Saving Heirloom Seeds Correctly Saves Your Garden

This guest post is by Debbie S and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Those of us preparing to survive disaster weather man made or nature made agree that heirloom seeds are a prepper’s friend and we should be saving heirloom seed for the next garden. Heirloom seed saving has been an endangered tradition that is slowly regaining ground. However, I’m not finding the pack has talked about the down and dirty aspect of seed saving. I have saved seed for years although once the darned deer found my garden that habit died a painful death. Given my new electric fence I’m resurrecting that habit and wanted to share how I go about saving heirloom seeds.

Hybrids are basically for commercial production and flavor is not necessarily what they are after. Most of us know they are designed for good shipping ability or for ripening all at once for harvest. Heirlooms are different. They’re ripe when they’re ready. Tomatoes have very thin skins and wouldn’t ship well. But they have fabulous flavor. If you’ve never had a Brandywine tomato you’re missing out!

Seed saving is a massive subject and I’m only going to be able to scratch the surface. There are many books and organizations dedicated to this subject.

Join this group (yes it costs money) and you’ll get the yearly catalog that lists other seed savers who’ll sell you their seed at a very nice price, plus you can sell yours.

The first step to seed saving is pollination. Your plants must be true to form and not cross pollinated. Some plants are self pollinating, others via insects (bees, moths, butterflies) and yet others via wind. To maintain varietal purity you need to watch how your plants are pollinated. Isolation via distance is great if you’re on acreage. If like me you’re gardening in a city there are other techniques available for you.

Time: Time isolation works well for certain crops provided you’ve enough space. If for instance you’re growing two different types of corn you could plant corn one and then wait a couple of weeks and plant corn two. That way the pollen from corn one will have done its job before corn two has pollen ready.

Mechanical Isolation: This is pretty much what I do given the small garden I have. Bagging is great on corn. Cages wrapped with floating row cover or old sheer curtains from Goodwill work well for tomatoes. Masking tape closes female flowers on squash, cucumbers and melons.

It is important to have more than one fruit or veggie to save from. You’ll want to have the choice of which is truest to the parent and grew well in your garden. Don’t think one tomato or one corn is enough. It’s not. You want to have seed saved from several of the best. Also be sure you are harvesting from fully ripened fruits and veggies.

I think the queen of the garden is the tomato, so let’s look at saving from this plant first. Oddly enough there is quite the controversy among seed saver over the extent of cross-pollination. Some believe that crossing is rampant, while others feel after many years of growing there is no problem. I don’t want to risk mine so this is what I do.

I cage my tomatoes rather than stake them. This makes it easy for me to isolate them for pollination. I have floating row cover although you can use old sheer curtains, mosquito netting or something similar. I quite literally wrap the entire tomato cage being sure the wrap is taller than my cage. I then twist the top extra material and tie it off. This encloses my tomato keeping any little bee out. I leave this in place until I have fruit set (baby tomatoes) then I remove the wrap and tie a small piece of colorful yarn LOOSELY around the stem so I can locate those first few tomatoes.

Come harvest time I pick all the tomatoes with the yarn and head to the kitchen to start the seed saving process. I’m sure we all know these little seeds are covered with a jelly like substance. It’s important to remove this gel before trying to save the seed. It’s very easy to accomplish. All you need is a container, a knife and some water.

Cut the tomatoes in half and carefully squeeze the seeds into the container. Careful removal here leaves you with a seedless tomato to eat! Love not having to forfeit eating one of them. Once you have all the seeds into the container add enough water to cover them with lots of room to spare. I use an old water tumbler and half fill with water. Let it sit on the counter for a long time as you’re going to be fermenting the gel sack off the seeds. This process not only cleans the seed of the sack but also kills many of the seed-borne diseases.

During this process your container will begin to stink and a grey/white layer of gunk will form on the top. It’s pretty stinky so it’s best if you can do this outside; hopefully in an area where kids or pets won’t be able to dump it over. You’ll want to pay close attention to the seeds as if left too long in the water they will begin to germinate.

