Gaining seeds: harvesting seeds for the next year

Seeds in paper bags

Seeds for the next year can be obtained from one’s own plants [Photo: Maria Evseyeva/]

If you want to harvest, you have to sow first – but do you really have to buy new seeds every spring? No, seeds can also be obtained from your own garden, and quite easily too. We show you how to take seeds from a wide variety of vegetables and flowers and store them for the following years.

Winning seeds: What plants are suitable for seed collection?

Seeds can be obtained only from vegetable plants, summer flowers and also perennials that form flowers capable of fertilization. These flowers, in turn, need to be pollinated, so the presence of insects as pollinators is often a prerequisite. Filled or sterile flowers and flowers of exotic plants are not pollinated at all and therefore do not produce seeds. All plants that were harvested before they flowered – like lettuce or cabbage – also can’t form seeds. If you still want to obtain seeds from these plants, do not harvest individual plants, but wait for flowering and seed formation.

Harvesting lettuce fresh from the garden by hand

Plants that are harvested before flowering are less suitable [Photo: Nataliia Melnychuk/]

There’s also the special case of hybrid seed: hybrid varieties often form seeds, but they are not seed-stable, so the resulting offspring can be very different from their parent plants.

Tip: Hybrid varieties are labeled with the name suffix "F1" on the seed packet. Offspring of hybrid plants are not uniform, but only half of them have the same genetics as the mother plant. The other half may have very different characteristics.

Harvesting seeds: step-by-step instructions

The harvesting of seeds is in principle very similar with all plants. So you should first find healthy, vigorous plants and collect seeds only from them. Diseased plants should not be harvested: On the one hand, seed quality is often much poorer, and on the other hand, some diseases are also transmitted through seeds. If you sow them, the small plantlets can quickly become sick and die. Once you have selected the ideal plants, they should be well cared for and supplied with nutrients, because flowering and seed formation cost the plant a lot of energy. The application of a high-quality organic fertilizer is an important care measure. In our special article you will learn everything about vegetable fertilizers, their properties and advantages.

Ripe cucumbers

Seeds should be obtained only from healthy plants [Photo: New Africa/]

To allow the seeds to develop fully, be sure to wait until the fruit is ripe or the seed stalks turn brown and become dry. Now you can remove the seeds, clean them and remove any pulp. Check that the seeds are really clean: Any contamination can later cause the seeds to begin to mold or transmit diseases to the new generation.

Obtain seeds from your own garden: Instructions

  1. Fertilize and care for plants well.
  2. Wait for flowering and seed formation.
  3. Allow fruit or seed set to fully ripen and collect only from vigorous, healthy plants.
  4. Separate seeds cleanly from pulp and other impurities.
  5. Drying, filling and labeling seeds.
  6. Store in a dry and cool place, reseed within the respective lifespan of the seeds.

Harvesting vegetable seeds yourself

Depending on the type of plant, vegetable seeds are formed in fruits, pods, pods or freely on the inflorescence. The collection of seeds is accordingly different. We go into detail about the individual types of vegetables and explain how you can obtain seeds from them yourself.

TipIf you are not sure in which group you will find your vegetable, have a look at our article on the classification of the different vegetables.

Fruiting Vegetables

These include the Solanaceae and Cucurbitaceae plant families, where the fruits are eaten.

Among the nightshade plants, we find as a representative the tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), peppers (Capsicum annuum), Physalis (Physalis peruviana) and eggplants (Solanum melongena). They are largely self-pollinators, which makes it easy to maintain the variety. To encourage self-pollination, it is worth shaking the open flowers of Solanaceae in the morning to distribute your own pollen onto the stigma. From August the fruits of this vegetable family ripen and can be harvested. For seed collection, harvest soft, ripe fruit from the middle of the season. The best seed quality is in the fruits, which are neither the first nor the last to ripen.

Tomato seeds are soaked in water for two to three days because of their gelatinous covering and rinsed daily until the seeds are freed. Then drying on paper takes place. Bell pepper, physalis and eggplant seeds can be spread directly on a paper towel and dried this way.

Tomato seeds in cut tomatoes

The bile-like coating around the tomato seeds can be removed after 2-3 days [Photo: Peter Zijlstra/]

Tip: For a more detailed guide on how to obtain tomato seeds, please refer to our special article.

Whether pumpkin (Cucurbita sp.), zucchini (Cucurbita pepo subsp. pepo convar. giromontiina), melon (Cucumis melo) or cucumber (Cucumis sativus), Always the seeds of the cucurbits are surrounded by a tasty fruit. The seeds can be obtained together with the ripe fruit. Cucurbitaceae, however, are strict cross-pollinators. They produce single male and female flowers that are readily visited by bumblebees and bees. Unfortunately, the eager insects do not differentiate between the species they pollinate. Thus, in the next generation, hybrids of squash and zucchini are quickly produced when plants are close to each other.

