Tips on saving your own seeds

Information sheet

Saving your own seed is a fun activity for early autumn and is a good way of increasing your plants.

  • School term: Early Autumn, Late Summer
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): Science

Saving vegetable seed

Lettuces, spinach and Swiss chard may have ‘gone to seed’.  This means the usually leafy vegetables have formed flowers on the end of a long stalk and then these flowers have formed seeds. It is possible for the children to collect these seeds and save them to sow next year. Children can collect the seed, dry them, sort them and then design and make their own seed packets to give or sell to parents.

Peas and beans that were not harvested in time for the end of term may have dried well on the plant. These will be ready to harvest for seed. The ‘Borlotti’ type of French bean can be dried to be eaten in soups and casseroles.

If you have space, leave one leek plant, an onion plant and maybe even a carrot and parsnip plant to over-winter. The next year they will flower and you can save their seeds. The children will see the flowers of these vegetables and recognise similarities within the family groups.

Some vegetables are easily cross pollinated by insects, so if you grow 2 varieties of the same vegetable at the same time they are likely to cross pollinate. Broad beans are an example, so the resulting seed would be a mixture of both these bean varieties. This could lead to some interesting results. Courgettes, pumpkins will cross pollinate and their offspring will often produce misshapen fruits!

Vegetables that self pollinate will most likely produce seed that is the same as its parent.

Saving seeds from herbs

Coriander, dill, parsley, basil, and chives can all be grown from saved seed. Basil is easily cross pollinated, so if growing two varieties together only let one variety flower and seed.

Saving seeds from flowers

Autumn is a great time to collect the seeds from annuals in the school garden. Hardy annuals such as cornflowers and marigolds can be sown in September and will flower earlier in the summer term than spring sown seeds. Hardy annuals attract beneficial insects in to your school garden which is good for pest control and pollination.

See what hardy annuals you can sow each term here.

Important points to remember for seed saving

  1. Seed from F1 hybrids will not be the same as the parent plant.
  2. Save seed from healthy looking plants.
  3. Collect seed when seed heads appear to be ripening. Unripe pods will not ripen once picked.
  4. Collect on a dry day to avoid fungal rot on seeds.
  5. Label with name and date to avoid confusion later.
  6. Collect seeds directly from the plant into paper bags or into trays lined with newspaper.
  7. Dry capsules and pods in a warm dry place until seeds are released.
  8. For fleshy seeds such as tomatoes and cucumbers - ferment the seed for 3 days to remove the jelly like coating. Rinse in water then dry in a warm place.

Separating seeds from the chaff – the remains of the seed capsule. Use a tea strainer for small seeds or garden sieves for larger seeds, blowing away the chaff.

Care and storage of seeds

Seeds can be stored in paper envelopes or bags. It is important to store packets of seeds in a cool place. It is essential that it is not kept in a centrally heated classroom or dormancy may be induced. Use a large plastic lidded box to keep moisture away. Add sachets of silica to absorb any moisture.

Once seeds have been opened, carefully re-seal any remaining seeds in their packet.

Look at the date on the seed packet to see if the seeds will keep for another year.

Testing for viability

Seeds can fail because they were not fertile or fully developed, they are defective. They may have been stored too long or damaged by fungal or insect attack. To avoid sowing dead seeds you can perform this simple test. Put medium to large seeds in a jar of water. Viable seeds sink, dead seeds float. Sow only the viable seeds at once.


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