Seeds are like magic. From tiny containers sprout nutritious foods, beautiful flowers, trees, medicinal herbs, and all the plants of our world. Even the mighty oaks sprout from acorns. Humans have saved seeds for over 10,000 years, carefully selecting for plant traits they value: taste, flavor, environmental hardiness, and beauty. This sacred, simple practice has provided a rich heritage of plants. We now inhabit a plant landscape that is varied and abundant. But the simple and fun practice of saving seeds began to fall by the wayside in the 1940s as more people sought an urban lifestyle. Recently, as interest in gardening, native plants, and the search for heirloom seeds has surged, saving seeds has become popular again.

San Diego has an active community of seed savers. You can find seed savers meeting up in community gardens, gardening groups, and online. The City and County of San Diego offer support at local seed libraries. If you garden, even in containers, you can participate in the rich tradition of seed saving. A seed-saving renaissance is happening and we are so fortunate to live in a vibrant community of home gardeners, farmers, and growers.



Over time, as you gather seeds from plants that taste best or produce the most colorful flowers, you will optimize the plants for your garden. Rather than selecting plants that ship the best or look the best but aren’t flavorful, you can choose qualities you value and enjoy. Saving seeds gives you the opportunity to adapt plants for your unique growing environment and ensures a long-term supply of organic and non-GMO food for you and your loved ones.


Instead of buying seeds each season, you can save the seeds of the plants you’ve grown. The tomato plant that made your mouth water? Save seeds for next season. The morning glories you liked with a hint of pink in the petals? Save those seeds. As your collection grows, you will understand the plants you grow on a deeper level and gain new skills and knowledge as a gardener.


Saving seeds benefits all of us by increasing the biodiversity of the plants we rely on for food and more. With the advent of GMOs, our food landscape has changed dramatically. Plants grown from GMO seeds are typically bred to withstand high levels of pesticides.

GMO plants are not grown to be more nutritious, flavorful, or beautiful—but rather to tolerate the pesticides that are sprayed on them to optimize their growth.

In addition, many of these plants are patented and produce seeds that are not viable. These practices optimize profits for large corporations but do not support the long-term biodiversity and health of our food systems. By saving the seeds from your own plants, you help to create a heritage of plant diversity. Sharing the seeds with others or trading at a seed exchange increases this important diversity.


To begin, properly identify any plant you want to harvest seeds from. You may have already noticed seed pods forming on a variety of plants in your garden. After identification, simply harvest the seeds, dry, and save them for later use.


Understand the plant and when to harvest seed from it. Tip: As a general rule, larger seeds will produce the healthiest and most robust plants.

Dry the seeds. Seeds can dry in the garden as the plant naturally dies back, or in paper bags or on a screen. Collect the seeds and allow them to dry for a day or so in a cool, dry space. Store the seeds and label the containers. Once you have collected the seeds, place them in a paper envelope or small glass container. Label and date the containers. Store your seeds in a safe place where they will stay cool and dry until planting time.

Seed saving brings you closer to the plants you enjoy and increases biodiversity. As you learn about seed saving, your understanding of how plants grow and evolve will expand. One good seed is all it takes to promote resilient plants, pollinators, and people.

Easy plants to get started

As you explore seed saving, you will naturally want to understand the lifecycle of the plants you are growing. Take time each season to learn more skills and understanding will build quickly. Gardening groups, Master Gardeners of San Diego, or seed libraries all have abundant resources and are excited to share their knowledge.


Allow a selection of your lettuce plants to grow flower stalks toward the end of the season. A few of these flowers will produce enough seeds for the following season. Read up on the particular lettuce you have to understand the optimal conditions for seed saving.


Messy fun! Pick fully ripe tomatoes and allow to sit until soft and mushy (a little rot is OK). Squeeze the seeds out of the tomatoes and discard the pulp. Spread the seeds on a paper towel or screen to dry, then save the seeds.


Pick a few peppers and remove the seeds. Air-dry and save the seeds. Note: Peppers hybridize easily, so if you grow different types of peppers close together they may take on the characteristics of their neighbors.


Seeds are ready when the fruits are ready to eat. Save the seeds, rinse in water, and dry.


Sunflowers, nasturtiums, poppies, borage, and zinnias are all easy to collect and save. For sunflowers, once the seeds have developed and begun to dry, cut the stalk and hang up to finish drying. Rub the seeds out with your hands or shake into a bag. Nasturtium seeds are large—they look like small dry chickpeas. You can run your hand under the leaves after the flowers have died back and find many seeds. Poppy seeds look like the seeds on your poppy seed bagel! Borage seeds are tiny and black. Zinnia seeds cling to the bottom of the flower petals as the flowers dry.


Cilantro, fennel, parsley, and dill all develop beautiful umbrella-shaped flowers. Collect the flower heads as they begin to dry and turn brown but before the seed pods shatter open. Allow the flower heads to dry down and then collect the seeds by rubbing or shaking the seeds loose in a paper bag or towel.


City of San Diego Seed Libraries


County of San Diego Seed Libraries


Expert gardening advice


Regionally adapted heirloom seeds for San Diego County and a great gardening blog


San Diego Seed Swap


Seed farmer training


Originally published in issue 73.

Cover image by Haley Hazell for Edible San Diego.
About the Contributor
Cindy Saylor
Cindy Saylor is an herbalist and nutritionist with over 1,000 hours of training in herbalism and vitalism. She’s lived in San Diego most of her life and loves to spend time in nature, garden, cook, travel, explore art, and hang out with her human, animal, and plant families. Find her on Instagram @everydayplantmagic.