Saving Seed Begins in Spring!

Cherokee Pony Peas Image copyright Jill HendersonBy Jill HendersonShow Me Oz

If you are one of the millions of gardeners who want to try their hand at saving their own garden seeds this year, spring is the perfect time to begin.  And the best way to have a successful seed harvest is by selecting the right plants, spacing them properly and maintaining control of the pollination process.  For the beginning seed saver this is sometimes a bit confusing, which is why I’ve put together a tidy list of the easiest seeds to save and exactly how to save them in your garden starting right now!


Saving your own garden seeds is one of the most fun and rewarding things you will ever do.  But before you put a single seed in the ground, take some time to make a plan.  Unless your aim is to try to create new and interesting open pollinated plants through the hybridization process, you will want to ensure that the seeds you save will result in offspring exactly like the parent plants.  To do this, you will need to know a little about the plants in the garden, how they are related to one another, and how they use their flowers to produce both seed and fruit.  Knowing these things will give you a jump start on your seed saving efforts, which should always begin in the spring.

If this is your first time saving seeds, you might like to read the following articles, which will help explain the botanical names of plants and the difference between open pollinated and hybrid seeds.

Avoid GMO’s – Save Your Own Seed
Saving Seeds- Open Pollinated vs. Hybrid

Of course, if you’d like to learn all about how to save your own seed in plain –talking English, check out my book, The Garden Seed Saving Guide!

Eggplant - copyright Jill HendersonEASY

Once you get the basic principles of how plants reproduce, the rest begins to fall into place.  To save your own garden seed, begin by deciding which crops you would like to save seed from.  The easiest plants for beginners includes:

  • Tomato, tomatillo, pepper and eggplant – Nightshade Family (Solanaceae)
  • Beans and peas – (Fabaceae Family) – all types
  • Lettuce – (Asteraceae Family) – all types
  • Radish (Brassicaceae Family) – common red and green types only.
  • Okra – (Malvaceae Family) – all types

This small list represents almost one-third of all of the plants grown in the common home garden and all have perfect, self-pollinating flowers.  This means that these plants do not rely on pollination by insects, which dramatically decreases the chance of cross pollination between different varieties and increases your chance of seed saving success!

Keep in mind that nature is a tricky lady and all of the plants in this list might cross pollinate with others of the same species in the presence of very heavy pollinator activity.

For the home gardener, separating blocks of different varieties by 10-15 ft. with an unrelated crop in between is the best defense against unexpected cross pollination. For rare heirlooms, isolate different varieties by at least 50 ft., or as far apart as possible.

While hot peppers have perfect self pollinating flowers, they tend to cross pollinate much more readily than sweet peppers.  To avoid cross pollination, hot peppers should be separated from any other type of pepper by at least 20’, or as great a distance as is possible in your garden.

Butternut Squash copyright Jill HendersonCHALLENGING

While a little more challenging, the following group of plants can be grown for seed if you follow the Single Variety Rule (below):


  • Spinach (Chenopodiaceae Family) – all types
  • Cucumber, Melon, Watermelon, Squash and Gourds (Cucurbitaceae Family) – all types

The plants in this list are not self-pollinating and rely entirely on wind (spinach) or insects (Cucurbits) for pollination. For these reasons, these crops require isolation techniques such as single variety plantings, staggered bloom time, large isolation distances, hand pollination, or caging to avoid unwanted cross-pollination.

When it comes to cucurbits, it’s all about knowing the Latin name of each plant! Before attempting to save the seed of any cucurbit, find out the full Latin botanical name of each. This is the only way to prevent cross pollination. If two plants share the same genus and species names – they WILL cross pollinate.

For the beginner, the easiest method of ensuring seed purity is to follow the Single Variety Rule, which is to grow only one variety of each species in the garden at any given time.  For example, grow only one variety of watermelon, one variety of muskmelon and one variety of cucumber per garden, per season.

While the same rule applies to common squash and pumpkins, this group of plants is a little more tricky to sort out.   All common squash and pumpkins fall under the genera of Cucurbita.  Within that genera are four species to watch for: mixta, pepo, moschata and maxima.  If you follow the  Single Variety Rule and plant only one variety each of C. mixta, C. moschata, C. maxima, and C. pepo, you can save seed without any worry of cross pollination.

With a little planning this spring, you can save enough seed in your garden this year to last you, your family and your friends for years to come!

Happy seed saving!

Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.

SSG-3-thumb-412x640-70dpi_thumb.jpgExcerpted in part from
The Garden Seed Saving Guide
– Seed Saving for Everyone –

Whether you’re a weekend gardener, homesteader, or serious survivalist, saving seeds is a money saving skill that every green-thumb should to have. An excellent resource for beginners and experienced gardeners alike, The Garden Seed Saving Guide takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving seeds. If you want to save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid genetically modified food crops, The Garden Seed Saving Guide is for you.

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…and don’t forget to tell your friends you got it from


2 responses to “Saving Seed Begins in Spring!

  1. Hey Jill! The new post on your blog inspired me to add a page on the Community Garden website.  Check it out.  If it’s not okay with you, please let me know, and I’ll remove it immediately.

    All is well! Julie  

    • Hey Julie. I don’t mind at all – share away! I love the comnmunity garden and how it has changed our community for the better – so glad to see you’re working on a website for it. Keep up the good work!

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