gardener's hand planting seeds in dark soil

Is it worth storing seeds? How do you clean and save seeds? People often wonder if they should save the seeds from their garden vegetables or fruits. When you save seeds, you'll save money, too, since you'll already have them on hand for the next time you plant a garden. It is important to store seeds properly to protect them and keep them viable. Variety, quality, moisture, temperature, container type, and other factors can affect seed storage. In some cases, pests can also negatively affect the usefulness of seeds. This guide will cover seed storage methods, how to pick containers, and more.

What Is Seed Saving?

Seed saving is the process of storing seeds or reproductive parts of plants. For example, some people save tubers to replant. People may also save seeds from berries, vegetables, and tree fruits.

Seed Storage Basics

Plants with self-pollinating flowers are often good candidates for seed storage. For example, seeds of peppers, peas, tomatoes, and beans tend to store well. These types of plants do not require extensive care before storage. Heirloom varieties tend to reproduce better. There are some types of seeds that are not as easy to store. Biennial crops like beets are more challenging since they require two growing seasons to produce seeds. To save seeds, you will need some equipment. Gloves, drop cloths, boxes, paper or canvas bags, pruning shears, and boxes are some important supplies. The seeds will need to be prepared and dried. Keeping them in airtight containers can contribute to mold if they are not fully dry. The ideal way to keep seeds stored safely is to put them in a cool and dry room. You can use a variety of container types.

How to Save Seeds

If you want to save some seeds, it is important to harvest them at the right time. You must also properly prepare them for storage. These are the three main tips to follow.

Harvest Seeds Correctly

Contrary to popular belief, seeds are not always ideal to harvest when fruits or vegetables are ripe. For example, it is better to wait until beans are brown and shriveled. The same is true with peas. These are some other common examples:

  • Harvest pepper seeds when the peppers reach full color and begin shriveling.
  • Harvest cucumber seeds when the cucumbers are yellow or too ripe to eat.
  • Harvest watermelon seeds when the tendril next to the stem becomes dry.
  • Harvest winter squash seeds when the squash skin is hard.
  • Harvest summer squash seeds when the squash is too ripe to eat and has a hard rind.

Clean Seeds Thoroughly

Not every type of seed needs to be cleaned before storing. For instance, you do not need to clean green beans. They can be dried and then have their seeds removed by opening the pods. However, any seeds that are surrounded by pulp should be cleaned. Cantaloupe is a good example. You can remove the pulp from around the seeds by rubbing it across a screen. Just be careful not to scrape too hard and damage the seeds. Be sure to properly dry the seeds. Since drying times and processing instructions can vary for different types of fruits and vegetables, do some research. Find out how long to dry your preferred seeds. For instance, beans may only take a few days to dry. Alternatively, cucumbers should be stored for 20 days before the seeds are processed.

Store Seeds Properly

Once your seeds are clean and dry, you are ready to store them. Seeds should be firm, not soft or spongy. If they crush easily or are still soft, they are not ready. You can use cleaned-out pill bottles, cardboard canisters, or other safe containers. You'll learn more about those in the next section. Be sure to keep the seeds in a cool and dry place. So, how long do seeds last? While some seeds may last for several years, others do not. For instance, tomato seeds may keep for five years. However, squash and some other types of seeds are not known to last that long.

Seed Storage Containers: What to Look For

You can invest in a seed storage container system or create your own. Most container systems include paper or cardboard storage packets with glass or plastic covers. For instance, one popular choice is a large container that holds several individual plastic cases. Each case can hold one or two paper packets of seeds. Pill bottles and glass jars are also common. You can repurpose many things to use as storage containers. For instance, some people use old photo albums, photo cases, or 8-track cases. The best seed storage containers depend on the seed size and your needs. For instance, if you just want to save a few tomato seeds, a pill bottle is fine. However, if you want to save several varieties, pill bottles may take up too much space. An organization system may be more beneficial for multiple types of seeds. That system may not be ideal if you have a limited budget. Glass jars may leave some seeds exposed to too much sunlight. However, they are a convenient choice if you have extra jars. Moisture, air, warmth, light, and pests are important factors to consider for storage in any container. The ideal temperature range is between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Minimize light exposure, take steps to control pests, and minimize air contact.

Tips for Successful Seed Storage

If you want to save seeds for gardening next year, follow these tips:

  • Label your seeds to make sure you identify them correctly.
  • Add dates to each seed container to avoid using seeds that are too old.
  • Monitor the seeds frequently for moisture, light, pests, and other factors that can impact viability.

Be sure to follow best practices for storing any grass seed as well.

Frequently Asked Questions

These are some common questions people ask about storing and saving seeds.

What is the best way to store seeds?

It is ideal to thoroughly clean them first if necessary and then let them dry. After that, they must be kept in a cool and dry place with minimal light.

What is the best storage container for seeds?

Containers that do not let in too much air, light, or moisture are ideal.

How long can you store seeds?

The answer to this varies widely based on different plants. While tomato seeds last several years, other seeds may not. Always research specific plants to see how long their seeds will keep.

Is it OK to store seeds in an airtight container?

You can if you let them dry properly first. If they do not dry properly before you store them in an airtight container, they can grow mold and no longer be useful.

To start saving seeds, be sure to gather all the supplies you need. Do some research over the summer to decide which types you can save and how to process them. Then head to your local True Value store to find everything you need for storing seeds.