How to Properly Harvest Seeds and Get a Sustainable Food Source Year Round

Teresa Fikes
By Teresa Fikes March 5, 2020 09:22

How to Properly Harvest Seeds and Get a Sustainable Food Source Year Round

Why should you harvest seeds? Harvesting seeds can be tricky, requiring patience, practice and a good amount of knowledge. That being said, it’s an incredibly rewarding endeavor.

Properly harvesting seeds can ultimately result in cultivating a sustainable food source year-round.

Growing and maintaining a flourishing garden is an essential component of any prepper’s life. Planting, nurturing, growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables is not only a great way to live sustainably and independently, but it’s also economically sound.

On average, American families spend over $13,000 annually on food per household. That figure is a large percentage of the average family’s budget, and with inflation, economic instability, and other factors, the cost is continuing to rise.

Related: Gardening For The Future – Hay and Straw Bale Gardening

For many, it is a struggle to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the table. Healthy eating should not be a luxury, and yet, it is indeed cost-prohibitive.

Additionally, many Americans are becoming increasingly unhappy with the quality of store-bought produce. With growth hormone and other controversial additives, the safety of foods grown on large farms has come into question.

Organic foods are markedly more expensive than non-organic options, and they are not available in many rural locations. Adding even more aggravation to the mix is the fact that many foods labeled as “organic” or “all-natural” are misrepresented by food retailers as a strategic marketing measure.

Shoppers pay a hefty price for fresh food that fails to live up to the standards that we expect from natural, organic, sustainably-grown food. Something’s got to give.

How to Properly Harvest Seeds

What follows is a step-by-step overview of the proper process to follow to successfully harvest seeds.

How to Properly Harvest Seeds and Get a Sustainable Food Source Year Round1

  1. Gather the requisite gardening tools. This includes a shovel, pruning shears, scissors, containers, envelopes, and a pen for labeling and making notes.
  2. Allow the plant to fully mature before attempting to harvest the seeds.
  3. Remove the seeds, seed pods, capsules or bulbs and place them into an envelope or container.
  4. Separate the seeds from any surrounding pods or plant matter.
  5. Store the seeds in paper envelopes or bags to reduce the accumulation of moisture and humidity.
  6. Place your seed collection in a cool, dark, dry, ventilated space.
  7. Plant the seeds in accordance with your planting calendar.

Sustainable Food: What to Grow

Understandably, before you can harvest seeds, you must have a thriving garden. Plant a variety of hearty fruits and vegetables, in addition to herbs, edible flowers and anything else that can add flavor and nutrition to your diet.

In terms of the seeds you should focus on harvesting, the best fruits and vegetables include:

  • Peppers
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Squash
  • Melon
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Beets
  • Potatoes (yes, potatoes do seed)
  • Tomatoes

It is extremely helpful to understand the basics of the biology of pollination, seeding and the life cycle of a plant. This will help you to correctly gather seeds at the ideal time, and plant the seeds at the optimal time of the year.

Noting when you plant your crops and when you gathered the seeds will help you to stay organized and have a flourishing supply of produce regardless of the season.

If you are new to gardening, be aware that there are self-pollinating crops that are considered easy to grow. Tomatoes, beans, lettuce, and peas are great for beginners to learn how to harvest seeds properly.

It is also useful to understand the difference between hybrid species and those that spread through open pollination.

Related: The Only 6 Seeds You Need to Stockpile for a Crisis

The process of harvesting seeds is relatively simple; gathering, cleaning, drying, storing and planting. There are some helpful techniques to follow. Seed harvesting time varies based on the fruit or vegetable at hand.

There are helpful guides to assist you with pinpointing when, exactly, you want to gather and dry the seeds, so that you’re not harvesting them at the incorrect point in the cycle.

Remember to use your planting calendar and plan your gardening regimen accordingly. Some fruits and vegetables produce seeds biennially, while others are annual or perennial.

Be selective about the seeds that you choose to preserve; not every crop is going to be a good one.

