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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Easy Vegetables From Which to Gather Next Year's Seeds

turnip seed pods still on the stem-- each pod contains 8-10 seeds

As summer begins to wane, it is time for me to start gathering next year's seeds. I was thinking about all of the different vegetables that I think are easy for gathering seeds.

  • potatoes -- when I harvest this year's potatoes, I set aside seed potatoes for next spring, storing them in the spare fridge in a paper sack until a few weeks before planting out.
  • garlic -- like potatoes, when I harvest my garlic, I set aside the largest heads for replanting. I plant garlic here in October, so I don't have long to wait or need to store the garlic.
  • shallots -- I wound up using all of my shallots a couple of years ago. However, I treated them like garlic, setting aside the largest bulbs and planting those also in October.
  • nasturtiums -- these are super easy flowers/leafy greens to save the seeds from. By simply not getting around to pulling off the spent flower blooms, the seeds develop. They often fall off the plant onto the ground beneath the hanging baskets. I collect them either off the ground or by plucking them from the plants when they look ready.
  • radishes -- radishes not only mature quickly, but they also go to seeds quickly for me. I collect seed pods in summer from plants that I began in spring. One radish plant can produce enough seeds inside of pods for the entire next season.
  • turnips -- turnips don't grow quite as quickly as radishes, but by summer's end, I can collect seed pods from a single turnip gone to seed, enough for the next season and the one after.
  • kale -- kale takes a long time to go to seed in my garden because we have relatively cool summers. However, kale overwinters in my area. In very early spring the kale puts out new leaves, florets, and then seeds by early to mid-summer. I don't have the same luck with other vegetables overwintering so well in my garden. 
  • watercress -- although I allow the watercress in my garden to reseed itself wherever it pleases, I also have harvested some of the seed pods for trying indoor cress growing this winter. Cress sets seed pods much like kale, radish and turnip. The pods are easy to break off the stalks in mid to late summer to bring indoors to thoroughly dry.
  • tomatoes -- if the tomatoes are not hybrids, you can collect next year's seeds by simply squeezing out a bit of the seedy juice from a vine ripe tomato onto a paper towel. Put this in a dry place indoors with good ventilation. spread the mass out onto the paper to discourage mold growth. Once the seedy mass is thoroughly dry, you can separate out the seeds to be used for starting seedlings the following year. If you home is not dry enough and worry of mold is an issue, place the seeds in front of a small fan.
  • peppers -- like tomatoes, the seeds can be collected from the inside of a ripe fruit. Dry these on a paper towel and save until the following season.
  • pumpkins and winter squash -- another "very easy" to collect for the next season. When you cut into the squash, save a few seeds, drying first on paper before storing. One caveat -- if you had multiple types of squash or pumpkins growing in an area, you will likely get some cross pollination and the next year's plants may differ from what you harvested the seeds from.
  • peas and beans -- I invariably miss a few pods of peas or beans each year. By cutting the vine and drying the pods on the vines indoors over fall, I can usually harvest enough peas or beans for a handful of plants. If I was very interested in saving peas or beans for seeds, I would deliberately leave 3 or 4 plants loaded with pods to ripen on the vines.
  • lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens. Spinach matures so quickly that seeds will develop from spring plantings before our rainy season comes in late summer. Lettuce is hit or miss for me. If September is dry, I can get some seeds from lettuce. But if the rains return early, the seed heads mold
  • beets and Swiss chard -- both of these plants tale a long time to set seeds in my climate. I currently have both in the process of going to seeds from plants started in early spring. I may or may not be able to collect seeds before the season turns rainy. I have better luck with beets or chard that are overwinter then go to seed in mid-spring, for collection in mid-summer. One problem, if we have a lot of freezing temperatures in winter, the plants will rot before going to seed.
  • marigold -- not a vegetable, but a flower grown for appearance (not edible). Marigolds simply go to seed if you don't deadhead them. I collected a bunch of these seeds last fall and planted them this spring. I have lots and lots of pots of marigolds around the yard this year, all for free. They're an easy flower to start from seed, too. 
my container of turnips seed pods -- at the bottom are a bunch of loose seeds,
probably enough for 4 years in this container