You want to stir your seed/water mix a couple of times a day. When you see bubbles rising in the mix or the grey gunk covers the surface then the process is complete. Add enough water to double the liquid in the glass and stir vigorously. The good seed will fall to the bottom of the glass and the bad seed will float. Pour off the water being careful to keep the good seed. Repeat this process of adding water, stirring and pouring off until only clean seed remains. The final rinse should be poured into a fine mesh wire strainer and set on a towel to remove as much water as possible. Then pour out seeds on a small plate and spread out evenly in a single layer. Do not try to dry on a paper towel, a piece of cloth or flexible plastic (think plastic wrap). It’s very, very hard to get the seed off of these things.

You want them to dry quickly and not bunch together so stir them twice a day. Never dry then in the sun or oven. If it’s hot and humid, a fan will help speed up the process. Tomato seed should remain viable for 4-10 years depending of the variety. Completely dried seed should be sealed in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry area or frozen for long term storage.

The next seed I like to save is my green beans. Again, cross-pollination is an issue. Bush type plants are easier to work with as you can cover just like you do the tomato plants. If you’re growing pole beans you could cover one section or use special little bags and cover each flower you’ll be saving from. They must remain covered until the last flower sets beans. They are however, very easy to save from as once the vine/bush is dry at the end of the season you just pull the vine/bush down and let it sit for a day or two. Then you pull the bean pods off and open the pods.

Opening the pods can sometimes be frustrating. If so, then place them in an old feed sack or pillowcase, close the top, lay it on the ground and then run in place. You can also hang it from a tree and beat it with a stick or baseball bat.

Once you’ve opened all the pods you’ll need to clean the seed. This can be done on a windy day by pouring from one bowl or basket to another. Be sure to cover your work area with a tarp as sometimes the wind can gust and blow your seed into the grass. I will sometimes use a box fan to assist if there’s no wind.

Weevil damage can occur so it’s a good idea to freeze them in your freezer for 5 days before storing them for next garden season. You want to be sure they are dry before doing this so take a few and place on a hard surface like the driveway. Hit them with a hammer. If they shatter they are dry enough for storage if they just mash then you’ll need to dry them longer.

They should have about 50% germination for up to four years if stored in a cool, dry, dark spot.

Next let’s look at corn:

All corn varieties are pollinated by the wind and will easily cross with each other. Pollen is made by the tassels that form at the top of the stalk. The silk that forms on the top of the corn cob is the female section. As the wind blows grains of pollen from the tassel drifts to the silk. Interesting fact is each silk that is pollinated results in a kernel of corn on that ear. Corn pollen is light and can be carried a long way by the wind. Isolation would require about 2 miles between corn patches.

You always want to grow your corn in large blocks or patches rather than long rows. It’s best to grow at least 100 stalks although more is better. This will help you avoid inbreeding. Never work with the tassels and the ears on the same plants and when saving seed try to save from 20 to 50 different plants. If you are growing more than one variety of corn then time isolation would be an option for pollination. Plant corn ‘A’ and 2-3 weeks later plant corn ‘B’.

Hand pollination is time consuming but not hard. You’ll need a pocket knife, stapler and bags. This company has bags:

It takes a few days to hand pollinate and in a drought even longer. You start just before the silks begin to emerge from the tiny ears; if any silks have already emerged then that ear will be ruined for seed saving purposes. So when you’re sure the silks are about to appear you want to bag as many ears as are ready. Always bag the top ear (the plant feeds that one first and drops last in a drought). To bag your ear you will tear off the ‘leaf’ that is covering the baby ear, cut the tip off with the pocket knife, cutting enough off to expose the silks, this will look like a pea sized circle in the center of the cut. Use care when doing this too far down can damage the cob and cause smut. You can tear off an ear or two from a plant you’re not going to save from and look to see about how far down to cut if you want.