Year-Round Harvest, Regardless of Climate

Even if you don’t live in the most temperate of climates, you can have success growing foods year-round. Of course, growing crops in colder areas can be difficult, but not impossible.

Some shoveling may be required, but you will be amazed at the number and variety of cold-hardy crops you can successfully grow. In addition to sowing seeds, you can give your garden a huge boost by planting a good amount of root vegetables.

This will add sustenance, variety, flavor, and nutrition to your annual harvest.

In colder climates, remember that biennials require two full growing seasons before seeds are produced. Conversely, in warmer areas, biennials planted in the fall will produce seeds during the next spring.

Carrots, beets, and cabbage are a few examples. Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that plants grow at different rates. Don’t let this fact discourage you.

Simple note-taking will help you to stay on top of your plant-growing schedule so that you are always on top of the situation and you know what’s going to pop up, and when.

Related: 10 Beautiful Plants That Are Secretly Killing Your Garden

In order to protect your supply of seeds, proper storage is critical. Make sure that you keep the seeds in a dry, well-ventilated area. A dry, cool, and dark space is ideal. Otherwise, if the seeds are improperly stored, they may become unusable.

Exposure to humidity and moisture, for example, can allow mildew to grow on your seeds, completely contaminating them. A steady supply of healthy seeds is critical to having a healthy, sustainable garden.

Produce is extremely expensive. Many American families struggle to afford healthy, fresh, nutrient-rich foods due to ever-increasing costs and lack of availability.

Produce that comes from commercial farms is also problematic, with foods being treated with growth supplements and other controversial additives.

The organic food market is not a solution to the problems posed by the produce available at supermarkets. Rather, organic produce is expensive, has limited availability, and is often misrepresented.

Related: How I Grow My Herbs Indoors

More and more Americans are becoming self-reliant and taking back control of their food sourcing. Growing a large fruit and vegetable garden gives you the ability to have a constant supply of fresh, nutrient-rich, pesticide-free produce all year long.

This is accomplished by harvesting seeds from your successful crops, storing them properly, and planting them strategically. This process involves using a calendar, taking notes, and having a basic understanding of plant biology.

Your garden will take some time and effort to initially plant and establish, but it will grow stronger with each season. You and your family will be able to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, make jams and jellies, and can foods that will last for years.

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Teresa Fikes
By Teresa Fikes March 5, 2020 09:22
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20 Comments

  1. CAGal March 5, 15:11

    Hi,
    I am very surprised the author did not mention one very important fact- that you should not save hybrid seeds, that they are often asexual and will not reproduce.
    This is from the Univ. of Illinois:
    “Not every plant’s seeds are worth keeping. Hybrid plants are developed by crossing specific parent plants. Hybrids are wonderful plants but the seed is often sterile or does not reproduce true to the parent plant. Therefore, never save the seed from hybrids.” To read more, here is their link:
    https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hortihints/0008c.html
    Heirloom varieties work best for seed saving. Be sure to check whatever seeds you buy!
    I am also surprised that no one seems to have mentioned the Three Sisters approach to gardening, esp. for those in the Southwest or desert areas…
    This approach is where one grows corn, beans and squash next to each other because they all mutually benefit each other and also beans and corn are a complete protein. Here is more info on the Three Sisters gardening:
    https://www.nativeseeds.org/blogs/blog-news/how-to-grow-a-three-sisters-garden
    Also, it’s very beneficial to have a few flowers growing with your veggie garden, they help attract pollinators and are important for one’s spirits…plus many flowers are edible and medicinal.
    Happy Gardening!

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    Reply to this comment
    • red March 6, 02:59

      I have a lot of flowers blooming now. Radishes, collards, tomatillo, soon kohlrabi, turnips, and tomatoes, chilis, and so on. Wild flowers, yikes! Phaceilia all over, desert daises, dog bane, globe mallow. Lavender, a plum, mulberry. Lets going on all summer. Oh, and a major problem with phacilia is, when it blooms all other flowers are ignored by pollinators. niio

      Reply to this comment
    • Ginny - in WA March 6, 22:16

      …It is also useful to understand the difference between hybrid species and those that spread through open pollination….
      Like you, I would have said it is essential to know the difference between hybrids and open pollinated.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Sam March 5, 16:17

    I missed the part where you have to start with Heritage seeds. Regular ones in the store have been genetically modified and will give you seeds, they will grow but will not produce fruits or vegetables – and I have waited years! Biggest disappointment of my life.

