Seed Saving 101

Welcome to Seed Saving 101! This information was developed and presented in workshop format by Bridget Indelicato, Founder, Innisfil Seed Library (2018).

Why save seeds?
People have collected and saved seeds for thousands of years; however, over the last century we've lost a great deal of this knowledge and the biodiversity we once enjoyed. Gardeners and farmers have become reliant on large seed companies for their crops in turn significantly shrinking the diversity of our plants and food.

By growing and saving your seeds, you:

  • Help cultivate and maintain biodiversity
  • Develop locally adapted seed to our environment
  • Eat healthy while saving money
  • Gain local food security
  • Become less dependent on large seed companies
  • Learn and share with your community

About this information:

The information on vegetables and herbs is categorized by seed families, as you'll find them in the Innisfil Seed Library bins. Flowers are simply in alphabetical order, as they are in the ISL. Some of the more popular home gardening vegetables, herbs and flowers are covered. Seed saving difficulty is categorized by EASY (little effort); MEDIUM (some process involved); and ADVANCED (often biennial seed producers requiring overwintering).

Click for General Seed Harvesting & Storage Tips.

Sunflower Family Compositae (Asteraceae) Artichoke, cardoon, endive, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, salsify, sunflower
EASY 
Lettuce

  • “Bolting” happens when the weather heats up and the plant sends up a stalk. It’s getting ready to flower and produce seed.
  • Lettuce will be bitter to taste when this happens.
  • Be patient – it takes several weeks for the seeds to be ready to harvest.
  • Allow the seed heads to dry on the living plant for most mature seeds.
  • Once cut down, allow further drying either in open air or in a paper bag before releasing the seeds.

Goosefoot Family Chenopodiaceae Beet, chard, lamb’s quarters, orach, quinoa, spinach
ADVANCED 
Beet

  • Beets are biennial seed producers meaning they set seeds in their second year if left in the ground.
  • Allow a few beets to overwinter so that seeds can be produced the following growing season.
  • In its second year it will send up a stock full of seeds.

ADVANCED
Swiss chard

  • Swiss chard are also biennial seed producers.
  • Again allow a few to overwinter so that seeds can be produced the following growing season.

MEDIUM
Spinach

  • Spinach will bolt when the heat of summer sets in, leaves will form in spears rather than smooth round lobes, and the taste will be bitter.
  • Unlike lettuce, which is self pollinating, spinach requires multiple plants to ensure male and female plants are present to pollinate and produce seeds.
  • The male plant produces pollen that is wind blown to the female plant that produces the seeds.

Mustard Family Brassicaceae (Cruciferae) Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, radish, turnip
EASY 
Arugula

  • Arugula, a spicy addition to salads, bolts by sending up a flower and slender seed pods along its stem.
  • Allow the pods to completely dry on the living plant. Each plant will produce hundreds of seeds in their delicate pods.
  • When clipping the stems for harvest, immediately place them in a paper bag as pods will easily break and spill seeds.

EASY
Bok choy

  • Bok choy, an excellent vegetable in stir fries, also sends up a flourish of flowers when it’s ready to set seed.
  • Flowers of all seeding plants are enjoyed by pollinators. Another wonderful reason to let your veggies go to seed!
  • Harvest the pods, with hundreds of seeds, the same way you would arugula.

EASY
Radish

  • Like arugula and bok choy, radish will flower and produce pods along its stem.
  • Radish seed pods are roundish and contain about 3 to 6 seeds each.
  • Allow them to mature on the living plant and harvest as you would arugula and bok choy.

Lily Family Amarylidaceae (Liliaceae) Chives, garlic, leek, onion
EASY
Onion chives

  • An attractive, edible perennial.
  • Chive’s purple flower is a welcome sight in the spring garden and makes a delicious addition to meals.
  • Once dried on the plant, the tiny black seeds can be easily shaken from each head.
  • After harvesting its seeds, cut the plant back to the ground and new tasty chive stems will grow in the same season.

Grass Family Graminae (Poaceae) Broom corn, corn, grains
MEDIUM
Corn

  • Best to collect corn seeds (caryopsis) about 5 weeks after its eating stage.
  • Choose best looking ears and allow the seeds to dry on the plant before harvesting.
  • Allow further drying with husks pulled back and hang in a cool location; further dry out of husks and then twist to remove kernels.

Mint Family Labiateae (Lamiaceae) Basil, mints
EASY
Basil

  • Basil will shoot up a flower stalk that will produce an abundance of tiny black seeds when completely dried on the living plant.
  • You may continue harvesting its lower leaves while it sets seed.

EASY
Oregano

  • Oregano, a perennial herb, produces tiny flowers that turn into seeds that can be used to grow or eat for an intense flavour.
  • Once the seeds mature on the plant, cut by the branch and hang in a sheltered location until completely dried.

Pea Family Leguminosae (Fabaceae) Bean, lentils, pea, peanut, soybean
EASY
Peas & Beans

  • Peas and beans should be left on their vines until they puff up and dry.

