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Saving vegetable seeds

Quick facts

  • Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices for seed saving. They have flowers that are self-pollinating and seeds that require little or no special treatment before storage.
  • Seeds from biennial crops such as carrots or beets are harder to save since the plants need two growing seasons to set seed.
  • Choose open-pollinated varieties rather than hybrids. These plants bear similar fruit and set seeds that will produce more plants that are similar.
  • Open-pollinated varieties may be "heirlooms." These varieties may be passed down through generations, or they may be selections that are more recent.
Green peppers and red tomatoes on brown table cut open to show their seeds

You can save vegetable seeds from your garden produce to plant next year. Seed saving involves selecting suitable plants from which to save seed, harvesting seeds at the right time and storing them properly over the winter.

Self-pollinating plants

Tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices for seed saving. They have flowers that are self-pollinating and seeds that require little or no special treatment before storage.

Seeds from biennial crops such as carrots or beets are harder to save since the plants need two growing seasons to set seed.

Cross-pollinated plants

Plants with separate male and female flowers, like corn and vine crops, may cross-pollinate. It is difficult to keep the seed strain pure.

Popcorn can pollinate a stand of sweet corn from a nearby garden on a windy day. This will affect the flavor of the current sweet corn crop, and a crop grown from these seeds will be neither good sweet corn nor good popcorn.

Insects can cross-pollinate cucumbers, melons, squash, pumpkins and gourds.

Although cross-pollination will not affect the quality of the current crop, seeds from such a cross will grow into vines with fruit unlike that of the parent plant. This often results in inferior flavor and other characteristics.

Open-pollinated plants

When saving seed, choose open-pollinated varieties rather than hybrids. If open-pollinated varieties self-pollinate or cross-pollinate with other plants of the same variety, they set seed that grow into plants that are still very similar to the parent plant. These plants bear similar fruit and set seeds that will produce more plants that are similar.

Open-pollinated varieties may be "heirlooms." Gardeners pass these varieties down through the generations, or they may be selections that are more recent.

Some tomato varieties are not hybrids. They are open-pollinated types such as 'Big Rainbow', 'San Marzano' and 'Brandywine'. Seed produced by these varieties will grow into plants very similar to the parent plants, with nearly identical fruit.

Likewise, 'Habanero', 'California Wonder' and 'Corno di Toro' peppers; 'Lincoln', 'Little Marvel' and 'Perfection' peas; and 'Kentucky Wonder', 'Blue Lake' and 'Tendercrop' beans are all open-pollinated varieties that will come true from seed.

Once you have planted an open-pollinated crop,

  • Select the plants from which you want to save seed.
  • Choose only the most vigorous plants with the best-tasting fruit as parents for the next year's crop.
  • Do not save seed from weak or off-type plants.

Hybrid plants

Hybrid vegetable plants are products of crosses between two different varieties, combining traits of the parent plants. Sometimes a combination is particularly good, producing plants with outstanding vigor, disease resistance and productivity. Hybrid seeds are generally more expensive as they cost more to produce.

Hybrid plants, such as 'Big Boy', 'Beefmaster' and 'Early Girl' tomatoes will produce viable seed.

  • Plants grown from that seed are not identical to the hybrid parents.
  • They will be a completely new combination of the good and bad traits of the plants from the initial cross.
  • It is impossible to predict just how the seedling plant will perform or what qualities the fruit will have.
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Jill MacKenzie and Michelle Grabowski, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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