Once that’s done you cover the ear with a ‘shoot bag’, it covers the whole ear and is wedged next to the stock. The number you can bag the first day will depend on how many have silks ready to emerge. You can bag more on the second day and third or fourth days if needed, particularly if the pollen is shedding yet.

The next trick is to staple a brown ‘tassel bag’ around each tassel just as it begins to shed pollen. Bag too early and the pollen won’t develop. Once you’ve ready to bag your tassels give the stalk just below the tassel a good shake. This will help dislodge any pollen that may have floated in. Then pull the branches upward and put the ‘tassel bag’ over the tassel. You’ll want stalk of the plant in the corner of the bag. . Fold the opening of the bag back towards the stalk and then staple closed. The object of course is to fasten the bag tightly enough to keep the polled from falling down and out of the bag. You may notice some of the leaves just below the tassel have pollen in them. You’ll want to remove those leaves as they have contaminated pollen there.

The pollen will fall in the morning and you’ll want to collect it before the high heat of the afternoon as the sun can kill the pollen inside the bag. If you can’t collect until later in the day you’ll need to have more pollen to get good seed set as the sun will reduce the quality. Your best bet is to bag in the evening and do your pollination is the late morning or early afternoon.

When ready to collect pollen bend each tassel bag over slightly downward, don’t break the tassel or the plant! Give the bag a good shake to dislodge as much pollen as possible. Unfasten the staple and still keeping the bag down gently shake the tassel as you pull it from the bag. Once you’ve collected all the pollen bags carefully pour your pollen into one bag and mix well.

Keep the shoot bags on until time to sprinkle the pollen onto that ear. If the silk has grown long you can trim it to about one inch in length. Try to think about how many ears you’ll be pollinating and how much pollen you have so you can divide it evenly.

Shake the pollen from the bag along one of the ‘fold’ lines on the edge. When you first shake it down the bag there will be some debris, just remove it. Then gently shake the pollen onto the silk, maybe just less than ½ teaspoon per ear. Try to be even and don’t just dump it in one spot. Cover your pollinated ear with one of the used pollen bags and pull the bag around the ear and staple a couple of times. You want it to be loose enough for the ear to grow but not so loose the wind can blow it off The bag can be left in place until harvest and that way you’ll know to save seed from that ear.

To harvest the seed, leave ears on until the stalks are completely dry. If animals or weather makes that impossible, you can harvest mature cobs, husk and dry them under shelter. Drying should be done in less than 95 degrees F. Do not remove seed until both cob and kernels are dry. To remove seed just rub two cobs together. Any silk or cob debris should be removed by pouring seed from one bowl to another on a windy day. Any kernels not completely formed should be removed. Always mix your seed from at least 25-50 plants for best results. As always, seed should be completely dried before storing. Sweet corn should maintain 50% germination for up to three years if stored in a cool, dry, dark spot.

Melons: These are very difficult to save seed from as they need bees and flies for pollination, plus the plants will drop up to 80% of their female flowers. It’s impossible to know which flowers will be dropped so you’re looking at maybe 10-15% of the hand pollinated ones developing into fruit.

Of course the best isolation is with ½ mile distance between varieties and for those of you living in outer nowhere that maybe possible. For the rest of us we’re looking at hand pollination. It’s not hard but it is time consuming. You’ll need to know the difference between male and female flowers and you’ll need to know when they are ready to open. Male flowers have straight stems clear to the flower while female flowers have a small bump/ball at the base of the flower where it attaches to the stem.

You’ll need a small piece of tape about ¼ inch wide and ½ inch long, tape flowers closed in the early evening. When you tape the female flowers pinch the tape together beside the flower but leave the tape ends apart, that will make removing the tape easier the next morning. If you break off the stem from the male flower you can use a piece of tape as a stand in to help with holding the flower.

