Going to Seed?

Hey folks, I’ve learned over the years that if you save and stockpile the seeds from your food garden, you are making a useful contribution to your food security.   Why?  The obvious answer is that it saves you money and protects you against seed shortages in the future.

However, the real reason to save seeds is that it allows you engage in seed bartering or trading.  Simply, the exchange of your seeds for the seeds of gardeners both locally and around the world.

Peas in pods - Studio

Why does this matter?  About half of the vegetable varieties grown today can’t be bought commercially.  This rich tool chest of vegetable varieties can only be accessed through seed trading and bartering, both on and offline.  This is another great example of how thrift — in this case, saving seeds — transmutes the waste of your home garden into something of productive value outside of your home, making you more resilient.

Unfortunately, saving and storing seeds a little more complicated than you might think.  Here are some rules of thumb that you might find useful:

  • For almost all vegetables, you should harvest seeds only when they are ripe.  This usually means that the vegetable is just past the time when you would normally harvest it.  For example, when the peppers start to shrivel, the tomato starts to soften, the squash rind hardens, or the pea pod begins to brown.
  • To save and store seeds, you will need to dry them.  Put them in a single layer in a warm, dry space and wait a couple of weeks.  Test them by hitting them with a hammer.  If they shatter, they are dry.  For tomatoes and cucumbers, you will need to remove the gel coating.  This best way to do this is to scoop the seedy heart out of an overripe plant and put in a jar with an equal amount of water.  Let it ferment for a week in a shady outdoor location.  The good seeds will be at the bottom of the jar, and the scum at the top.
  • You can only save seeds that are from self-pollinated or heirloom plants.   Seeds from hybrid species revert to the parental forms when planted.   Also, when you plant saved seeds you will need to think about plant breeding issues.  Similar varieties can’t be planted at the same time since they will cross pollinate.  Stagger them to keep them pure.  If you don’t, the seeds you produce will be of limited to no value.

As you can see, this is a rich topic.  I’ll dive into it more in future letters and reports.  To close today’s letter, I’ll leave you with a quote from George Washington on the value people attribute to seed trading and the importance of doing it right:

Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind; for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.


Your thinking that the seeds of a thriving future are in resilient communities analyst,


John Robb


PS:  If you are an experienced expert on seed trading either locally or online, drop me a line.  I’d love to talk to you about the finer points of trading seeds (which will lead, hopefully, to a letter on the topic).

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  • http://autonomyacres.com Autonomy Acres

    He John – I have been following the newsletter for awhile now, good work!! I am an avid gardener/urban farmer, backyard orchardist, and seed saver. Like you said, it is pretty easy and rewarding to save and share seeds. I am a member of The Seed Saver’s Exchange based out of Iowa. They are doing great work down there. I also trade seeds with friends and other gardeners through other unofficial networks. Along with seeds, I also trade fruit tree/bushes/brambles genetics through the group I started this spring, The North American Scion Exchange ….


    It is a great way to help preserve old time genetics, and also a great way to save money and learn new skills like grafting. Keep up the good work – Andy

    • johnrobb

      Andy, Thanks for the positive feedback and the tips. Really appreciate it. JR

  • different clue

    I do a tiny bit of backyard gardening and seed saving. But I also buy true-variety seeds from trusted seedcompanies. Their breeders and growers are professionally knowledgeable in re-growing and keeping pure the valuable seedlines, and buying seeds from their companies keeps them employed and the seedlines in existence. These concentrated pools of knowledge and practice are worth preserving and supporting as part of a long-range survival strategy.

    Companies like Pine Tree Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Turtle Tree, NativeSeed Search, etc.

  • http://www.southernagrarian.com/ Stephen Clay McGehee

    I did a post on my Southern Agrarian blog about saving eggplant seeds, including a series of photos of the entire process. Tomato seeds are done using pretty much the same technique. Here’s the link:


  • Mike