Seed Saving Part One

Why Save Seed

For as long as humans have grown plants for food they have saved seed and passed them on from one generation to the other. Because these seeds have been valuable for providing food security to families great care has been taken to ensure these are the best seed to nurture their families. Since the development of industrial Agriculture (post WW 2) larger seed companies and plant breeding programs which favour large scale agriculture have come to dominate. The result of this is that many seed varieties have been lost and replaced by seed varieties (particularly hybrids) which benefit large scale agriculture i.e. all ripen at once for ease of harvest, Do not breed true to type so that you have buy seed from the companies every year, and can be patented for the financial gain of the company owning the patent. In contrast the seed that you save from open-pollinated seed allows the home grower to select for traits that are best for them and grow best in their environment. Many of these older (Heirloom) varieties have also been shown to be much more nutrient dense and more suitable for growing under organic conditions.
Saving seed and sharing the seed with friends, family, and neighbours is a great BUZZ that helps us to connect with our food and build more resilient communities A lot of the older seed varieties introduced to new Zealand by our indigenous Maori and by settlers from all over the globe also play an important part in the history and culture of our country. Many of these seeds come with stories that show the values in which they are held.E.g.We have been saving seed from a bean called ‘Cherokee trail of tears’ for several years now. This bean was carried by the Cherokee Indians when they had to leave their homelands for the reservations. A long the trail many of their people died, hence the name and the seed is black.
In New-Zealand we have several groups working to save and make available these open pollinated varieties (See the list at the end of this article) the important point to remember is that saving seed is not enough to preserve these plants. Seed needs to be grown out and saved regularly as well as being made available to growers to ensure their continuation and strength for future generations.
I will attempt to provide enough information to get you started, but it is a huge topic with quite a lot of differences in technique between different plant groups. (The books referenced are definitely recommended and I am happy to lend out)
Two main points to remember when thinking about saving seed is that the best seed comes from the best of the best. That is you want to save seed from your healthiest and ripest plant/ fruit. And secondly those fully mature vegetables that you have usually been picked while young are likely to get huge and untidy for a long time before the seed is ready for harvesting. Thus if you are one of those people who likes a tidy garden you may struggle with seed saving.
Having said that seed saving is very rewarding, can be addictive and is best shared.

A little understanding of Latin is necessary at this stage.
Firstly plants fall into family group’s .Within these family groups there are general seed saving techniques attributed to the type of flowers and the way in which they are pollinated.
E.g. Cucurbitaceae (pumpkins, melons, courgettes and cucumbers), Brassicaceae (broccoli, cabbage, mustard, cauliflower, rocket)
Within these family groups plants are split up into their Genus. In the cucurbit family for example squashes, courgettes and pumpkins are ‘Curcubita’, while most melons are ‘Cucumis’. On seed packets and catalogues the Genus is always written with a capital letter and is usually found underneath the common name. The second word that usually appears next to this is the species name and always starts with a small letter.
The important part to remember here is that as rule of thumb plants of the same species can cross whereas those within the same Genus but different species will not.
If we look at the cucurbitaceae family again. The commonly grown courgettes and buttercup squash are ‘Cucurbita pepo’ and will cross. They are bee pollinated too and bees will travel up to 6 kms, though much shorter when there is plenty of food available. The ‘Queensland Blue’ pumpkin (which I usually grow for winter) on the other hand is ‘Curcubita maxima’ and will not cross with the pepos. Thus by carefully selecting the varieties you grow you will find it is possible to grow a range of food for your family and save seed.

Getting Started

The best time to start planning for seed saving is winter as most of the plants you will want to save seed from will be planted in the spring. Some plants are self-pollinating which makes them the easiest for beginner seed savers. When buying seed look for the word open-pollinated or Heirloom on the packets. The kings catalogue has it in their key. Setha, koanga and eco seeds only sell open-pollinated seed. It really is not worth all the work to try any others. The most likely outcome is seed that will not have any fruit or will be inedible taking up a lot of space and effort in the meantime.


Are all self-pollinating this means you could plant several varieties close together and be certain that the seed will grow true to type. Remember the healthiest plants are the ones you want to save seed from and you will want to leave the fruit/ seed for as long as possible to be fully ripe. Peas will be at the brown crackly stage, Lettuce in flower and seed will get very tall and may need staking (the flower heads will change to little fluffy things like small dandelions) Cut heads off into paper bags and store in a cool dry place. With tomatoes if you cut them in half you will be able to scoop out most of the seed onto tissue or into a jar, and still get to eat most of your tomato.

Runner beans will cross. Most of the common beans usually grown in our gardens (bush and climbing) are Phaseolus vulgaris these are self-pollinating but will cross if different varieties are planted close together.

Keep seed in a cool dry place which is rodent proof. Putting seed in the freezer for three days will kill any small insects etc. which may be present. Glass jars are good as long as they are completely dry. I use envelopes and an old metal filing cabinet for most seed. I don’t recommend plastic as it tends to sweat.



“Seed to Seed” by Suzanne Ashworth (This is American so open-pollinated is referred to as ‘standard’)
“Save your own seed” By Kay Baxter Koanga institute
Sethas seeds :
Koanga Institute:
Eco seeds:
Kings Seeds :