    Reply to this comment
    • Wannabe March 5, 20:30

      Great article. It is possible to freeze the seeds. Still using seeds dated 2012. Worked fine

      Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck March 6, 02:35

        Wannabe: The last time we discussed seed storage on this list I went on line and read an extensive article on the World Seed Bank. I don’t think that is what it is called officially.

        It is located in a deep cave in a large rock outcropping in Norway. It seemed to distill the article into a few words, cool, dry and dark was the secret to storing seeds. They don’t have to be stored in a dark room, storing them in a dark storage container works as well.

        it was an interesting read.

        Reply to this comment
        • Wannabe March 6, 13:54

          Yes left coast, countries from all over the world have deposited seeds into this bank. Even North Korea. It goes pretty deep into a mountain. I believe it is on an island and not the mainland of Norway. Many videos on YouTube about it

          Reply to this comment
          • red March 6, 16:11

            Every nation is to have their own local-native seed bank and plant tissues deposits. Most states in the US do, and a lot of time capsules going in the ground now carry heirloom seeds. I know ours do, in Arizona. The main private vault is south of Tucson. niio

            Reply to this comment
  3. left coast chuck March 5, 21:24

    Amen to the two foregoing posts. Heritage! Heritage! Heritage! That is, unless you are only planning on having one harvest and starving shortly thereafter.

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  4. IvyMike March 6, 01:58

    Being good at gardening is one of God ‘s gifts. I did not get that gift, I find a new plague or curse every year. Endless flooding rain, a three year drought with high winds for days on end, late freezes. One year a small tornado went over the garden and twisted everything around, especially the tomatoes in their cages. Another year a tornado picked up a carport half a mile away and tumbled it right through my garden and on top of my pickup. Thrips, mites, grasshoppers, gophers. The time my neighbor’s cows got out and had a party in my garden. Then there was the time one of his horses got out and opened the screen door of my house and came halfway into the living room cause we were always giving him carrots…

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    • left coast chuck March 6, 05:40

      Mike: There is an old joke where at the end of the lead-in, after disaster after disaster, the subject of the joke falls on his knees in despair and say, “Why me, God, why me?”

      He hears a voice coming from the sky that says, “I don’t know, Mike, there is just something about you that pisses me off.”

      Reply to this comment
    • red March 6, 15:50

      Y’all of Texas. Life is not meant to be boring. for example, see Chuck’s post! September before last, I come back from 2 funerals in Penna tired, angry, and sat outside to enjoy the dawn when 3 eaters-of-souls (coyotes) start to sing outside the back gate. I yelled, I cursed them. they sang on. then I said, “May eagle eat your children!” They ran. Donno if it’ll help, but it can’t hurt 🙂 niio

      Reply to this comment
  5. TheSouthernNationalist March 6, 15:40

    I noticed that taking seed from the healthiest, best looking plants wasn’t mentioned.
    That’s what I do is look for the best and I let a few of them go to seed and collect from them.
    The rest get harvested.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Clergylady March 6, 17:43

    Another old trick for collecting tomato seeds is to put the choosen fruits in glass jars separated by varieties and let the fruits ferment. Once fermented add some water to the mess and stir. Tomato solids will sink in water while the good seeds will float. Pour the seeds into paper towels. Then once partially dried off remove the seeds to parchment and separate seed clumps and let dry. The seeds are ready to store away in a dry, dark, place. They are fully ready for easy sprouting once planted and watered. This gives easily gives you clean seeds but also prepares the seed coat for easiest sprouting.

