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How to collect and save your own seed from plants for sowing next year
Collecting seed from plants is not difficult and can not only be very rewarding, but can also save you a packet on buying new seeds. It should be noted however, that plants raised from collected seed may not produce exactly the same crops (either size, colour or shape) as the original plant from which the seed was collected.
In the case of vegetables and herbs, this usually only happens if the original plant was an F1 hybrid, however, the resulting new crops will probably still be just as good so it’s worth having a go.
Because many fruit such as apples have been grafted on to different root stocks, the resulting plants may differ wildly. This is particularly the case with dwarf trees when you could end up with a massive tree instead of a nice compact one.
No specialist equipment is needed. All that’s required is a pair of secateurs or scissors, something inn which to place the seed heads – small bags, bowls or kitchen paper work well; paper bags or envelopes to store the seeds and a pen for labelling the envelopes/ bags. Polythene bags should not be used to store seed however they are ideal for collecting the seed heads before extracting the seeds.
Make sure you check the corners of paper bags or envelopes to ensure the corners don’t have any holes or gaps through which seed can fall out. You can make your own small folded envelopes from sheet of paper.
Because different plants flower at different times, when you collect seed will depend on individual specimens. Some early producing crops may well have seed ready by late June however most will be ready in early Autumn. It’s therefore best to keep an eye on individual plants once they start flowering for the tell-tale signs in the flower heads.
You must wait until the seeds
are ripe. Good indications that the seed is ready is when they change
colour, usually getting darker or when the pods begin to split in
readiness to shed their seeds. Bear in mind that on most plants, not all
the seed heads ripen at once, so collecting seed can continue for many
weeks, so if you missed the first lot you’re bound to get another chance
Seed heads should be as dry as possible when you collect them. Pick a dry day when there isn’t too much wind as many seeds are very light and easily blown away.
One last, very important factor. In order to produce seed a plant has to either flower, or in the case of crops like aubergine and tomatoes, bear seed carrying fruit. If you want to collect seed, you must allow at least some plants, to complete their life cycle naturally. So, for instance, if you want to collect seeds from broccoli, you must leave some of the florets to mature and not harvest them for eating and if you want to collect seed from tomatoes, you must allow some of the fruit to mature on the plant. It's best to wait until near the end of harvesting time to allow both of these methods as early setting of seed can cause plants to stop producing altogether.
(see below for collecting seed from fruit bearing plants)
The simplest way of collecting the seed from flowering plants is to pick off the complete seed head and place it in a bag. If you are collecting more than one type of seed at the same time, use a different bag for each type and make sure you label the bag beforehand or have pieces of paper on which you can write the names ready to place in the bags with the seed heads.
Once the seed has been collected, it’s best to take them indoors or to a sheltered spot out of the wind before removing the seeds. If the seed heads aren’t completely dry, they will need to be allowed to dry off before the seeds are removed. Allow them to naturally with no artificial heat.
Once they are dry, place a large piece of paper on a flat surface and remove the seeds from the flower heads by either shaking or lightly scrunching with your fingertips. Remove any large bits of debris such as dried petals or pods, then finally package in small paper bags or envelopes, seal and store in a cool dry place.
When collecting seeds from fleshy plants such as tomatoes, courgettes and pumpkins, the procedure is a little different as any pulp must be removed from around the seeds before they are finally dried off.
With larger seeds, this is just a matter of picking them out and washing in a bowl of water before allowing to dry naturally. With smaller seed such as tomatoes, place them in a sieve and wash under cold running water, agitating them with your fingertips, until all the pulp is removed. Once again, they should be air-dried before placing in paper bags/envelopes for storing.
Store in a cool dry place out of direct sun light. You can even keep them in the refrigerator however do not freeze.
Collected seeds should be planted in the same way as purchased seeds. See the growing pages for individual crops on this site for planting depths and distances.
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