many plant varieties that are considered property of an entity and cannot be legally propagated by the general public. These plants will be associated with a brand name (ex: Proven Winner petunias). Thus, these seeds or plants will need to be repurchased from a garden center or direct from the proprietor.

Seeds saved from local gardens can be returned in labeled envelopes or bags to be shared with others through the Caldwell Community Seed Library. For more information, stop by the Caldwell Public Library or email Christine Gelley, Agriculture & Natural Resources Extension Educator for Noble County OSU Extension at email or call 740-732-5681.

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