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Victory Heirloom Seed Company - Preserving the future, one seed at a time!

 "Preserving the future,
one seed at a time." ™



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Tips for Saving Seeds

If you have become interested in seed saving, welcome back to a tradition that has been with us since the dawn of civilization.  Only in our highly specialized, post-WW II society has seed saving become virtually non-existent in the majority of people's daily lives.  We are excited that you have this interest, and challenge you to make seed saving part of your life.  Although there are tips here on this page, if you are interested in skillfully learning seed saving, we highly recommend obtaining a copy of the book, "Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth.


Instructions to Use This Page: Select the first letter of the word from the list above to jump to appropriate section of the glossary. If the term you are looking for starts with a digit or symbol, choose the '#' link.

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General Seed Saving Information:

Only save seeds from healthy plants whose fruit exhibit the traits desirable and expected for the variety.  Eliminate any plants that show off characteristics prior to maturity.  Make sure that you have a good population of a specific variety or you may weaken the line by not preserving the genetic diversity of the variety.  Maintain the appropriate isolation requirements to ensure that cross pollination does not occur.

Storage Considerations

Before you store your seeds, make sure that you have thoroughly dried them.  Use a fine screen, plastic, or glass to dry your seeds.  I have had luck using coffee filters but seeds can stick to paper making removal nearly impossible.  If they are not dry, mold will develop and you will lose your precious containers of genetic information to rot.

Store seeds in clearly labeled, airtight glass or metal containers in a cool, dark place. The colder, the better. Basements are good place but so are refrigerators.

It is highly desirable to maintain constant temperature and humidity.  A small packet of desiccant placed in the container is beneficial to maintaining a dry environment. Basically, seeds need to be kept in the environment that keeps them dormant and one that is opposite to what is necessary to make them grow.  For more information, click here.

Note:  This page is intended as a basic informational page.  Although seed saving is not inherently difficult, there are basic precautions and techniques that must be followed and learned.  Please check out the suggested titles that we have in our bookstore.

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beans

Beans are one of the easiest types of plants to start your seed saving journey with.  You simply sow them, eat all that you want, and then allow a portion of them to remain on the plants until they finish their life-cycle in the fall.

Crossing and Isolation:

The three main types of beans grown in North American gardens are Common or Garden Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), Lima Beans (Phaseolus lunatus), and Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus).

All runner bean varieties will cross with each other, all garden bean varieties with each other, all lima bean varieties with each other, but the different species do not cross.  This means that you can safely grow one of each in close proximately to one another without worry of crossing.

Biologically, bean plants produce perfect flowers. That is, they possess both male and female reproductive structures within the same flower. Although this means that they do not require insects to reproduce (pollinate) and form seeds, they are attractive to insects. If you intend to save seed and maintain the purity of the variety, you will need to observe proper isolation.

With a long enough growing season, you can use time to prevent two varieties from crossing. However, this is usually not practical so isolation distances or blossom bagging will need to be maintained.

Keep in mind that this is only an issue if you are raising more than one variety of a bean species (or if you have gardening neighbors raising beans).

Bean Type Barriers No Barriers
Garden Beans
(Phaseolus vulgaris)
75 feet 150 feet
Lima Beans
(Phaseolus lunatus)
150 feet 300 feet to 1 mile
Runner Beans
(Phaseolus coccineus)
450 feet 600 feet to 1/2 mile

The chart above lists recommended distances for maintaining purity.  This is of course very dependant on the number of pollinating insects in your area.  I you observe few, perhaps you can get away with closer plantings.

Note: If you are experimenting with distances or just want another tool for maintaining plant variety purity in your seed saving toolbox, never sow varieties with similar seed coat characteristics near one another.  The color, shape and markings of different varieties are useful in determining crossing but, for example, if two white seeded varieties become crossed up, it will be difficult to discover.  Also, keep in mind, the harvested seed will show no indication of crossing.  It will only be expressed in the subsequent generation.

You can also reduce the distances between varieties if you can plant them in such a way that they are protected by tall, dense barriers, especially if you also provide plantings of flowering plants more attractive to the pollinators than bean flowers.

If time or distance are not practical for your situation, you will need to bag blossoms to prevent insect pollination.  Once self-pollination has occurred and you see small pods developing, remove the bag and mark them so you know not to eat that bean pod.  Loosely tying a piece of bright, synthetic fiber, colorfast yarn to the branch is one idea for marking your "seed crop."