In the morning after the dew has dried carefully remove the tape from the female flower try not to damage the blossom. Then take the male flower and remove the tape and its petals, gently rub/dab the pollen from the male flower onto the stigma (that’s the long slender stick thing) of the female blossom. Once done carefully re-tape the blossom closed and then mark with a small piece of floss or yarn. If after 3-4 days the stem attachment is still green and the tiny fruit has grown slightly, then your chances are good you were successful.

Melons seed are ready when the fruits are ready to eat, however if you can let them slightly overripe you’ll have up to 10% more seeds although the melons aren’t as good to eat. When you save the seed have a bowl ready and then slice the melon open and collect in the bowl. Try to remove as much pulp and threads as you can. Then add water to allow the bad seed and debris to float, pour off and repeat until only good clean seed remains.

Pour the seed into a strainer and rinse thoroughly to remove any of the natural sugar from the melon. Dry in the strainer on a dish towel to remove as much water as you can. Then pour onto a cookie sheet to dry. Seed should remain good for up to 5 years if stored in a cool, dry and dark place.

Cucumbers: The pollination for cuke’s is the same as for melons. They don’t like high heat or drought conditions so don’t pollinate during those times. For seed saving you need to grow the cuke’s to maturity and allow them to ripen way past eating. Depending on the type they should turn to a white, deep yellow or even orange.

Each cuke will have hundreds of seeds. If you keep fully mature cucumbers for about two weeks after cutting from the plant, you should have a greater number of viable seed. If you find you have few if any seed inside the cuke that generally means you didn’t get enough pollen or it could be a type that doesn’t require fertilization.

To clean the seed follow the same process as for tomato seed. Use just enough water to cover the seed but not too much. Set the bowl outside and out of direct light. After about 3 days, follow the tomato water and drain information. Pour clean seed into the strainer and dry as for melons. Under super conditions seed should be good for up to 10 years.

Sorry for the lack of photos, as I said at the beginning; it’s been a long time between gardens due to the deer. Thankfully the electric fence is keeping them out and I’m hopefully saving seed again.

Heirloom seed saving is a wonderful experience. It’s easy to save your garden seed for next year and can help with not just prepping for disaster but also reduce the cost of a garden. There are many books that will help you learn to save heirloom seed and they should be part of any preppers’ library.

This contest will end on August 7 2012 – prizes include:

First Place : 1 Year Subscription to AlertsUSA, 1 Radiation Safety Package consisting of the following;  (1) NukAlert Radiation Monitor and Alarm (5) Radsticker Peel and Stick Dosimeters (1) Box Thyro Safe Potassium Iodide. All courtesy of AlertsUSA. A $150 gift certificate for Federal Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo. And a British Berkefeld water fillter system courtesy of  LPC Survival. A total prize value of over $700.

Second Place : A six pack Entrée Assortment courtesy of Augason Farms, a Nukalert courtesy of Shepherd Survival Supply and a WonderMill Grain Mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads. A total prize value of over $550.

Third Place : A copy of each of my books “31 Days to Survival” and “Dirt Cheap Survival Retreat” courtesy of The Survivalist Blog dot Net and “Kelly McCann’s Inside the Crucible Set” courtesy of Paladin Press. A total prize value of over $200.

Contest ends on August 7 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Very good.
    Copied and saved to print out later for notebook. Ran out of ink printing out other valuble info.
    I love information that helps.
    Thank you

  2. JP in MT says:

    Thanks for the primer!

  3. Let me know if there’s some other type of seed you’d like to save. I have additional information but you have to draw the line somewhere! 🙂

  4. SurvivorDan says:

    Wow. Looks very interesting. I have some heirloom seeds thanks to MD, but I do need to know how to produce and preserve the next generation of seeds. Being an agriculturally challenged short bus rider, I will re-read this article several times later this afternoon. Thank you for your presentation.

  5. Great article. Stockpiling food is helpful, but will only get you so far. Having the ability to to grow food in the long run is much more useful.

