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    Seed Saving

    Seed-Saving Tips for Five Common Crops

    Benjamin Kilbride, Editorial Assistant at The Old Farmer’s Almanac

    Save the seeds from your favorite herbs and vegetables to sow again next year!

    What Is Seed-Saving?

    Seed-saving is the process of growing plants, harvesting their seeds, and storing them over winter to plant during the next growing season.

    Why Save Seeds?

    Saving homegrown seeds allows you to save the best-tasting and strongest varieties of vegetables. Saved seeds will be adapted to your specific climate and growing conditions, becoming hardier every year.

    Can All Seeds Be Saved?

    There are two types of seeds that you can purchase: heirloom and hybrid. When deciding which varieties to grow to save seeds, always make sure that the plant is an heirloom. Heirloom plants are those that are open-pollinated (pollinated by wind and insects). Each plant can vary in size and shape but will readily retain the same general qualities from generation to generation, which makes them ideal for seed-saving. Hybrid plants are the offspring of two heirloom lines of plants and will have identifiable characteristics from both parents. Hybrid seeds should not be saved because they will show an unpredictable mixture of traits from the grandparents instead of traits from the parents. 

    How Do You Harvest Seeds?

    The technique for harvesting seeds is different for every plant: Some grow from a stalk and are allowed to dry before collection, while others grow inside a fruit and must be removed and dried. 

    How Do You Store Harvested Seeds?

    Store harvested seeds that have been properly dried in a brown paper bag. Put the bag in a dark, cool, and dry location such as a root cellar, pantry, or unheated closet. Saved seeds stored in this way will last from 1 to 6 years, depending on the plant.

    When Is the Best Time to Harvest Seeds?

    The best time to harvest seeds is in the late summer or early fall during dry weather, which will reduce the risk of residual moisture being stored with the seeds.

    What’s the Difference Between Annuals and Biennials?

    Annual plants grow and drop seeds in one season and then die, leaving the seeds to grow new plants in the following season. Biennials grow during one season, overwinter in the soil, and then continue to grow in the following spring; during their second season, they produce seeds.

    Saving Seeds From Five Common Crops 

    1. Carrots (Daucus carota var. sativus)

    Carrots are biennials, growing in their first year and producing seeds in their second. Plant carrots from May to June and then dig them up in mid-October. Carefully cut off the green stalks about 1 inch above the top of the root. Over winter, store the roots, called “stecklings,” in a cool, humid, and dark location, such as in a bin filled with moist sand and straw. In the spring, plant the stecklings slightly deeper than they were previously growing, 2 feet apart. The stecklings will grow flower stalks soon thereafter. Once the stalks become brittle in mid- to late summer, harvest the seeds by rubbing the seed heads between two hands over a brown paper bag. Remove excess plant material, close the bag, and store for up to 3 years.

    Note: Carrots may cross-pollinate with other varieties of carrots and Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), and develop hybrid seeds. If possible, grow carrots away from other carrot varieties.

    2. Common basil (Ocimum basilicum)

    Common basil is an annual. Do not pinch the stem or harvest the leaves; instead, allow it to bolt and grow a flowering stalk. After basil has flowered and produced seeds, allow the clusters to become brown and brittle. Harvest the seed clusters and rub them between two hands over a brown paper bag. Remove excess plant material, close the bag, and store for 1 to 5 years.

    3. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

    Lettuce is an easy-to-grow annual, with self-pollinating flowers. Allow the plant to bolt, growing a 2- to 5-foot-tall flower stalk. After the appearance of flowers, wait 40 days for the seed heads to form and dry. Harvest the seeds by rubbing the seed heads between two hands over a brown paper bag. Remove excess plant material, close the bag, and store for up to 6 years.

    4. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

    Oregano is an annual. Allow the plant to grow a flower stalk, flower, and produce seeds. Collect the seed clusters when they are brown and dry. Harvest the seeds by rubbing the seed clusters between two hands over a brown paper bag. Remove excess plant material, close the bag, and store for up to 1 year.

    5. Peas (Pisum sativum)

    Peas are easy-to-grow, self-pollinating annuals. The seeds are produced in 3- to 4-inch pods that are usually harvested to be eaten early in the season when they are green, crisp, and sweet. To save pea seeds, allow the pods to become dry and brown. Harvest the pods when the peas rattle when shaken. Let the pods dry for a week longer in a warm, dry place. Shell the pods by hand, depositing the peas into a brown paper bag. Close the bag and store for up to 3 years. 

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