Harvest and Cleaning:

At that point, you harvest the dry pods bringing them into an area protected from the elements but with good air circulation, and allow them to finish drying to the point where the pods easily split open and the bean seeds shatter when struck with a hammer. (If the seeds still have too high of a moisture content, they will mash).

If you live in an area with shorter seasons or fall rains, you may have to wait as long as you can, but pull up the plants, and hang upside down in a garage or barn before they get wet and molds and mildew ruins your harvest.

Storage:

Once the beans are thoroughly dry, again, they shatter when struck with a hammer, place them in the freezer for 72 hours. This should kill any insects that may be hiding inside of them.

If the beans are intended to be used next season for seeds, place them in an airtight container with a little desiccant packet and keep in a cool, dark, dry place (like the back of the refrigerator).

If the beans are intended to be used for consumption, a cool, dark, dry pantry works great.

Brassicaceae (formerly known as the Cruciferae family)

Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Garden Cress, Kale, Kohlrabi and Mustard are all the same species of plant - Brassica oleracea.  The individual variations in the plant structures and the part of the plant used as food did not occur naturally but were created through thousands of years of selection and seed saving by farmers.

Pollination is accomplished by insects. All of the species will cross with each other. If you wish to grow more than one variety in a species to seed in a season, you must either isolate at least one half mile or cage the varieties (and introduce bees or pollinating insects into the cages).  Most varieties are biennial and most have self-incompatible pollen.  It is a good ideas to save seed from many plants to insure genetic diversity within the variety and reducing inbreeding depression (a common problem with Brassica).

Turnips are Brassica rapa, will not cross with Brassica oleracea but will with each other and Chinese cabbage and Chinese mustard.  Rutabaga are Brassica napus and although self-fertile, will cross with some turnips as well as rape.

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cantaloupe (see also muskmelon)
Seeds may be harvested from fruits that are at the same stage as you would eat them.  Additionally, they may benefit by fermenting like tomatoes prior to cleaning and drying.  Varieties easily cross so isolation or hand pollination is required.
 
corn
Corn (maize) is a wind pollinated plant.  It requires either great isolation distances (up to one mile), isolation by timed plantings, and / or hand pollination.  A great resource for learning controlled pollination techniques for corn (maize) is located on the Maize Cooperation in Genomics and Genetics web site.  You can find various sized pollination bags at  .

Cruciferae (see Brassicaceae)

cucumbers
For good quality seeds, allow cucumbers to ripen well past the stage at which they would be normally eaten.  Most will turn a yellowish orange color.  Additionally, they should be fermented like tomatoes prior to cleaning and drying.  Varieties easily cross so isolation or hand pollination is required.
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muskmelons (see also cantaloupe)
Seeds may be harvested from fruits that are at the same stage as you would eat them.  Additionally, they may benefit by fermenting like tomatoes prior to cleaning and drying.  Varieties easily cross so isolation or hand pollination is required.
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okra 
Although the flowers are perfect and self-pollinating, the flowers also are large and will attract insects.  Isolation by up to one mile, caging the whole plants, or bagging the flowers is required to maintain purity.  The pods are simply left to reach full maturity and then broken open to remove seeds.  The pods cause skin irritation in some people so gloves may be desirable.
Dry Okra Pod -- Victory Heirloom Seeds Dry Okra Pod with Seeds -- Victory Heirloom Seeds Okra Seeds -- Victory Heirloom Seeds
Dry Pod Seeds in Dry Pod Seeds
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peas
Same process as beans.  See above.
 
peppers
Click here for an excellent informational sheet in PDF file format.
 
pumpkins
See squash.
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squash
For saving good seed from squash plants, let the fruits mature in the garden past the point you would normally eat them -- over ripe but not rotten. Bisect the fruit lengthwise and remove the seeds. Rinse them in a strainer and lay them out to dry.   These plants cross pollinate fairly easily.  Care should be taken to ensure variety purity such as careful spacing or manual pollination.
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tomatoes
To save tomato seeds you will need to complete a few extra steps.  You need to cut a ripe tomato in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp, and place in a jar with a little water and cover with plastic wrap. Stir the seeds a few times a day for the next 2 or 3 days. During the fermentation process, the good seeds will separate from the gelatinous covering and sink to the bottom after which time you can pour off the liquid and junk.  Rinse the seeds with cool, clean water.  A fine mesh strainer or even coffee filters work.  Dry seeds thoroughly before storing.  Click here for a step-by-step pictorial of the process.
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watermelon
Seeds may be harvested from fruits that are at the same stage as you would eat them.  Additionally, they may benefit by fermenting like tomatoes prior to cleaning and drying.
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zucchini
See squash.
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