    Reply to this comment
    • JKS March 7, 17:05

      Thank you Clergylady. I read the article twice and didnt read anywhere that gave instructions on saving seeds of a particular type of plant.
      Your posting gave specific steps for saving tomato seeds. I expected the article to have a listing of steps for saving seeds as that is what a title such as “HOW TO HARVEST SEEDS…” suggests.
      I would love to hear how to harvest seeds for lettuce and carrots and other types of garden items.

      Needless to say, very disapointed in this article. It says WHY we should save seeds but doesnt mention HOW.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Ginny - in WA March 7, 23:58

    Lettuce and carrot are not difficult.

    Lettuce will flower with a small yellow daisy looking flower, and when the seed is ripe it will open like a small thistle with lots of little dandelion down type fluff and a seed hanging on the bottom inside the old brown part of the flower calyx. At this stage you can pick each flower that is ripe but I tend to pick the whole head and place it upside down in a large Paper bag, not plastic as it will sweat and the seed may go moldy. There is usually enough moisture in the stalk to ripen most of the seed in the head. Place in a dry, warmish place and Label with what it is and when it was harvested. Remember that lettuces will cross pollinate so if you have a Cos, a heading lettuce and a Mignionette flowering all at the same time, you may get some crossing between all of these. Even with Prickly lettuce. And it is a good idea to let more than just one plant go to seed for varietal strength and it should always be the plants that go to seed last since they will have produced more leaf over it’s harvesting lifetime which is something you want to preserve.

    With carrots, you want it to be the bigger, better carrot that growns fairly quickly, the type you want to eat because it looks so good peeping out of the ground. Choose about 10 of them or maybe a couple of row feet that you have thinned out so they look nice and spaced. Flowering requires a lot of energy from the plant so give them a bit of space. They mostly won’t flower the first year being mostly biennial so you will have to protect them over winter however you would do that in your climate. In the following year they will send up a flower head with an umbel which has tiny little white flowers on it. After it has pollinated the seed will ripen on the umbel and I normally leave it until it starts to change colour and the stalk below the flower head turns yellowish. Again I pick the whole stalk and place it upside down in a Paper bag, label and date. Carrots will cross with Queen Anne’s Lace, different varieties of carrot, but I’m unsure what else. This process applies to parsnips, parsley, possibly coriander. The seed will have a little prickly surface when you rub it off the seed head. Commercially it is cleaned and the rough coating taken off but this is not necessary for the home gardener, although it does clump a little when seeding it out.
    I store my saved seed in glass jars with screw top lid, labelled with variety, date, and my initials to say where I got it from, especially useful for when you sway seeds with others. I often drop in a gel pack for moisture control too. Store in a cool, dry and preferable dark cupboard.
    Hope that helps some.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Clergylady March 8, 00:37

    Radish gone to seed makes a lot of pods after the flowers. Let them dry hard then gather them. Break open and remove the many seeds.
    Beans or peas let them mature on the plant and pick once they dry. Open pods and save seeds.
    Cucumbers or summer squash .. Let mature on plant. Cucumbers usually turn yellow. Once skin hardens they can be picked. Cut open, scrape out seeds and spread to dry. Same for ripe pumpkins and winter squash seed.
    Cilantro makes round seeds up the stem. Once the plant yellows and seeds are turning tan save the seeds. Either save for planting or dry seeds are now coriander and used ground in baking as a seasoning… Usually in cookies. Native cooks here use cilantro leaves with green chili and dry seeds are used with red chili.
    Many plants put up a seed head with many seeds.. Just let it mature and dry.
    I love gardening. So do others here. Ask anything. Someone will answer.

    Reply to this comment
    • red March 8, 01:34

      Collards are going to bloom, and the seed stalks with buds is as good as broccoli. Any plants not up to snuff get the stalks eaten. Red radishes are beginning to bloom, and immature seed pods are tasty. the kohlrabi wants to go to seed, but can cross with collards, so the buds are more broccoli. The black radishes are only now starting to send up a seed stalk, and the turnips are still small. Peas! The Tohono peas are mostly in bloom. How the mulberry starts soon. 🙂 niio

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