    • My thoughts exactly! I maybe able to snare a rabbit but it sure will taste better with some onions, potatoes and carrots!

  6. Don’t know what else I could add to this coming from a family that has saved seed for generations. I am seventy three and my mother for years saved and traded seeds with several ladies from Iowa and Ohio. She taught us all she knew about saving the seeds from selection to preparation and she only saved the largest seeds from any plant. Before she died in 1985 she told me to stay in touch with her group and regularly trade seeds back and forth to maintain a genetic differential. She said, (and I believe) that prolonged years of saving seeds, even the largest best looking ones would eventually start to develop genetic anomolies and loose resistance to plant diseases unless the gene pool was modified from time to time by trading seeds from a different area of the country. Must have been the truth as seeds I got from her always germinated and always bore and outstanding crop. I have since lost her list of traders (not that I think any of them would still be alive since mom would be 104 now if she lived) and my only surviving sister did not garden after her children were grown so I generally get seeds from an old friend of the family, (Amish family) to continue my garden growing. She cautioned me not to try and save any seeds this year due to drought conditions and to use last years seeds until we had a good year again.

    • Very interesting point about not saving seed from a drought year. I wonder why that is; I understand that the seed condition wouldn’t be as good but I would think the genetics would be the same, wouldn’t they? Thanks for sharing your and your mother’s wisdom!

      • The genetics in a family are supposedly the same but look at the differences between brothers and sisters in an intact family. Mom always said genetic anomolies could and would occur any times, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. She would not save seeds from any plant that bolted and grew too large too soon and only saved seeds from the bet looking plants that grew normally. In a previous posting on this blog I explained how she taught us how to shell the corn she used to make hominy and to only save the largest uniform kernels in the middle of the ear and to discard the rest for chicken feed. Once my brother and I planted several hills of the smaller seeds and we got exactly what we planted, stunted corn. You can follow all of the advice from different persons and most of the time it is good advice but sometimes some of it will be lacking. I go by experience learned from my mother and it has never failed me yet.

        • Thank you for sharing it. I often like to know the “why” because it helps me remember the “how” but whether or not I understand it doesn’t affect how true the “how” is, you know?

  7. Excellent article, Debbie S., thank you so much1

  8. michael c says:

    This is good information. A lot of it. This article could have been a 2 part series.

  9. Thanks so much all! It’s such a big topic and I left out so many types. Harold, I wonder if with the ability to water our gardens more easily than say 70 years ago, if saving seeds during a dought still holds? We start talking drought in Oregon when we’ve only had 45 inches of rain in the year. 😉

    Completely agree with your mom about trading seed. The seed saver group is great. I once sent $2 cash to a man for some seed yams, he sent my money back saying his potatoes didn’t survive the storage. What an honest person! I’ve had good luck with the group as a whole in the past.

    • One look at the poor performance of my garden would answer your question and reinforce my mothers admonishments. Even though it has been watered daily and the spring seed bed preparation did not vary from previous years, ie, fertilizer, compost etc, the extreme and continued heat made the fruit difficult to set, required hand pollination because lack of insects except mosquitoes which are the only ones who thrive during a drought and they don’t pollinate. Gardens need sunshine and moderate heat during the early morning and midday hours. They need to cool down overnight and when there is not much temperature differential between night and day, it severely stunts the growth. You should see our once beautiful corn here locally, head high, dark green vigorous growth, early tassellation and silk outgrowth, two weeks of extreme heat with no rain during pollination just ruins it. If we get a twenty five percent crop here locally we will be lucky, Normally yields up to 300 bu per acre on the better hybrids with good growing conditions. Now it will be like in my childhood days of hand shucking, fifty bushels per acre if we are lucky. Definitely no seed saving around here this year.

      • Hunker-Down says:


        I trust that you still have your shucking peg?

