Info on saving seeds

Seed saving is addictive. As a bonus, it’s relatively easy to do with a small amount of kit and armed with a little information. There is a wealth of that both online and in print. The resources list below has links to some of it. Real Seeds were the inspiration for my starting my first seed circle in 2014 and their information is simple and straightforward.

As a very brief summary:
Unless you’re trying to breed something new and have a few years to stabilise the variety, don’t bother trying and save seed from F1 seeds. These are an unstable first generation hybrid and their seeds will not breed true. You might breed something wonderful, but it’s just as likely you won’t. I tried it with my favourite Chenzo chillies: the next generation’s plants had wildly different fruits, flowers and growing habits – mostly disappointing. Only one out of 15-odd plants grew a decent chilli.

Peas, French beans, achocha, cape gooseberries, lettuces, most (not all) tomatoes, and some herbs self-pollinate so should produce pure seed with little bother. There is a small chance they might cross, but if you plant them a short distance apart you should be fine. They are easy crops to start seed saving crops from.

Broad beans, runner beans, chillies, sweet peppers, some tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers, melons, sweetcorn, some herbs (eg basil) will all happily cross-pollinate and need to be isolated to get seed that will grow ‘true’. That means either tenting them in fleece, growing in a block and hoping the ones in the middle will stay true or bagging the flowers. For runner and broad beans, if you’re hand-pollinating you need to ‘trip’ the flower into pollinating, usually with a paintbrush or a Q-tip.

For squashes, cucumbers, melons and corn you need to bag both the male and the female flowers and use those male flowers to hand pollinate (or for corn, gently shake over!) the female flowers. Curcurbit flowers need to be bagged the night before – it will be fairly obvious which ones are about to open and they open just after dawn, being most viable in the morning. I have to bag most of my squash flowers anyway as slugs on my plot seem to find them irresistable, and this is the only way of making sure I get plenty of squash. And keep a hand free to wave away interested bees…

Broadly speaking root crops, alliums and brassicas flower in their second year and will cross-pollinate within their families (eg beets & chard) and that also includes their wild cousins (eg carrots & Queen Anne’s Lace). That means you need to think about isolating them, either physically or by distance.

Growing only one type of veg from a family (eg one type of cucumber) can be a way around needing to isolate or hand pollinate flowers, but in this case you need to be aware of what your neighbours are growing on the plot and/or further afield. Bees and other insects will travel some way to get at flowers and the isolation distances quoted in the resources below are considerable!

Growing plants that you don’t commonly see flowering can also work well on a busy allotment site. As an example, rocoto chillies are still a fairly obscure chilli family (c.pubescens) and won’t cross with other chilli families other than their own. I’ve also never seen salsify or parsnips flowering on our site, whereas broccoli, kale, chard, beets, leeks etc are all flowering wildly at some time or other.


  • Net bags that will fit over flowers/trusses of flowers – you can make them or buy them, large drawstring wedding favour bags are great.
  • Coloured string or some other way of marking which flowers/fruit are being saved for seed (if you’re using string, allow enough room for the stem to expand as the fruit grows (my rookie mistake)).
  • Soft paintbrush to help transfer pollen/trip flowers (cheap make-up brushes?).
  • Large kilner jar and cheap rice if that’s the method you choose for drying your seed.
  • Bags/envelopes to store the seed in – small ziplock bags or dinner money envelopes are good.

Resources and more information:
For all of these I have linked to the seed saving guides, rather than the homepage and am crossing my fingers the contents won’t get moved.

Real Seeds – clear, simple information on saving, harvesting and drying seeds from the basic to the more tricksy. Info can also be downloaded.

The Chileman – information on saving seeds, a database of chilli varieties & amateur growers in the UK and beyond, including a very handy seed exchange.

Garden Organic – home of the Heritage Seed Library and their resource covers more complicated techniques and subjects like roguing and advice on the number of plants to grow to maintain plant vigour. Info can also be downloaded as a pdf.

Seed Savers Exchange (US site) Gives saving advice by plant family.

Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook (US site) Gives saving advice by plant family.

For people who like their information printed (and I am one of them) or downloadable there are a number of books on seed saving. I haven’t read any other than Sue Stickland’s (yet), but commonly recommended are:

•   Suzanne Ashworth – Seed to Seed  (ISBN: 1882424581)

•   Carol Deppe – Breed your own Vegetable Varieties  (ISBN: 1890132721)

•   Andrea Heistinger – The Manual of Seed-Saving: Harvesting, Storing and Sowing Techniques for Vegetables, Herbs and Fruits (ISBN: 1604693827)

•   Sue Stickland – Back Garden Seed Saving  (ISBN: 9781899233151)