Free Produce! Seed Saving for the Hobby Gardener

Fall Garden · In the Garden · The Beginner's Garden Podcast

You’ve made it through the season, almost, and you actually had a decent harvest. You weren’t sure exactly how this whole gardening venture would work out for you, but you realize you enjoyed it. Sure, you had your failures and frustrations, as all of us do, but you’re already catching yourself dreaming of next season.

Have you considered saving seeds for next year? Perhaps the thought seems a bit overwhelming. That’s only for the hardcore homesteaders, right?

What if I told you that even the hobby gardener could easily save seed from one season to the next, with minimal effort and know-how?

It’s true. If I could do it as a beginning gardener, so can you. All you need to know is a few simple basics, and commit to start small. Even saving seeds from a few crops can give you a jump-start on next season, not to mention the money you’ll save!

In today’s episode of the Beginner’s Garden Podcast and the blog post below, you’ll learn the basics of seed-saving that even a beginning gardener can do!

Click below to listen or keep reading:

How to Start Saving Seeds in Your Garden

Which Seeds Can You Save?

Not all seeds can be saved, and this is the most important thing you’ll need to know: only open-pollinated seeds, also known as heirloom seeds, can be saved.

But, you cannot save seeds from hybrid plants.

Open-pollinated seeds, or heirloom seeds, will grow into the same plants that they came from. Hybrid seeds, on the other hand, have been genetically crossed (not genetically modified — there is a difference) and the resulting plant, if it grows, probably will not produce the same.

How do you know if your plant is open-pollinated or hybrid?

Most seed packets will say whether the seed is open-pollinated (usually designated “heirloom”) or a hybrid. If you still have your seed packets, check there first.

seed packets

If you bought your plant from a garden center, you’ll have to look at the variety on the tag that came with it. Many times, like the seed packets, the tags will tell you.

But if the seed packet or plant tag does not identify it as open-pollinated or hybrid, do a quick Internet search. Usually you can find out pretty quickly.

What if you don’t know or remember the kind of plant you have? Personally, I wouldn’t take a chance. You want to be sure a plant is open-pollinated if you’re going to go through the effort to save the seeds.

If you know you have open-pollinated plants, here are three ways you can save seeds, depending on the plant.

3 Ways to Start Saving Seeds

Hands-Off Seed Saving

Some seeds are very simple to save — so simple, in fact, that you literally have to do nothing. You let the plants naturally develop seeds, drop those seeds, and the seeds will germinate the next season on their own.

The benefit to this is it’s truly hands-off for you, and with many of these plants, the flowers that form the seeds provide food sources for pollinators and beneficial insects.

carrot flower

But, if you want to rotate your crops next season, you can still collect them when the time is right.

The plants that lend themselves to this natural way of forming and dropping their seeds include:

You simply let these plants develop a seed stalk and begin to flower. After the flowers fade, the seeds begin to form within the flowers. You can let them drop on their own, or collect them directly from the flower.

Here’s a video tutorial on how to save basil seeds:

Video: How to Save Basil Seeds

Other garden plants also will mature and leave their seeds in your garden if you let them, like cucumbers, melons, some tomatoes, tomatillos, and beans. The next season, you’ll notice volunteer plants around the area where they grew the year before. If you’re practicing crop rotation, this isn’t ideal, so a better method is to collect those seeds on your own using the method below.

Easy Seed-Saving

Most likely, when you think of seed saving, you imagine harvesting a fruit and collecting the seeds inside. And truly, many vegetables and fruits lend themselves to this easy method of seed saving.

You want to let the fruit or vegetable mature on the vine.

In the case of cucumbers, squash, and peppers, you want them to fully ripen, even to the point of changing color. Cucumbers will sometimes turn yellow; peppers will turn red. Once this maturation takes place, you can harvest the seeds and leave them out to dry for several days to a couple of weeks. Watermelon and cantaloupe seeds don’t require this careful attention to maturation; you can save the seeds left over from your afternoon snack!

With okra, beans, and peas, you want to let the pods completely dry out on the vine. The pods will turn brown, and the seeds inside will harden. Okra seeds will change color from white to black. In this video, I show you how easy it is to save okra seeds:

Video: How to Save Okra Seeds

Extra-Step Seed Saving: Tomatoes

If you’re like me, you want to save tomato seeds. Tomatoes require an extra step, though. Because tender tomato seeds are encased in a moist tomato, they’re surrounded by a protective coating. This prohibits germination inside the fruit. When you harvest seeds, you have to take an extra step to break down that protective coating.

This is pretty easy, but it takes more time.

Place the harvested seeds in water and allow a light layer of mold develop on top. Skim off the mold and discard as much of the water as possible without losing the seeds. Then, add more water and wait several days until seeds drop to bottom. Seeds that stay afloat aren’t viable, but the seeds at the bottom can be saved. Allow them to dry on a paper plate for several days to a couple of weeks before storing in a cool, dark place.


One thing you need to keep in mind: if you plant more than one vegetable or fruit of the same variety near another, beware of cross-pollination. This is most common in squash, zucchini, and melons, and it’s less common with tomatoes and peppers. If bees have an opportunity to take one plant’s pollen to another, you risk the resulting seeds becoming like a hybrid plant. But as long as you only grow one variety, you’re usually pretty safe in saving seeds.

And once you get started, you’ll realize how easy it is!

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