        • Oldest son who still lives in California has it and also a left handed one too. He stumps a lot of people who think they can identify any antique. Burns them up then to find they really are not an antique and can still be purchased through Lehmans and sometimes Sears.,

      • Harold,

        I don’t have such hot weather here. Our problems tend to be more of fungus and rot due to cooler temps and lots of rain. I always think the warmer areas of the country have better gardens. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side, until you get there and can see the weeds! Sorry to hear what’s happened to your garden.

  10. PS MD,

    This post is on page two of google! Go spiders….LOL

    • Debbie, you mentioned Oregon and made me think of my old supplier out there, Territorial Seeds who were so great to work with that they replaced my Merion black raspberries four times for here in Central Illinois until I finally got them started. Had to send them a soil sample for the last set. Said my ground was too rich for them. Wish I could convince the garden of that this year.

      • Harold,

        I’ve bought LOTS of seed from them! Great place to work with. How interesting your soils is too rich for them. I’m so sorry your garden isn’t happy this year. I’m very thankful to my DH for my Christmas gift; I’m probably the only woman in Oregon who got an electric fence under the tree and was excited about it!

        • Glad someone else had good relationships with them as I have had over the years. In my California years, 1966-1991, I bought exclusively from them. After returning to Illinois I tried Gurneys and got shafted so I appealed again to Territorial and got my seeds. I wanted black raspberries again at my home and was not satisfied with the native ones since they were so small. Having used the Merion varieties in California, I appealed to them and they cultivated a set and sent it. After the fourth attempt, they took off like wildfire and now this part of Central Illinois has a profusion of them among the Amish communities one of which exclusively make pie filling and can not keep up with the demand. The way I understood their explanation was they had to graft the Merion to a native Illinois black raspberry root structure to get it started but then when the canes touched ground and rerooted, it became as a native plant. Sure must have worked because one of the eAmish setting up a new community took a dozen rooted cans and planted them at his location where the soil was quite different. He said that every time a can got long enough he put a brick on it to force it to the ground and cause it to root and then transferred it to a new bed. In two years he had a twenty by forty foot bed thick with the plants and started production that year. He said that when they started bearing, he could get a cup daily from one plant. I told him I had the same luck and for some reason they bore longer than the native raspberries. You realize that this is a form of hybridization that is akin to genetic modification but is one that you can propagate and if tended properly can yield just like heirloom varieties. The basic difference is that you must use the cane from the plant be it berries or grapes and not the seeds from the fruit to continue the variety. Canes will keep for several years in a cooler as long as they are acquired after the sap sets to the roots in the fall and they are kept cool and away from direct lighting. I have since used canes that are eight years old from storage and had a better than ninety percent propagation rate which is as good as any heirloom plant will give you. Harold

          • Hunker-Down says:


            Wow, this is eye opening! Thank you.
            We would like to grow blackberries in Wisconsin zone 5, do you know anyone who may use the method you described that sells plants?

            • There are a few of the Universities in the midwest that have horticultural departments that could either offer better advice than me on things like this. I know that Ohio had a program for a number of years working with grapes to develop a variety that were both frost resistant and disease resistant of the seedless red flame variety. The ones I got from them and a California vendor did not make it through three succeeding winters even though replanted and protected per their advice. If you are persistent I guess and use your local variety rootstock and graft the variety you want to grow onto that rootstalk and nurture it carefully for sometime, you might be able to develop what you want. The large blackberries I see for sale in the stores lately I think are a cross between dewberries and blackberries and are a true hybrid and will not grow like the ones I described. Grafting is an old time method of propagating fruit trees. We had some Hale white peach trees when I was a kid and during a bad storm, all but one of them were destroyed. Dad got a couple of buds from a tree some miles distant from us and grafted them on the tree and this permitted it to self pollinate and still produce peaches. He also done this with Queen Anne cherries when all but one tree died. Queen Anne cherries are sold commercially as Ranier cherries. Again, try your University’s horticultural department for what you are looking for. We usually destroy our blackberries since they have became a nuisance around here. By the way, I just remembered that on RFD TV channel, there is a vendor selling those super blackberry plants.

