Saving Vegetable Seeds

Category Seeds
Saving vegetable seeds is often about timing. This is a page about saving vegetable seeds.


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September 21, 2006

Collecting seeds from vegetables is all a matter of timing. If you pick your seeds too early, before they've had time to mature, they'll be thin and unsubstantial and lack the necessary food stores to survive winter storage, let alone start healthy new seedlings. On the other hand, if you wait too long to collect seeds, you risk losing them to the elements or you end up with seeds predisposed to producing late in the season. Here are a few tips for collecting and saving various vegetable seeds.

Seeds Inside Fleshy Fruit

Seeds in this group are contained inside vegetables with fleshy fruits like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and melons. It's okay to let these fruits ripen beyond the stage you would harvested them for eating, but don't leave them attached to the vine or stem so long that they start to dry out, or the seeds will form a protective covering that will compromise their shelf life.

Eggplants & Tomatoes: Eggplants will fall off the vine by themselves when their seeds mature. Tomato seeds are ready when the fruits are slightly overripe and soft. The seeds of both of these vegetables should be scooped out and placed in a bowl of tepid water to separate the seeds from the pulp. Let the mixture stand for a few days and it will start to ferment. The seeds will then separate from the pulp and sink to the bottom. Pour off the pulp and underdeveloped seeds. Dry seeds on paper towels before storage.

Peppers: When the peppers turn color and start to shrivel the seeds are ready. To remove the seeds, slice the peppers open and scrape the seeds away from the pulp. Let them air dry before storing.

Cucumbers: Cucumbers with white spines will turn a yellowish-white when seeds are ready for collecting, and cucumbers with black spines will turn a golden brown. Cut the fruit open lengthwise and scoop the seeds and accompanying pulp into a bowl of tepid water. After sitting in water a few days, the mixture will begin to ferment and the seeds will sink to the bottom.


Dry seeds on paper towels before storing.

Squash (also, Pumpkins & Gourds): Winter squash seeds are mature when the squash is ready for harvesting in the fall. Because they keep for several months after harvested, you can clean and remove the seeds as you consume them. Simply cut the squash into two and scrape out the pulps and separate the seeds by hand. Let the seeds air dry very thoroughly before storing. Summer squash should be left on the vine until the fruit has reached its full size and hardened. Follow the instructions for cucumbers to save seeds.

Muskmelon and Watermelon: The seeds of these melons are ready for collection when the melons become ripe and ready for eating. Wash seeds and dry them thoroughly before storing.

Edible Seeds

Edible seeds are from crops like corn, beans, and peas-crops where the seed is the part of plant that is eaten. Because these crops tend to hold on to their seeds longer, the collection time becomes less critical.


Peas & Beans: Leave them on the plants until the pods become dry and the seeds rattle inside.

Corn: Leave the ears on the stalks for another 4 weeks after the corn is ready for consumption. After 4 weeks, remove the ears from the stalks, peel back the husks, braid several of the husks together and hang them up for further drying. Shuck the ears when the kernels are completely dry.

Seeds That Scatter Easily

These vegetable seeds ripen and scatter easily as soon as the plant reaches maturity. This group includes vegetables such as lettuce, onion, okra, beets, carrots, and members of the mustard family. The seeds of these vegetables ripen gradually, with the plant often containing seeds in various stages of maturity. Collecting seeds from these vegetables requires daily inspection or attaching small bags to the seed heads to catch dry seed as it falls. In the case of some of the root vegetables, seeds can be purchased more economically than the effort required to harvest and store the seeds.

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September 16, 2009

I planted for first time in 20 years on soil that's located on top an artesian well. I had zucchini's the size of couches. How do I dry zucchini seeds? Would be interested in swapping some green beans (bumper crop there, also) for sweet corn or other. Name your offerings.


Hardiness Zone: 5a

By Kelley from Green Bay, WI


September 17, 20090 found this helpful

To dry zucchini seed, put them on newspaper, let sit until they are dry in the sun. Good luck.

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September 17, 20090 found this helpful

Do you have pictures of the large zucchinis? I would like some of the seed, maybe I can grow large zucchinis.

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I have read many articles on saving seed. In most all cases, when cleaning and saving seed from pulpy fruit such as tomatoes and melons, instructions are given to scoop the seed from the fruit, remove as much pulp as possible, then place seed in a bowl of water. Some seed will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Some will float on the surface of the water.


Advice is given to skim off all floating seed and discard as they will not produce plants. Reasons given for these seed being 'bad' are: they are sterile, hollow, immature, or otherwise defective. The seed that sink to the bottom are said to be 'good' and should be further cleaned, then dried, stored, and saved for next year's planting.

Sources for this information range from the home gardener to professional seed suppliers to agents with state agricultural departments. Even with many sources being reliable and credible, I have always doubted this information to be correct.

My reasoning: Immature seeds are smaller and lighter and more likely to float. Hollow seeds and seeds otherwise defective would be more likely to float. I questioned that sterile seed necessarily float. I am just a home gardener with no degrees in horticulture. Therefore, I saw no reason why the buoyancy of a fully developed seed would be determined by it's state of sterility or fertility.

I decided to conduct a test with at least one fruit, the Golden Honeydew. I scooped the seed mass from the melon into a bowl of water. I carefully removed all pulp, leaving only seed. These seed were rinsed twice and left in the final rinse water.

I stirred this water, vigorously. Within one minute, about two thirds of the seed were floating atop the water, while the remaining third sank to the bottom. I carefully skimmed the floating seed from the water and placed them in a saucer labeled 'floaters'. I drained the water from the sunken seed, and placed them in a saucer labeled 'sinkers'.

I randomly scooped seed from the floaters collection, counted out twenty and planted them in a soil filled pan. The pan was labeled accordingly. Next, I randomly scooped seed from the sinkers collection, counted out twenty and planted them in a soil filled pan. The pan was labeled accordingly.

Within one day, there was evidence of germination (red arrow). Not to my surprise, the first seedling to emerge from the soil was a 'floater'.

I harvested and planted these seed on 07-18-15. The picture showing fully sprouted seed was taken 07-20-15 (48 hours later). I didn't need to wait until all seed which were going to germinate, did germinate, in order to determine my findings.

I found that, at least in the case of Golden Honeydew melon seed, there is absolutely no difference in the viability of that seed with respect to whether the seeds float or sink. Having such a high rate of successful germination among all 40 seeds, I assume there were no sterile seeds among them. That fact does not alter my findings about floating seed.

What with the average germination time for honeydew melons said to be at 8-10 days, I also determined that seeds harvested and planted immediately, germinate at a much faster rate than those dried and stored.

I rest my case.

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October 5, 2016

This is a page about saving cucumber seeds. You can save money on garden seeds by collecting them from this year's crop for use next year.

Saving Cucumber Seeds

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September 8, 2016

This is a page about saving tomato seeds. An economical way to grow vegetables next season, especially if you are OK if the second season's produce does not necessarily taste the same, is to save some seeds.

Slice of tomato showing seeds

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