Parsley Family Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) Carrot, celery, chervil, coriander, dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip
ADVANCED
Carrot

  • Carrots are biennial seed producers meaning they set seeds in their second year if left in the ground.
  • Allow a few carrots to overwinter so that seeds can be produced the following growing season.
  • In its second year it will send up a stock and umbel.

EASY
Cilantro

  • Cilantro produces a lovely spray of flowers called “umbels” that each turn into round edible seeds we know as coriander.
  • Allow them to dry on the living plant and then hang in a sheltered location to fully dry before harvesting.

EASY
Dill

  • Dill produces striking yellow flower heads on umbels at the top of its long stems.
  • When the seeds just start to form, they are ideal for use in pickling.
  • Once the seeds completely dry, they can be used to enhance food as well.

ADVANCED
Parsley

  • Parsley is also a biennial seed producer that sets its seeds in its second year.
  • As with carrots, allow some to overwinter so that seeds on umbels can be produced the following growing season.
  • The caterpillar of the Yellow Swallowtail butterfly feeds on parsley.
  • This is parsley that was seeding in its second year. The caterpillar ate the foliage and left the seed heads alone.

Nightshade Family Solanacea Eggplant, peppers, potato, tomatillo, tomato
EASY
Eggplant

  • Eggplant seeds should be harvested when it’s past its edible stage for most viable seeds.
  • Allow it to overripen on the plant.
  • For separation of seeds from the flesh, you may grate the eggplant into a bowl of water and rub to release the seeds.

EASY
Pepper (sweet and hot)

  • Pepper seeds are very simple to save. Simply scrape seeds out of a mature pepper and allow to completely dry. No further cleaning required.
  • If saving hot pepper seeds, you may be vulnerable to skin irritation. Wear gloves if possible and do not rub your eyes!

MEDIUM
Tomato

  • Choose a few of your best looking tomatoes.
  • While you may save tomato seeds in several ways, the “fermentation process” is most recommended for the healthiest seed collection and future produce.
  • Click for Fermentation Process.

Gourd Family Cuburbitaceae Cucumber, gourds, melon, pumpkin, squash
EASY
Squash, pumpkins

  • Collect seeds from fully mature squash.
  • Wash off pulp and allow seeds to fully dry on paper towel or a screen.

MEDIUM
Cucumber

  • Allow a few cucumbers to overripen on its vines until they appear swollen and yellow/orange.
  • After harvesting its pulpy seeds, use the "fermentation process."
  • Click for Fermentation Process.

Flowers
ALL EASY

Borage

Borage is considered a medicinal herb with edible leaves and flowers. Its prolific blue flowers are an excellent way to invite pollinators to your garden. Bees love them! Allow the seeds to darken and mature on the living plant once the flowers have faded.

Cornflower

  • Cornflower is a summer cottage garden favourite.
  • They produce heads with many seeds with tufts at the end that allow them to travel by wind.

Cosmos

  • Cosmos is a whimsical annual suited to summer cottage gardens.
  • In late summer the flower heads will produce pointy, slender seeds. 
  • Although they are annuals, these flowers easily self-seed especially since they can easily travel by wind.
  • When the seeds are dry on the plant, carefully snip the whole head.
  • If left in the garden, they will easily self seed next summer.

Lupin

  • Lupin is a popular, perennial spring bloom.

  • Its striking flower stalk will fade and pods will replace the colourful blooms.
  • Allow the pods to dry out on the living plant until black seeds can be seen through the pod skin.
  • Once all of the pods have darkened, place the entire stalk in a paper bag (for example a paper yard waste bag) as the seeds may “pop” once they’ve completely dried.

Morning Glory

  • Morning Glory is an annual flowering vine plant that gets its name from opening its striking blooms each morning.
  • Be sure you like where you’ve planted it as it easily self-seeds and will continue to climb year after year.
  • Allow its seeds to dry on the vine and then carefully cut the entire vine down.
  • You may cover the vine with a bag as you cut it down to prevent seeds from dropping.

Nasturtium

  • Nasturtium is a cheerful bloom with lovely, broad foliage.
  • They are an excellent companion in vegetable gardens too.
  • They are also a good “trap” plant for insects like aphids, meaning nearby plants will be spared.
  • They produce oblong, crinkled seed pods found at the end of stems.
  • They can be harvested as soon as they can easily be picked and then dried thoroughly before storing.
  • When dry, they are light as air.

Poppy

  • Simply allow poppy seed heads to mature and brown on its stem before “sprinkling” its seeds out for storage or baking.
  • Its charming dried seed heads can be used as accents in crafts like wreath making.

Snap Dragon

  • Snapdragons are a colourful annual suited to any garden border.
  • Each stalk produces seed heads containing hundreds of tiny black seeds.
  • The holes in the pods allow seeds to easily fall and self-seed in your garden.