Start Saving Those Vegetable Seeds!

3 good reasons to save seeds

June 28, 2021
Pepper Seeds

Gardeners tend to be a thrifty lot, and saving seeds from one year to another just makes sense. It’s what the old-timers always did. So, start saving those vegetable seeds! Here’s a quick primer on the benefits of seed-saving and how to know when a seed is ripe. 

Why Save Seeds?

There are three good reasons to learn the technique of seed-saving. 

  1. Saving seeds ensures that you’ll always have seeds of a favorite variety.( Just because you’ve been able to order a seed variety from a commercial source in the past doesn’t mean it will always be available.)
  2. Saving seeds is cost effective. It makes no sense to buy seeds that you can grow yourself. (You have to be realistic, however. If you don’t have the space or inclination for biennials (such as cabbage), just save seeds for annual vegetables.
  3. Savings seeds opens a whole new world of seed trading. At least half the vegetable varieties being grown today have no commercial sources. If you’d like to try them, you have to trade seeds that you have for seeds you want.

Two Important Questions

When is a seed ripe?

From a plant’s point of view, ripeness is when the seeds are viable, which is not always when the plant is most edible.

  • Peas and beans are ready when the pods turn brown on the vine and shrink against the seeds.
  • Pepper seeds are ripe when peppers are at their full color—depending on variety, this could be red, orange, yellow, purple, or black—and start to shrivel.
  • Tomato seeds are ripe when tomatoes are firm but tender. If you press them, they have some give, unlike the hard feel of green ones. Like peppers, they will also have reached their full color.
  • Cucumber seeds are ripe when the cuke turns fully yellow—overripe for eating. Harvest it and put it in a safe place for another 20 days.
  • Winter squash seeds are ripe when the skin turns hard.
  • Summer squash seeds are ripe when the squash is past the edible point, with a hard rind. Then treat the same as winter squashes.
  • Watermelon seeds are ripe when the tendril directly opposite the stem turns from green to brown and becomes dry.
  • Cantaloupe and muskmelon seeds are ripe when the stem turns brown and dries, and the melon readily separates from it.

When is a Seed Dry?

Proper drying is a key to saving seeds. Here’s how to test if seeds are fully dried:

  • Squeeze one seed with pliers or hit it with a hammer.
  • If it’s dry, it will shatter.
  • If it just crushes or feels soft or spongy, then your seeds still need more air-drying before being stored away.

What Not to Save

Save seeds only from open-pollinated or heirloom varieties, never from hybrids (which are very common from local garden stores).

  • An open pollinated plant is one in which the offspring replicates the parents. That is, its seeds will breed true to type.
  • Modern hybrids, which are produced by crossing two or more inbred varieties to obtain specific characteristics, will not produce the same variety that you originally planted. If you save seeds from a hybrid, the next generation reverts to the various parents.
  • Sources of open-pollinated vegetables seeds include Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, and Territorial Seed Company.

A Couple Points to Consider

For successful seed saving, you must assure seed purity. This means that plants which readily crossbreed among their own varieties (such as cucumbers, peppers, melons, and squashes) need to be isolated from other varieties of that particular vegetable by distance, caging, or other means. If you’re a beginner, you can make life simpler by just growing one variety of these at a time.

As mentioned above, most home gardeners do not have the room to save seeds from biennials, such as cabbages, beets, carrots, cauliflower, onions, and turnips. To do so, you have to harvest the vegetable with the root when it’s ripe, store it over the winter in a root cellar, and replant the whole vegetable the following spring. Whew!

Now that you’re more knowledgeable about seeds, go to our quick Seed-Saving Guide for Beginners.



The Old Farmer's Almanac Gardener's Companion, Summer 2002


Reader Comments

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hi there, can I save the

hi there,
can I save the seeds from my eggplant plant to be planted for next year. Thank you.

Yes, but you can't use seeds

The Editors's picture

Yes, but you can't use seeds from any ripe eggplants you may have harvested. You need to let the eggplant stay on the plant and go well beyond ripe, to practically rotten, before harvesting seeds.

From China Pepper Seeds

From China Pepper Seeds !
Very Hot compact plant about 2'x 18"
10 to 40 pods per plant. Pods Lime Green to
dark red. 3" pods cone shape.
Can be grown in a container.
Swap seeds. 10+ seeds for your hot peppers
Plus 10+ free seeds.

Make sure your seeds are not

Make sure your seeds are not owned by Monsanto, or any other company. You are not allowed, by law, to save and replant them.

Isn't "Monsanto" the company

Isn't "Monsanto" the company responsible for creating the "GMO" seed problem we're experiencing at this time? If so, who in the world would want Monsanto owned seeds? I sure don't. I've been going out of my way to purchase and save only open pollinated or heirloom seeds. No "GMO" in my garden!

For my arid hot region, Native Seeds/Search is one of my favorites to order from.


Good job! Monsanto is the most evil company in the world. Unfortunately, 95% of corn grown in this country is GMO, and guess what's in your loaf of bread, and most everything in the grocery store? "high fructose CORN syrup"!! Always eat and drink as much as you can in ORGANIC. So many people have been switching to organic foods and drinks, that even Walmart and Target stores, are placing them on their shelves. Remember though, there are many so called "organic" companies, that are lying about being organic. Do your homework!

Who would want to? I only

Who would want to? I only grow Heirloom crops, I wouldn't touch anything from Monsanto with a 1000 foot pole. Of the heirloom seeds we had up until the early 1900's, about 97 percent are gone now destroyed by companies such as Monsanto, it's pure evil. Control the food, and you control the world. Once all the Heirloom seeds are destroyed, we can't go back. We will be next on the extinction list.