          • Harold,

            All I can say is “I wish you were my neighbor!” We’d have lots of gardening fun. I have ‘wild blackberries’ along the creek in my yard and they touch down and root without any help. I work overtime trying to keep them in just one location.

            This year I’m planning on making wine with them. Today however, I’m making Marion Berry jam while waiting for the wild ones to be ready.

            • That is the problem around here also, wild propagation as bad as bamboo to the point they are a nuisance plant. I don’t like them because of the seeds. The ones I mentioned on RFDTV are of the seedless variety and are more than likely hybridized but propagation through rooting canes should pose no problems just like grapes and other berries. I would recommend trying them. I have gotten too old to try and start anything new and my interests are so varied that I work harder after retirement than I ever did during my years of employment. Model trains take up a goodly part of my time and I still do some engineering consultation work and my wife always wants me to build some kind of trinket, yard display shelf unit, etc, and then I am involved with the garden, the woods, garden tractors and equipment along with keeping up with the trends in prepping and trying things that are interesting to me whether new or not. Sometime before winter falls I hope to have my treatise on Then and Now finished, proofread and offered to MD for publication. I will have to wedge the time for that into other things I have going.

  11. Debbie S.
    Thanks for the great info. Will print out and save. This is my first year using non GMO seed and I am excited about saving from this year and seeing what I get next year. I’m 54 but I’m a novice at seed saving. Have been trying to read all I can about it but personal information is so much better than a book. Thanks for the article.
    Keep the Faith

    • Thanks Sam,

      I hope you get a bounty of seed and great vegies! I think while it’s important to stockup our food supply, it’s just as important to stockup seed. In a true SHTF I’m thinking there won’t be any vendors to buy from. Those of us who can provide best/ survive best!

      With gardening (as in prepping) Never give up/Never surrender!

  12. Great tips and great article. Just to add about the tomato seed drying, storage, and planting. Every year I will take the seed from the tomato’s that I wish to save and spread the seeds over a couple dry paper towels and let dry on my front porch table. After a few days the seeds will be dry enough for storage. Simply take the paper towel, fold it and place it in a ziploc bag bag. Use a sharpie and label the bag and place in the fridge or cool dry location. The next spring, in early to mid march, take the paper towel to your seed bed. Unfold and lay flat with seeds on top of paper towel and cover with a 1/4″ to 1/2″ good soil and then water. This will give you a great seed bed from which you can transplant to your garden. Thanks for the info and keep the articles coming.

    • Mike L,

      Thanks Mike! I’ve actually taken strips of paper towels, painted with a flour and water mix, and carefully laid out carrot seed. Once the flour/water ‘paste’ is dry and the seeds are stuck, I plant the whole thing. They are so small it’s hard for me to plant them just straight into the garden. I just lay the strips on the ground, dust with soil and water well.

  13. Good intro article. The key things that get overlooked IMHO are these, needed population numbers, selection and breeding stock.

    First, most open pollinated seed on the market today is junk. There’s almost no money in it for the big seed companies and no attention has been paid to maintaining the quality of it so it’s deteriorated over the years from what it once was. The heydey of open pollinated crops was 1900-1950, then hybrids took over and the old varieties were left to be neglected. You have to work to find good seed stock to start with and you’ll find that from small, passionate seed companies in most cases. My favorite these days is, a young couple here in Oregon who have collected varieties from all over the world, often in farmers markets. I’ve had great success with their seeds and they have lots of varieties you won’t find anywhere else.

    Second, you need to know what varieties need a handful of parents and which, like corn as mentioned, and brassicas for example, need 50-100 parents to maintain variability. That’s the reason most corns are hybrids, they get inbred very easily and hybridizing usually adds a lot of vigor. Along with that you need to know what will cross and what won’t, such as the three main varieties of squash and the different brassicas.

