MASTER GARDENER: Tips and tricks for saving your own seeds

Have you ever considered saving your own seeds? We still have some time before planting our gardens, just in case you wanted to try to save some of your own seeds this year.

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Have you ever considered saving your own seeds? It may be easier than you think! We still have some time before planting our gardens, so it’s a great moment to consider where to put things and what to plant, just in case you wanted to try to save some of your own seeds this year.

Here are some basics: Heirloom plants are varieties that have been stabilized by selective breeding over a long period of time.

You can expect seeds from heirloom plants to have the same qualities as their parents. These are the most common target for at-home seed savers.

Hybrid plants are a cross of two or more heirlooms. An F1 Hybrid is the first-generation cross between two heirlooms. Hybrids often have extraordinary traits, such as quick growth, disease resistance, loads of produce, or some other major perk — this is called “hybrid vigor.”

Because of this, fruits and vegetables from hybrid plants are what you’ll most often find in the grocery store or your local greenhouse. The downside is, their offspring may not carry the same traits. Seed saving from hybrids can be fun because you’ll never know what you might get.


I’ll also quickly mention genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since they are commonly confused with hybrids, but they are not the same thing. There is only a very short list of GMOs that are FDA approved for human consumption, and you won’t be finding GMO seeds at your local home and garden center since these are carefully patent-protected and marketed wholesale.

I prefer to save heirloom seeds because I like to know what I’m going to get. Heirloom varieties sometimes even have amazing stories behind them and saving the variety is like saving a little piece of history.

One more term before we launch into garden planning: a “species” can be loosely defined as a group of organisms that can interbreed. This comes in handy for us seed-saving gardeners, because — in general — you can select one variety from each species, plant it in your garden and expect to save reliable seeds for next year.

Here’s where the planning comes in. Any species that is generally self-pollinating and does not rely on wind or insects to help pollinate, can be planted much closer together and you’ll still get a predictable seed for next year.

For example, tomatoes and beans are really easy to save seeds from, because they only require 10-20 feet between varieties for you to get some pretty reliable seeds. This is called the “isolation distance” for the species.

Other plants, especially ones that rely solely on insects or wind to pollinate them, can require up to a half mile of isolation distance between varieties. With these plants, like squash and peppers, I only grow one of each species OR find some other way to separate them.

Examples of other kinds of separation include making sure they bloom at different times (temporal isolation) or physically taping the flowers shut before they are fully open, and then hand-pollinating them when they are mature. There are other ways to isolate them too, but by far the simplest is to only grow one variety from each species at a time.

So how do you figure out which of your plants are the same species? You can just Google each variety, but here are a few starting points.


All the tomatoes are the same species: Solanum lycopersicum. Corn, sorghum and millet each have their own respective species. Peppers are mostly all the same species, with some exceptions (but for our purposes, it’s OK to simply isolate all pepper varieties from each other.)

Squash/pumpkins have four major species, three of which you’re likely to grow in your garden. If you want to save seeds from a squash or pumpkin, then definitely do a little bit of research about the species of your favorite varieties. The cabbage family is a crazy can of worms, but check out the species Brassica oleracea if you’re down for some fun surprises, or explore the whole Brassicaceae family for a taxonomy adventure.

Don’t forget to come to our plant sale starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 20, at the Beltrami County 4-H Building at the Fairgrounds, 7223 Fairgrounds Rd. NW.

The sale is a collaboration between the Bemidji Garden Club and the Beltrami County Master Gardeners.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website,, or by visiting our Facebook page at

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out the Beltrami County Master Gardener hotline at (218)-444-7916 and leave a message with your name, phone number, and a short description of your question or problem. Your call will be returned within two days.

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