Seed Saving: Super Easy RichmondGrowsSeeds org

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Seed Saving: Super Easy
1. Pollination
Pollination is the process of sexual fertilization in plants. The method by which a flower is pollinated (wind, insect, self) will dictate the spacing or isolation necessary for plants to produce true-to-type seeds.

Perfect flowers

Imperfect Flowers

  • contain male and female parts

  • some tend to self-pollinate = easier to save seeds

  • ex. beans, peas, tomatoes


  • contain either male or female parts

  • readily cross-pollinate = difficult to save true-to-type seeds

  • ex. squash, melons, cucumbers




Pollination takes place within a single

flower, usually before it opens. Self-

pollinating flowers are called perfect

Isolation distance to prevent cross-

pollination is not necessary unless

insects are known to invade flowers

before pollination is complete.

When pollen is exchanged between

different flowers from the same or

different plants.
If pollen comes from a different variety

(same species), then a hybrid will result.

Can be natural or artificially pollinated.

Understanding how plants pollinate will help you prevent cross-pollination, which leads to unpredictable results.

2. Heirlooms and Hybrids



  • produce plants identical to parents

  • not hybrid

  • open-pollinated seeds that have special significance to a family/community are often referred to as heirloom varieties

  • all individuals within a population are allowed to inter-mate via wind or insects

  • a cross between two genetically distinct parent plants; these distinct parent populations are each known as an “inbred line”

  • also called Filial 1, F1, or F – these are the first progeny of the inbred lines

  • First generation (F1) plants usually show more “vigor” than either parent

  • Second generation (F2) plants will not be uniform

  • Don’t save seeds from hybrids for the library

Heirlooms = plants that have “a face, a place and a story”

3. Biology 101

Plants in the same family have similar characteristics, such as flower and leaf structure, and are often saved in similar ways.
Family  Genus (plural Genera) Species  Variety  Cultivar
The scientific/botanical name is written in italics with the genus capitalized.

Ex. Carrot Apiaceae - Daucus carota var. sativus ‘Scarlet Nantes’

Family: Apiaceae Genus: Daucus Species: carota

Variety: sativus Cultivar: Scarlet Nantes

Note: Botanical name = Genus + species: Daucus carota
4. Seed Saving

General Guidelines

1. Keep good garden records or put out a label with the variety, source and year of seeds.

2. Always choose from the healthiest plants that are true-to-type.

3. Remove plants that are not true-to-type plants (rouging) or tag the plants you intend to

save from. Remove plants you don’t intend to save seeds from before they flower.

4. Plan your garden to reduce cross-pollination:

a. plant one variety per species, or only allow one variety to go to seed

b. separate varieties by planting something tall in between (ex. corn or sunflowers) or

plant on different sides of your house

c. have a friend plant another variety and share produce

d. stagger the planting of two varieties within a species so that pollination time does

not overlap; pollination occurs during flowering so note when flowers of different

varieties are open

5. Keep up with the Joneses. Know what varieties your neighbors are planting.

6. Never plant all of your seeds in one year.

Selection Traits

  • Vigor

  • Taste

  • Ability to tolerate drought, wind or other extreme conditions

  • Ability to compete with weeds

  • Early- or late-bearing fruit (whichever is desired)

  • Long storage life

  • Late to go to seed or bolt

  • Good fruit texture

  • Disease resistant

  • Productivity

  • Cold hardiness

  • Resistance to insect pests

  • Larger fruit or flowers

  • Attractiveness

  • Color

  • Shape

Envelope Recommendation: What to Write on Your Seed Envelopes

 time to germination and time to maturity

 planting instructions

 include why you saved seeds from a particular plant (See Selection Trait List)
Remember that when you return seeds the next person has to rely on your notes on the envelope.
Sunflower Family

Scientific family name: Asteraceae or Compositae Common family name: Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower Common family members: Artichoke, cardoon, endive, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, salsify, shungiku, sunflower.

Type of flower: Perfect Type of pollination: Self or insects

Population size (lettuce): 10-20

Harvesting: Let the seeds dry on the plant. Collect.

Envelope tips:

 Lettuce: color, slow bolting, suitable for winter, type of leaf: looseleaf, crisphead, romaine (cos), butterhead

 Sunflower: flower color, size of seed, size of plant, branching or central stem, size of head, taste of seeds

  • For Jerusalem artichokes, the tuber is planted. For others in this family, allow the plants to flower, collect dry seeds.