    Finally, you can’t “maintain” a variety without breeding it, meaning that in every generation you have to consciously select for the characteristics you want. Genes in plants are subject to mutation like all genes and almost all mutations are not desirable for the characteristics we want. You have to eliminate the off types and save seed from the best examples or the variety can deteriorate in just a few years.

    For anyone interested in gardening and seed saving I highly recommend a series of interviews with Carol Deppe, a plant breeder and survival gardener, that have been collected at She has been doing what “preppers” talk about for the last 30 years and has more useful advice in those interviews than you can find anywhere else.

    • Bill, you just confirmed what I was pointing out in earlier posting about genetic variation. My mother knew this inherently having learned it from her father who was an avid northern illinois farmer in the late 1880’s. Mom was the second child born in 1908 and my dad was born in 1898 so the lessons I learned were old, tried and true and before hybridization became so popular. It was practiced on small scale back then but mostly to improve crop quality and yield. Crossing for disease resistance came later and proved a detriment I think to the overall quality. In my opinion, the most prominent engineer in the plant genetics business was Orville Redenbacher, the popcorn king who was a knowledgeable, well trained and experienced hands on type of person. I had the privilege of attending one of his lectures and later on talking to him over an evening meal in valpariso many years ago and even though I though I knew a lot about corn genetics and raising same, he absolutely flabbergasted me with his knowledge some of which he imbued me with.

  14. Bill,

    Thanks for the link, I’ve not seen anything of Carol Deppe, tagged her in fav’s. When I’ve time I’ll sit and go through her stuff. There’s LOTS there.

    It is hard to get good seed which is why I like the Seed Saver’s Exchange. I’m looking through Adaptive Seed (thanks for the link) and I can see I’ll be buying from them too! The stupid tomatoes just get me every time. If I could, I’d have a huge tomatoe garden to go with the rest of my garden.

    Maybe if I ever get out on my acreage? Thanks again for the links, looks like good info!

  15. Thank you. I never knew there was so much to know about saving seeds. I have not had much luck with heirloom seeds yet. I planted an heirloom seed garden once, from seeds saved and exchanged by neighbors, but the yields were very disappointing. I prepared the soil the same way as the year before, when the hybrid seeds did well, as usual. I also got some heirloom blue corn with a short growing season for the northern climate. My friend said I had to keep the seeds going by planting, saving, and sharing them with others. The first couple of years the corn did well and I saved seed, stored in sealed glass jars in the dark. Then I moved to places where I was either unable to garden for one reason or another, or unable to plant the seed because other people had their hybrid corn nearby. Before I knew it, 8 years went by. I gave seeds to a couple of friends last year, but the corn didn’t come up, or did poorly. This year I tried sprouting kernels in a paper towel to see if any would germinate, but they seem to all be dead already. I thought dried seeds would be good for longer than 10 yrs. Am I doing something wrong?

  16. Unhooked Living,

    It may not be something you’ve ‘done wrong’. It could just be that particular type of corn. Sweet corn should maintain about 50% germination for 3 years when stored in cool, dry, dark conditions. Flint, dent and pop corns should run 5-10 years. All depends on proper harvesting of seed and storage conditions.

    It’s important to be sure to have a big enough patch to save from (see above) and to only save from the best most true to type.

    It’s a big subject and a good book is very helpful. Don’t give up on seed saving. Even if the SHTF never happens, the diversity of our seed is so important! I lost the seed for a dry bean my family grew for generation due to not being able to grow it out. Makes me sad and I still look in the bean section of any heirloom offerings in the hope of finding it. No name for it but I’d know it if/when I see it.

    When you’re ready to try again, I suggest you get seed from a company that’s been in the business for several years. That way you’re sure they’ve been collected correctly and that should give you a good start. Work on the correct way to grow, harvest and store them and before you know it, you’ll be handing over seed to family and friends.

  17. Thanks Debbie for your reply and the time you put into explaining some heirloom seed saving fundamentals.

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