This article appeared in the October 2001 issue of Horticulture Update,
edited by Douglas F. Welsh, Ph.D., and produced by Extension Horticulture,
Texas Cooperative Extension, The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas.

Growing Your Own Seed

By Dr. Samuel D. Cotner, Head (Retired)
Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University.

Although most horticulturists and plant breeders do not recommend that home gardeners grow their own seed, seeds of many garden vegetables will generally prove satisfactory for later planting. Raising and saving seed is obviously not for everyone. The gardener whose only aim is to grow a few backyard vegetables would probably not be interested. And the gardener who consistently prefers to try new varieties will certainly back away. But for the avid gardener who enjoys a challenge, who likes to try something different, who wonders about the "why's" of plant growth, raising seed can be a viable alternative. There will be failures, problems, and disappointments, but these only make success that much sweeter.

Gardeners will be confronted with discouraging arguments about raising their own seed, both from what they read and from conversations with other gardeners and horticulturists. These precautions and arguments should be heeded and close attention paid to some of the obvious pitfalls, such as:

  • You can't save seed from hybrid vegetables because they won't produce true in the next generation. This is indeed a fact. However, there are many open-pollinated varieties of vegetables that were successfully grown long before hybrids came along. Many of these are vigorous and disease-resistant, and produce an abundant amount of food per plant. Simply because a crop isn't a hybrid doesn't mean that it doesn't have good flavor and produce high yields of tasty garden vegetables.

  • It is difficult for the home gardener to isolate varieties and strains to avoid unwanted cross-pollination. True. This is why most commercial seed companies have moved westward into dry areas where there are fewer wild or garden varieties that may cross with crops grown for seed. Cross-pollination can be a major problem for the gardener working in the midst of many other gardens, with no control over what is being grown in the general vicinity.

  • Unwanted cross-pollination and faulty selections of parent plants result in the gradual deterioration or "running out" of the seed. This is also a fact and one that the hobbyist or garden-seed producer should be well aware of. The possibility of this problem can be greatly lessened by proper selection and by knowing the basic character of the vegetable plants.

If you still want to try your hand at growing seed at home, ordinary cultural practices for growing quality vegetables are usually adequate for seed production. When saving seed, tag a few plants in the row for future seed production. Tagged vegetables aren't gathered for the dinner table, but are allowed to mature on the plants. Extreme care should be taken to prevent mixing of varieties. For example, if you want to save squash seed, then plant only one type of squash in your garden. You should also realize that there are some vegetables that are not valuable or practical for saving seed, such as carrots, beets, radishes, and mustard.

Guidelines for saving seed from some
common garden vegetables are:
  • Beans (all kinds). Allow seed to thoroughly mature on the plant, usually indicated by seed size in the pod or by pod color. Pull the entire plant in early morning; let it dry out in the shade to prevent the pods from splitting open and the beans from shattering.

  • Southern peas. Southern peas should be left on the plant until thoroughly mature, usually indicated by brown pods. The pods should be picked, spread out in a dry area, and cured for 1 to 2 weeks, then shelled.

  • Tomatoes. Allow tomatoes to thoroughly ripen on the vine. Cut tomatoes open, placing the seed and the gel in a wire strainer. Wash out the jellylike material in which the seeds are suspended. Another method is to scrape the seeds onto a piece of newspaper and place them in the sun to dry.

  • Peppers. Peppers should be allowed to ripen until red. Cut the pepper pod in half and scrape the seed onto a piece of paper. Spread the seed, and dry thoroughly before placing in a storage container.

  • Cucumbers. Select smooth, straight, dark green fruit; let them remain on the vine until a golden yellow. Slit lengthwise, and scrape out seeds. Place seeds in water and remove any floating seeds. Spread on paper to dry.

  • Okra. Leave okra pods on the stalk until brown and mature. Put pods in the shade until thoroughly dried. Although the seed can be removed from the pods, it is generally best to store them in the pod until ready for planting. Then split pods open and remove seed. If harvested when too green, pods will not store well, and are likely to split, shattering the seed.

  • Squash. When saving squash seed, grow only one variety. When the outer covering is hard, the seed is usually mature. Split squash fruit open, scoop out seed, and wash until all pulp is removed. Spread on newspaper to dry.

  • Eggplant. When eggplant fruit has reached maximum size and shows evidence of shriveling and browning, it is ready to save for seed. Split open, remove the seeds, and wash thoroughly to remove all pulp. Spread out in the sun to dry quickly, as moist seed will begin to germinate overnight if left in damp conditions. Store in a cool, dry place.