How to Save Seeds
1. Select open-pollinated (not hybrid/ F1) varieties of plants.
2. Start with the easiest seeds to save: Peas, Beans, Tomatoes, Lettuce and Native Plants.
3. Grow your plants making sure they are not cross-pollinated with other varieties. Select the healthiest plants to harvest seeds. If growing vegetables, also select good tasting fruit with high yields. Don’t choose wonky looking plants and select fruits from more than one plant if possible.
4. Gather fruits or seed pods at the correct time. See details below.
5. Dry seeds thoroughly. Store in paper envelopes or small clean jars in a dry, cold location. A plastic or glass container in your refrigerator is a great place to store seeds.
6. Label, label, label! Include the date, location and other notes about the plant, such as days to maturity or sun preference. You will forget come springtime.
Peas and Beans
Allow pods to ripen on the plants until they are dry and start turning brown. Peas and beans must be completely ripe or they won’t germinate. This will take about a month after harvesting the other peas/beans for eating. You can either strip the pods from the plants or pull up the entire plants whole and spread them to dry inside or other sheltered well-ventilated area for a couple of weeks. Shell pods and store in paper envelopes or jars. Pea and bean seeds remain viable for 3 years.
Allow fruit to ripen fully and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Put the seeds and pulp in a glass jar with some water. Let sit at room temperature for 2-4 days, stirring once a day. Each day pour off the pulp and seeds that float to the top. Viable seeds will sink to the bottom. After 4 days, remove the seeds at the bottom, rinse thoroughly, drain and spread on newspaper or paper towels to dry. Package in paper envelopes or jars. Tomato seeds remain viable for 4 years.
You must allow the lettuce plant to bolt or grow a stalk which will make a flower head with small yellow flowers. They eventually change to feathery white tufts which contain black or white seeds. Lettuce seeds don’t ripen all at once, so monitor the plants for a month or two. Each time you see some seeds turning dark, shake the plant over a paper bag to catch the seeds. Dry indoors for a week before storing. Lettuce seeds remain viable for 5 years.
Most native plants produce a flower, which if pollinated, will make a seed head or pod. Late in the fall or after a frost, collect the seed pods and allow to thoroughly dry. Remove the seeds before storing. Many native plants, especially milkweeds, attach a fluff bit to each seed to allow the seeds to disperse in the wind. To remove this fluff put the opened seed pods in a bucket or container with a lid. Add a couple of coins and close the lid and shake. The shaking with the coins will remove the fluff from the seeds. After shaking, the seeds will be at the bottom of the container.
Most native seeds require a moist cold period of time called stratification before they will germinate. The easiest way to grow these seeds is to plant them in the fall and let them go through the winter where they will sprout in the spring. Otherwise you will need to simulate winter by placing the seeds in moist sand and storing in the refrigerator for a set number of days before starting inside.
University of Minnesota Extension information - http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/vegetables/saving-vegetable-seeds/
Seed Savers Exchange – http://www.seedsavers.org/
Native plant growing from Prairie Moon Nursery - https://www.prairiemoon.com/
Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole B. Turner