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Seed Gathering Tips for Veggies

09/01/2020 12:33 PM | Julie Sootin (Administrator)

Submitted By Sue Meany - September 2020

This is a wonderful time in the growing season to consider gathering some seeds from mature vegetables and herbs that have set seed for use in next year’s garden. There are a few things to consider as you move forward.

First we must understand the difference between some of the traits of seeds and the plants that grow from them. There are four categories to consider.

Open Pollinated Seeds:

Open pollinated seed varieties are either self-pollinated or are pollinated by another plant of the same variety, resulting in seeds that are roughly identical to their parents. Open pollinated plants may produce seed which have small genetic variations from the parents, but is considered a benefit for biodiversity. Plants in which the pollen can fertilize the stigma of the same plant are considered self-pollinating. Not as good for genetic diversity, but good for gathering seeds true to the parent!

Heirloom Seeds:

Heirloom plants are open pollinated plants from which seeds have been passed down through generations. Generally 50 years is used as the standard. Vegetables in this category would include Cherokee Purple, Brandywine and Black Cherry Tomatoes, California Wonder, Golden Marconi and Serrano peppers, and many more.

Hybrid Seeds:

Hybrid seeds are result of the crosspollination between two different varieties of same type of vegetable to create a version which has more desirable traits than either of the parents. Some of the traits may include fruit size, plant vigor or disease resistance. The cross pollination is generally performed in the field or a greenhouse and is a completely natural process. First generation cross pollinated plants are referred to as F1 (Filial 1). Thanks go out to Gregor Mendel with his famous work on peas. Hybrids are produced for almost every type of vegetable but are very common among squash, melon, tomato and bell type pepper varieties. Vegetables in this category would include Sungold and Big Beef Tomatoes and Zephyr and Honey Bear squash. Seed produced from F1 plants are considered to be unstable and are unlikely to result in a plant that resembles either the F1 hybrid or either of its parents.

GMO Seed:

Most of us have heard of GMO seed which is created by genetic engineering. As is the goal of cross pollination to produce hybrids, GMOs carry desirable traits such as resistance to disease and herbicides (such as Glyphosate) as well as others. GMO seed is most commonly used in commercial settings but some has crept its way into consumer markets.

Gather, Gather, Gather

Now that we have discussed some of the ins and outs of various types of seeds, do not fret. The great majority of what you can gather in the garden will be perfectly usable to sow, sow, sow next year. Of course there are a few caveats!

If you know the variety name, do an internet search to determine which of the above categories it falls in.

- If it is an F1 hybrid, abandon hope all ye who enter!

- If you grow only one variety of a given vegetable which is open pollinated, you are good to go unless you think a rogue bee has violated your flower and cross pollinated it with a neighbor’s foreign pollen! Unlikely. Give it a try.

- If it is an open pollinated, self-pollinating variety such as tomatoes, peppers, peas, green beans, okra, etc. you have a very good chance of the seed being true, but it is not guaranteed.

- If it is an herb such as dill, basil, fennel, cilantro, et al … you are golden!

- The only way to be 100% sure of what you are getting is to pollinate it yourself as soon as the flower opens and then bag it, so that no pollinator will contaminate the stigma with foreign pollen, until the fruit starts to form. Make sure to label the fruit properly.

- Easy peasy!


Once the seed has been gathered, further treatment depends on the type of plant/fruit. For plants whose seeds are not contained in the fleshy part of their fruit, such as herbs, peas, beans and okra. They should be allowed to dry completely on the plant. When they are removed, place them in a dry, well ventilated space to ensure as much moisture is removed as possible to avoid mold. Seeds which are encased in moist fruit such as peppers and eggplant need to be extracted, rinsed and air dried. Seeds from fleshy fruits such as such as tomatoes and melons need to be soaked and rinsed in water repeatedly until the gelatinous membrane on the outside is removed. They also must be air dried completely. Here are a couple of links to the NYBG’s website on the subject.

Neatness Counts

Assuming you are not going to plant the seeds immediately, you will need to store them. There are two schools of thought here. As you may have noticed, most seed companies use packets made from paper. This allows moisture to escape and is a bit more environmentally responsible. The other tact is to place them in an airtight container such as a zip top bag or a film canister (wait, what?). Provided the seed is completely dry, this has the advantage of excluding moisture which can cause seed deterioration. Make sure to properly label the seed and store is somewhere cool, dry and dark.

Got it? Great, you are ready to sow, sow, sow once the proper time arrives!

Please contact me at with questions or suggestions.

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