CFAES Give Today
OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

November 24, 2014 - 3:31pm --

My absolute favorite meeting of our Master Gardeners’ group is the November seed exchange.  Seed harvesting is an old industry that many of us do not think much about anymore. 

Now we typically order seeds from seed catalogues or buy them from seed racks.  The Shakers were one of the first groups in this country who began to sell seeds in paper packets.  I found a reference that The Shakers of New Lebanon, NY, began packaging and selling garden seeds in the 1790s.

Shaker innovations pioneered how seed companies produce and market seeds today.  The Shakers were the first to use paper seed envelopes with printed pictures of the plants and with growing instructions.

You do not have to be a Shaker to harvest and store seeds from your own garden or a community garden, and you may want to try seed harvesting yourself.

Here’s why:  Harvesting seeds from your vegetable and flower gardens is not difficult, and it is a money-saver.  Your seed harvest ensures that you can carry over your favorite plants year after year and is a real gardening heritage that you can share with others.

Here’s how:  When the seed pods or flower heads have completed their growing cycle and begin to decline, they can be removed from the plant.  Some seeds that are tiny are quick to dry and may be ready to save right off the stem.  A little research will show you that timing the seed harvest of those plants right from the stem is the key to success.

Hollyhock, sweet pea, and cleome are just three plants that readily self-sow, dropping seeds everywhere if you wait too long to gather them.

To ensure success in saving seeds from plants that hang onto their seeds, you may have to work a bit harder.  I often dry the pods in my greenhouse where the temperatures are high and there is good air circulation around the drying seed heads and pods.  The key is to avoid mold.

The seeds will need to be separated from chaff–hulls, stems and any plant material other than the seeds themselves. 

Here’s a typical process that I used to harvest morning glory seeds at the end of a season.  I allowed the vines to remain on the trellis and dry naturally until early November.  I removed the entire vine with the seed pods attached.  I placed the vines into a heavy duty paper garden bag then I shook and beat the bag to loosen the seeds from the pods.  This process is referred to as threshing.

I next removed the vines leaving behind the seeds and the seed pod debris in the bag.  The seeds and the pod chaff were poured into a bucket.  The next step was to set up a box fan outside on my lawn.  I poured the seeds from one bucket into another in front of the blowing fan.  This process is referred to as winnowing.  The seeds are heavier than the chaff and the seeds fall into the bucket and the lighter chaff blows away.  The winnowing may be repeated several times until the seeds are sufficiently separated from the chaff.

The seeds can be spread out on a flat surface until they are sufficiently dried for storage.  Seeds from vegetables such as pumpkins are easy to dry when spread out in a single layer on newspapers for several weeks.  Clean off the seeds as best you can first.

I store my seeds on a shelf in my furnace room in paper bags.  If you are convinced that your seeds are sufficiently dry, they can be placed in plastic bags or glass jars with lids, but I like for my seeds to be able to “breathe,” so I prefer paper envelopes or bags.

Watch-outs:  Harvest seeds from your best performing plants.  Use a clean garden shearer to cut the seed heads or pods from the plant.  It is a good idea to label your seeds with the plant name, variety and the year in which they were harvested.  It may be clear at harvest time what seeds are what, but by next spring you may not remember. With flowers, like zinnias, the color of the flower from which the seed was harvested may also be noted.

Just a Note:  Many garden plants and seeds purchased today from seed companies are hybrids.  Some of these hybrids do not even produce seeds.  Those that do will usually not reproduce the hybrid plant but rather a plant that does not have the same qualities of the hybrid.  Do not try to save seeds from hybrids; it is usually a waste of time.  There are, however, a myriad of plant varieties, often referred to as heirloom or heritage plants, from which you can harvest the seeds with excellent results.

If you want to try harvesting your own seeds, give it a try.  I believe that you will be glad that you did.  Seed harvesting can be achieved with little effort and has some uniquely delightful outcomes. 

For more information on home, lawn, indoor, or outdoor garden care and tips, as well as other garden topics, visit and click on the Yard and Garden link, or call the OSU Extension, Butler County, at (513) 887-3722, or in Middletown at (513) 424-5351, ext. #3722.

News Release provided by Richard Sunberg.