Hesperian Health Guides

Saving Seeds

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.

HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 15: Sustainable Farming > Saving Seeds

Many farmers produce their own seed by allowing some plants to mature and then collecting the seeds. Saving seeds allows farmers to grow plants with the qualities they want. Local plant breeding and seed saving are important to preserve biodiversity and promote food security. (For more about plant breeding, see Chapter 12.)

Selecting seeds

EHB Ch15 Page 303-1.png
Put hard coated seeds in a container of water. The seeds that float will not sprout. The seeds that sink can be planted.

To make sure you have good seeds, collect them from:

  • strong plants, free of pests and disease.
  • plants adapted to the area. For example, if you live in a cool area where a certain type of plant grows, but you collect seeds from the same type of plant that grows in a warmer area, the plants may not survive the cool weather.
  • plants with the qualities you want, such as size, taste, resistance to drought, and so on.
  • plants that grew some distance away from other varieties of the same type of plant, to make sure the different varieties of plant did not breed together.

Do not collect seeds that have fallen to the ground by themselves. Sweep under plants to remove fallen seeds, and then shake the plant or tree to remove fresh seeds. Then clean the seeds as soon as possible after collecting them, and sort them to remove any seeds that are rotted or damaged.

Storing seeds

A box, jar, and bag containing seeds.
Most seeds should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place, with some air flowing through them, or they will rot.

To judge how long each kind of seed can be stored, think about the conditions they need to grow. For example, seeds from areas with a cold or dry season usually can be stored for months or years, because they need the right conditions to sprout. Seeds from areas that are hot and rainy most of the year will not store well, because they can sprout any time. Seeds with hard shells usually can be stored more easily and for longer times than seeds with soft shells.

Sprouting seeds

Some seeds need special treatment in order to sprout. But all seeds need:

  • water. Soak seeds in water overnight before planting. If you use very hot (but not boiling) water, it will kill many plant diseases and pests carried by seeds. This will also help sprout seeds that usually do so only after passing through the stomachs of animals. Experiment first with a few seeds and then plant them to be sure they will sprout.
On a sunny day, a man scatters seeds on the ground from a bag at his waist.
  • air. If the soil is compacted or waterlogged, seeds will not sprout because there is not enough air.
  • daylight. Some seeds, especially those from northern areas where there is very different weather at different times of year, will only sprout when there is just the right amount of light.
  • correct temperature. Because each crop has its own season, different seeds sprout best at different temperatures and at different times of year.

Planting seeds

The 2 common ways to plant are by starting seeds in a nursery or by planting right into the ground. Which method you use depends on what crops you want, the weather conditions when you are ready to plant, and whether or not you have room for a nursery (see “Growing trees in a nursery”).

EHB Ch15 Page 304-2.png
True leaves
Most vegetables can be transplanted once they have their first set of true leaves.

Direct planting

Larger seeds are best planted directly in the field because their roots grow quickly and are easily damaged if they are transplanted. Make planting holes 2 or 3 times as deep as the size of the seed. Drop 1, 2, or 3 seeds in each hole and cover the seeds.

Very tiny seeds should be tossed out over the soil to spread widely over the planting area. Mixing seeds with sand when you toss them out will prevent the seeds from sticking together. Then cover the planting area with a thin layer of mulch or soil. Also, using a roller to lightly press the seeds into the soil will help them sprout.

Starting seeds in a nursery

Starting seeds in a nursery helps seeds sprout by controlling temperature, water, and pests. Transplanting seedlings from the nursery into freshly weeded fields helps young plants make better use of the soil and water.