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Seed Saving 101: A Resource Guide

Story of Seed Saving

Human beings have been saving seeds since we first interacted with plants. Animals also save and assist in seed dispersal (the traveling of seeds through various methods). In fact, plants have developed skills over time to benefit their reproduction and survival. Seeds are resilient.

If you are a seed saver or seed steward you are also a plant breeder! Every time you select for a specific trait you are carrying those genetics into the future

What is a Seed? A seed is a living embryo. Seeds are dormant until they germinate (first stage of plant life cycle). They have a lifespan and will survive for a LONG time if kept cool, dark and dry.

Types of Seed

Heirlooms // an open-pollinated variety that has been grown and shared from generation to generation within a family or community

Hybrid // a plant or variety created by crossing two stable, genetically distinct parental populations; of or related to such a plant or variety; also called an F1 hybrid

Open-pollinated // a variety that, when allowed to cross-pollinate only with other members of the same population,produces offspring that display the characteristic traits of the variety

Plant Life Cycles

Annuals // a plant that completes its full life cycle—including germination, reproduction, and death—in one growing season

Examples: Corn, Watermelon, Tomatoes, Wheat

Perennials // a plant that can live for more than two years, usually producing flowers and seeds for many years

Examples: Herbs (sage, oregano, mint), Fruit Trees, Berries, Grasses

Biennials // a plant that requires vernalization (prolonged exposure to cold in order to accelerate flowering when it is planted) and usually completes its life cycle in two growing seasons, vegetative growth during the first season, undergoing vernalization, and producing flowers and seeds and dying during the second season

Examples: Onions, Leeks, Brassica oleracea crops - collards, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, Turnips, Rutabaga, Chard, Beets, Celery, Carrot, Parsnip

What is Seed Selection? Selecting is when you notice something particular about a crop and then choose to save the seed from it based on that. There are two types of selection; selection characteristics and selection traits. You get to decide what you select for, and that is what makes seed saving a world of endless possibility + adventure!

Selection Characteristics // Unidentified complexes of genes. For example: regional adaptability, freeze tolerance, cold tolerance, heat tolerance, UV resistance, winter hardiness, early maturation, vigor, and flavor. Selection Traits // Specific features traceable to identifiable genes. For example: vine growth (bush or tall), seed texture (wrinkled or smooth), disease resistance (from fusarium wilt, mosaic virus, powdery mildew, etc), and color- traits can be traced to DNA.

Seed Dispersal //

Wind Examples - dandelion, milkweed, sycamore

Water Examples - water lily, coconuts, mangroves

Animal Examples - blackberry, cherry, apple

Force/Explosion Examples - peas

Fire Examples - prairie grasses

Planning for Seed Saving

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Seed Saving

  • What do you like to grow/what feels easy to grow?

  • What do you want to eat/what will your family/household eat?

  • What are new things you want to try?

  • What seeds do you want to learn how to save?

  • What is the lifecycle of that seed (is it an annual, perennial or biannual? How does it reproduce?)

  • What is the minimum population of that seed (minimum number of plants you need to grow to ensure genetic diversity)?

  • What is the isolation distance of that seed (how far away does it need to be from a different variety)?

  • Can you create isolation in your garden by other methods besides distance?

  • Border crops

  • Flowers borders, corn borders, bean borders

  • Grow in blocks and save seed from the center

  • Other barriers to wind like houses, thick bushes

  • When the seed is ready to be harvested?

  • How do you process the seed?