  • When half the lettuce flowers are fluffy white, you can cut off the stock and place it upside down in a paper bag in a dry place. Let them mature and dry in the bag then clean.

  • Most sunflowers are partially self-incompatible, which means the flowers on one plant must be pollinated by pollen from flowers on another plant. Plant multiple plants of one variety to ensure best seed set.

  • Cross-pollination in lettuce is very low. Multiple varieties can be grown in one garden.

Bean and Pea Family

Scientific family name: Fabaceae or Leguminosae Common name: Pea, Bean, Legume or Pulse

Common family members: bean, lentil, pea, peanut, soybean

Type of flower: Perfect Type of pollination: Self

Population size: 10-20 plants

Harvesting: Allow beans and peas to dry in their pods on plants before collecting and storing.

Envelope tips:

 Peas: type (sugar snap, snow, green/shelling)

 Beans: bush (determinant) or pole (indeterminant), use (green, dried)
Know your beans? If you know the scientific name of your bean, then you can plant one of each species and not have to worry about cross-pollination. Here are a few of the major species:

Scientific name

Common name


Phaseolus vulgaris

Common bean

Anasazi, black beans, borlotti types,

pink beans, pinto, shell, white and yellow


Vicia faba

Fava or broad bean

Negreta, Windsor, Tarma

Phaseolus coccineus

Runner beans

Scarlet runner, sunset runner

Phaseolus lunatus

Lima or Butter beans

Christmas, Henderson


  • Beans and peas have a low cross-pollination rate.

  • To reduce cross-pollination between different varieties of beans or peas isolate the plants by spacing them apart. Plant different pea varieties 50 ft apart and beans 100 ft apart.

  • To eliminate cross-pollination, grow different species of beans. Ex. Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) will not cross with a common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) such as Kentucky Wonder.

Nightshade Family

Scientific family name: Solanaceae

Common family members: Cape gooseberry, eggplant, ground cherry, pepper, potato, tomatillo, tomato.

Type of flower: Perfect Type of pollination: Self

Population size: 10-20 plants; hot peppers & currant tomatoes 40

Harvesting: Allow fruits to fully ripen. Then seeds should be rinsed and pulp removed. Dry them thoroughly before being stored. For tomatoes squeeze seeds and some pulp into a jar. Letting tomato pulp ferment in water for a few days before cleaning kills harmful microorganisms

Envelope tips:

 Tomatoes: determinant (bush)/indeterminant; color; use (paste, slicing); shape; size; disease-resistance; suitable for containers; good in cool; early, mid or late-season; length of harvest season

 Peppers: heat (sweet/hot), size, use (spice, drying, stuffing, frying)

 Eggplant: color, size, type (Asian, Italian)

  • Potatoes are grown from tubers not seeds.

  • Different varieties of peppers may cross if grown together.

  • To avoid hot peppers from crossing with sweet, don’t plant them near each other

Parsley Family

Scientific family name: Umbelliferae or Apiaceae

Common family members: Carrot, celery, caraway, chervil, cilantro (coriander), dill, fennel, parsley, parsnip

Type of flower: Perfect Type of pollination: Insect

Harvesting: Let the seeds dry on the plant. Collect.

Population size: carrots/parsnips – 50 plants allowed to flower; keep flowering carrots 1 ft apart in rows 3 ft wide by 17 feet long – carrots can severely inbreed! Don’t save carrots unless you have the population minimum; celery, caraway, chervil, cilantro, dill, fennel, parsley – 25 plants

Isolation distances: ¼ miles

Inbreeding depression (=loss of vigor): carrots – severe; others in family exhibit moderate to limited
Envelope tips:

 Carrots: color, size, shape, whether container appropriate

 Fennel: bulbing or foliage

 Parsley: curly, flat

  • Many plants in this family are biennial, so flowering may not occur until the second year.

  • Don’t save carrots if Queen Anne’s Lace is nearby. It will cross. Yucky and bitter!

5. Storage

  • Store in a cool, dry location.

  • Seeds can be kept in paper or glass. Do not store in plastic.

  • Seed Limit: Temperature (oF) + relative humidity (%) less than 100

  • Refer to Seed Chart on website for viability.

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