Attention: Worse, cross-breeding in the next generation can lead to the synthesis of bitter compounds called cucurbitacins, which can cause cramps and worse if consumed in excess. If you use self-collected seeds from cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and zucchinis, you should check the resulting fruits to see if they have a very bitter taste – and if in doubt, discard them.

Pumpkin seeds taken with spoon in the kitchen

In the case of pumpkin, the seeds can be easily removed from the ripe fruit [photo: Agnes Kantaruk/]

With pumpkins, the time to harvest seeds is simply in the fall, but with zucchini and cucumber, you have to wait a little longer than usual: both fruits are often harvested before they are fully ripe, because then they taste better, are still tender, and contain few seeds. Leave the fruits on the plant longer than usual into the fall. It is best to leave fruit hanging for seed collection at the end of the season, otherwise the plants will produce much less fruit overall. To obtain cucumber and zucchini seeds or pumpkin seeds, cut open the fruits, remove the seeds with a spoon and rinse vigorously with water. Once all the pulp has separated, place the seeds on paper towels to dry. After a few days, the extracted seeds can be bottled and stored. Seeds of tomatoes and peppers can germinate for five to ten years, those of squash, zucchini and Co. for about four to five years.

Root, leafy vegetables and bulbous plants

These include the bulbous (Amaryllidaceae), umbelliferous (Apiaceae), composite (Asteraceae), and cruciferous or cabbage (Brassicaceae) families. All these plant families are cross-pollinating and can cross-pollinate with other varieties of their species.

The bulbous plants, such as onion (Allium cepa) and leek (Allium porrum), usually bloom only in the second year of standing. Therefore, if you want to obtain seeds, they should not be harvested. In the summer of the second year, several long, unleaved flower stalks with spherical, white-green flower heads are formed. After pollination by insects, black, angular seeds then emerge and quickly drop out when ripe. Therefore, harvest the entire inflorescence when the bracts around the seeds become dry and allow it to re-dry at room temperature for about ten days. Seeds of bulbous plants are only good for germination for about a year.

Gaining seeds: harvesting seeds for the next year

The flowers of carrots are spherical [Photo: Werner Rebel/]

Root and tuber vegetables from the umbelliferae family, such as carrot (Daucus carota), parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and celery (Apium graveolens) usually flower in the second year of growth, carrots sometimes already in the first year. In the spring of the second year, elongated, umbel-shaped inflorescences form, which bloom inconspicuously greenish or white. Insects readily pollinate the flowers and seeds form quickly, maturing in the fall. The crescent to rounded seeds drop quickly in dry conditions, so cut the umbels whole in the early morning and dry them indoors. Seeds of carrots, parsnip and co. are germinable for about two years.

The widespread composite plants, which include salsify (Scorzonera hispanica) and chicory (Cichorium intybus), but also lettuce (Lactuca sativa) belong, bloom partly in the first, partly in the second standing year. They are also cross-pollinators, which can cross-pollinate within the species between different cultivars if the cultivars are within about 3 km of each other. In October, the pollinated flowers ripen into achene fruits, which, like salsify, have a kind of parachute, the pappus, for wind dispersal. Here, the seeds should be harvested as soon as the white pappus unfolds, which happens between September and October. These seeds are also post-dried indoors at room temperature for one to two weeks. By the way, when you prepare the seeds, you remove the pappus, so it is easier to sow the next year. The composite plants germinate reliably for about four years.

Gaining seeds: harvesting seeds for the next year

Once lettuce flowers, it can no longer be eaten [Photo: I. Rottlaender/]

The popular cabbage family, which includes arugula (Eruca sativa), but also leaf charcoal such as palm kale (Brassica oleracea var. palmifolia), usually flower in the second year of growth. Some species like radish (Raphanus sativus) partly bloom already in the first year. For the kitchen they are all harvested and eaten already in the first year. So these crops must be left for another year and not harvested. Here, bright yellow, cruciform flowers form at flowering time, which offer insects nectar and are therefore readily visited. However, this also means that all the plant families mentioned are cross-pollinated with their representatives and the varieties are often subject to modification by non-varietal genetic material of the same species. In the cabbage family, elongated pods form with round, black seeds in them. From mid-September the seed stalks can be cut off and dried indoors. To do this, detach the seeds from the pods and let them air dry. Cabbage plants continue to germinate reliably for up to four years after harvesting.

Seed vegetables: the legumes

These include legumes from the papilionaceous family (Fabaceae), as well as various varieties of corn (Zea mays), which belong to the sweet grasses (Poaceae).

