Saving your own seeds

Co-sponsored by The Trustees, a statewide land trust, and hosted at City Natives, a half-acre horticulture learning center and native plant nursery in Mattapan, our hands-on Seed Saving workshop was taught by the fabulous Michelle de Lima, Engagement Manager of Boston Community Gardens on August 18, 2016.

City Natives  Michelle

We opened with discussion of the myriad of reasons to save one’s own seeds, as shown by interest in workshop attendees- from personal gardening aspirations, to global seed control. Truth is, to be able to preserve characteristics that one likes in plants, such as flavor or productivity, while saving some money, and also maintaining the genetic diversity in our seed supply, and reducing fossil fuel input –  there’s really no good reason NOT to give seed saving a try. It’s also a fun and satisfying way to continually get one’s hands dirty and in touch with the plants and veggies!

The miracle of germination is encapsulated in the seeds, the offspring, the next generation as well as the origins, as it says in Genesis 1:12:

And the earth brought forth vegetation, herb yielding seed after its kind, and tree bearing fruit, each containing its seed after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

Seed saving is a multi-step process that requires harvesting the seeds, cleaning and processing them, as well as proper storage. To start, there are basic concepts important to determining which seeds to save, and we discussed some easy ways to get started, including a spirit of adventure!

One important piece in choosing what seeds you want to save is to know what type of plant it is…. Annual, perennial, biennial? Open-pollinated or hybrid? Seed companies will often tell you this information on their website or on the seed packet. The type of plant will tell you when you will be able to capture the seeds (year one or two). Hybrids are crosses of different varieties, and will be unpredictable, while open-pollinated will produce plants identical to the parent plant, known as “true to type.”

A great place to start might be with peas or bean pods. They are relatively simple to save as one can leave the pods to mature and dry on the vine, then harvest and store in an area with good air flow until they are fully dry.

Seeds within fleshy fruits need to be cleaned, like cucumbers or tomatoes.

Tomato seeds  Cucumber

This is known as wet processing. When the seeds are within the fruits, they are encapsulated in a pulp that inhibits their germination, so this pulp needs to be removed, and allowed to ferment by naturally occurring bacteria to destroy the pathogens. It’s a process of mixing the seeds with some water, allowing them to ferment, and similar to sauerkraut process, skimming off any scum that might develop on the top of the mixture after a day or two.

There are lots of open-source resources available that include the details of harvesting techniques, processing step-by-step guides as well as storage tips and tricks. Our pleasant evening conversation in the garden was community building in its best sense. Many Boston Public Libraries now include a seed-library, so check out your local branch!

Otherwise, the classic resource book is Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth or Seed Sowing and Saving by Carole Turner. Two great websites are Seed Savers Exchange ( and The International Seed Saving Institute (

Thanks again to The Trustees and we look forward to hearing of your seed saving adventures!