Grocery store vegetables from which I've collected my own seeds for planting
  • garlic -- I've read that you could potentially introduce viruses to your soil by planting store purchased garlic cloves. My own garlic patch was started from 1 head of garlic bought at the store. I've multiplied this garlic over the years and now harvest 60 heads of garlic each year.
  • potatoes -- I've planted both red and russet potatoes from the store. Although commercial potatoes are sprayed with sprout inhibitors, many of them will still sprout in time for planting out in spring. I currently have some of the russets growing in my garden from a store purchased potato from several years ago. (I ate all of the red potatoes one year, so those are not growing in my garden.)
  • peppers -- a couple of my pepper plants this year are from seeds collected from a purchased pepper last fall. Easy to collect, dry and save.
  • winter squash -- my acorn squash are from a purchased squash from several years ago. One year, we dumped a bunch of homemade compost onto an unplanted spot in the yard. Up sprang about 12 acorn squash plants, yielding about 40 squash for our use that fall and winter. Although you can easily save pumpkin seeds from commercially-grown pumpkins, I don't, as the varieties brought into our area for fall decorating wouldn't grow well in my cool, maritime climate.
Vegetables that take too long to grow to seed stage in my area
  • cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
  • cucumber
  • corn
  • zucchini and other summer squash
Some things to think about
You don t' have to collect all of next year's seeds each year. My collected seeds can last for several years. I collect enough seeds for 3 or 4 years of planting. I rotate the plants for seed collection, so I'm only collecting seeds from a few types of plants each year. 

I dry all of the different seed types indoors for at least a month, on paper of some sort and away from damp areas. I then spend an afternoon removing the seeds from dried pods, separating clumps of dried seeds, and packing them up.

Most important -- Seeds should be thoroughly dried, stored in a labeled/dated paper envelope, then inside an airtight plastic or glass container kept in a cool and dry location. I refrigerate my seeds and stick a couple of those silica gel packets that come in vitamin jars. 

Hybrid plants will not produce seeds that are true to the variety. Some folks don't mind this. However, if you have gardening circumstances that are finicky, like short growing season or limited growing space, seeds from a hybrid plant might not work well. An example, I routinely have trouble growing tomatoes. I have found a small handful of varieties that work well for me, some of which are hybrids. Saving seeds from hybrids is a gamble for my conditions.

Growing several varieties of the same vegetable in close proximity to each other can result in cross-pollination of the seeds. This may not matter much or it may matter a lot. It is suggested that if you grow different varieties and plan on saving seeds, to plant them at farthest ends of the garden from each other.

For seeds that develop in pods, like cress, turnips, kale, peas and beans, I let the pods mature as long as possible on the vine/stalk, turning tan in color when ready to pick the whole pods and bring indoors to finish drying out. 

Do you collect any of your own seeds for planting the next year? Have you ever tried planting a vegetable from the grocery store, like garlic or potatoes? What was your experience?


  1. I mostly collect seeds from flowers and trade flower seeds with friends. I also rely on volunteers. Half of my tomato plants were volunteers this year, and I supplied the neighbor with volunteer plants. I let the tomatoes that rot before we get to them fall to the ground. Some of those sprout for next year. I have also let arugala, basil, and lettuce go to seed and fall in place for plants next year. But mostly, I get my vegetable plants from others who have too many to plants for their space. You can't choose your variety that way, but it works.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      you have a good "system" for inexpensive plants each year. The one plant that goes to seed and gives me lots of volunteers is the watercress. I find it all over the garden.
      I hope that your favorite plants drop their seeds this fall and leave new plants as gifts to you.

  2. I've grown young ginger from gingerroot from the grocery store. I soaked the roots for a day before planting to get the anti-sprouting agent off of them. In the PNW they don't develop into mature ginger (at least not for me) but they do multiply and you can freeze the young ginger for later use. Things I've saved seed from and grown new plants besides what you listed-poppies, green onions, sunflowers, various herbs, echinacea, arugula, candytuft, bachelor buttons, baby's breath, wallflower, and a few other flowers that I don't remember.

    1. Hi friend,
      oh that's really good to know about ginger root. I will give that a try this next spring. Thank you!

  3. My husband saves green bean seeds yearly. He has 2 heirloom varieties that he thinks have mingled and has created a new bean. :)

    We have some sort of zucchini-like volunteer growing by our house. It's produced blossoms, but no fruit so far. Maybe we should try eating the blossoms.

    1. Wow! Kudos to your hubby with the new variety of bean! I hope the new bean has some improved qualities over the parent plants.
      Interesting about the zucchini volunteer. I wonder if you'll start to see female blossoms soon.

  4. Hey, I got signed in! Not sure what the difference was today.

    We have grown potatoes from storebought, though now that we're trying to grow much larger quantities, I started with organic and certified seed potato, hoping to avoid diseases over the years when saving our own seed potatoes. This year, I saved lettuce seed, some by collecting and drying indoors, and some by picking the stems with seed and shaking them over areas where I would like it to grow for fall. In the past, I've saved various squashes, winter ones, as the zucchini and yellow squash seem to cross-pollinate. Chard has been easy to collect and save. Also, when the asparagus go to seed, I usually try to scatter those seeds around in any more bare spots in the patch so that they'll eventually fill in--seems to be working. While not food, zinnias have been an easy one to save, though I think they also cross-pollinate because I have ended up with some interesting colors that I don't remember planting.

    1. Hi Cat,
      I love the idea of simply shaking seeds over the garden. I'll give that a try with seeds I can collect in early to mid-summer next year. Thanks for sharing this tip!


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