If you are interested in butterfly vegetables such as lentil (Lens culinaris), sugar snap peas (Pisum sativum) or bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) If you want to produce seeds yourself, it is not difficult to do so. These vegetable plants flower and fruit in the same year of sowing. Legumes are self-pollinators, so the respective variety can always be preserved safely and without cross-pollination in the next generation. After flowering from May to August, small green pods form quickly, rapidly becoming larger, fibrous, and eventually brown and dry. Leave the pods on the plant until they turn brown, dry out and begin to rustle. The seeds inside become hard as they mature toward late summer to late fall. At best, wait until the end of the season to do this, otherwise the bean or pea plants will produce less yield for the kitchen. The dry pods are removed from the plants, which have also died in the meantime, and dried a little indoors. In winter, you can take the now-dry seeds out of the pods, bottle them, and store them. Peas, beans and co. are germinable for about two to four years.

Bean seeds variegated different varieties

When the pods of the beans have dried up, the seeds can be easily removed [Photo: Madlen/]

For sweetgrass corn, fertilization, harvesting, and drying are somewhat different. Here, the male flower is formed at the top of the corn plant, and the female flower at the future cob; it is pollinated by the wind. However, this also means that a nearby corn field or corn plants of other varieties can easily cross-pollinate and thus change the sown variety with their genetic material. If you want to preserve your own variety, put a bag over it shortly before the female flower and protect it from foreign pollen. Can be recognized by the light green pistil threads peeking out of the cob bracts. If the flag, i.e. the male flower at the top of the shoot begins to pollinate, the pollen is collected, for example, on a piece of paper by shaking it and then transferred to the female pistil filaments.

Put the bag back over and wait for the cob to form underneath. In October, the two to six cobs per plant ripen, while the corn plant itself dies off. If the cob bracts have also dried out, the whole cob can be harvested and dried indoors. After one to two weeks at room temperature, seeds can be rubbed off the spindle and stored in a dry, cool place. Corn seeds can germinate for about four years.

Harvest flower seeds

Sterile and double flowers, such as double-flowered hollyhocks, do not produce seeds; they cannot be used for seed collection. Otherwise, the seeds of many flowers and perennials mature in the fall and can be harvested. In many plants, the flower seeds sit in small heads, for example, in the case of the composite flowers such as marigolds (Calendula officinalis) or sunflower (Helianthus annuus). Obtaining flower seeds is quite simple, the whole seed head, whether spherical or elongated as in the case of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), cut off and post-dried in the house. Seeds come off easily from the seed heads when they are completely dry. Remove any remaining plant parts and store seeds in labeled bags or jars. Most flower seeds are germinable for about two to five years.

Ripe sunflower seeds

The sunflower seeds dry on the flower [Photo: Akif CUBUK/]

Tip: Seeds of hardy perennials often require a cold stimulus or other treatment to break dormancy in order to germinate. This so-called "stratification" can be done individually on the different seeds – this is something for real experts. Easier, but with a lower success rate due to hungry pests, is to harvest the seeds and sow them right back outside. Normally, the seed receives just the right stimulus in this way to be encouraged to germinate. That germination then does not occur until the following spring is nothing unusual.

Dry harvested seeds

Seeds should be well dried before storage. This is done in a warm, dry place indoors, as it is often already too damp and cool outside at the time of seed harvest in the fall. Flower seeds are dried as a whole seed stand, from which they are later easily detached. Seeds of fruiting vegetables should be free of pulp residues, while pods and pods can be dried whole. At room temperature, seeds need about a week to be dry enough for storage. Moist or immature seeds take longer to dry, otherwise mold can quickly form when the seeds are stored.

Seeds in paper bags

Seeds store well in a paper bag [Photo: Charlotte Lake/]

Store seeds correctly

Dry seeds are best kept dry, dark and cool. The best way to do this is to use a paper envelope or a closed glass jar. With the latter, however, the seeds must be really dry, residual moisture quickly leads to the formation of mold. Locked in airtight containers, seeds keep best in the basement and remain germinable for a long time. Too much heat, on the other hand, significantly reduces the germination capacity and lifespan of the seeds. Depending on the species, seeds remain germinable for 1 to 10 years and should be returned to the garden within their respective lifespan.

Especially with flower seeds can be well formed the popular Seedbombs. In our article, we clarify the origin of the trend and give instructions for making seed bombs with simple ingredients.

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I studied horticultural sciences at the WZW in Freising and in my spare time I plant everything on a piece of arable land that has roots. The topic of self-sufficiency and seasonal nutrition is particularly close to my heart.
Favorite fruit: quince, cornelian cherry and blueberry
favorite vegetables: peas, tomatoes and garlic

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