• Jenny Hill

Intro to Seed Saving

If you’re a beginning gardener, like me, the amount to learn may seem overwhelming. I had to figure out when to plant, where to plant, how to prepare the soil, when to water…even what to plant.


The internet and social media are full of amazing photos of lush gardens with abundant produce, but what could I realistically expect to grow in my part of Minnesota? And what might be a little forgiving with someone just learning how to garden? So I went to my local seed library, conveniently located in the Pine River Public Library.


There I found friendly volunteers who were giving out seeds at no cost. Even better, these seeds were from vegetables grown in our area, some even by the volunteers themselves!


Having benefited from receiving these seeds that someone saved and donated, I wanted to learn more about seed saving. The first thing I learned is that seed saving can be a painstaking process–you don’t just save seeds on a whim and have successful planting the next season.


Here are some details about seed saving and some resources that may deepen your appreciation of not only seed saving, but of the entire process of growing food.



Reasons for Saving Seed


Since late July, signs have been going up around our Campus marking certain flowers, vegetables and herbs who will be specifically allowed to go to seed. That means the fruit/flowers are not picked (or dead-headed) so that the seeds might fully form.


“We continue to grow our seed collection and maintain viability of our seeds each year,” said Gardener Dave. Some of the plants grown from saved seeds for the 2022 season include dill, three kinds of beans, pickling cucumbers, cilantro, ground cherries, garlic, zinnias, cosmos, calendula, marigolds, and two kinds of amaranth.



Saving seeds to ensure having a specific variety of plant for the next season is a definite benefit. Other reasons include to save money, and to be part of a community where you can share seeds and trade knowledge, and–of course–to carry the seed forward for future generations.


Starting Simply for a Complex Task


Depending on the type of seeds you want to save, you may need to learn about things like cross-pollination, biennials, and the codes used on hybrid seed packets (F1 is an example). Like the rest of gardening, there are many variables and layers of details.


You may remember from high school biology that hybrid means crossing two different varieties, in this case plants. Hybrids may be created for a certain characteristic (e.g. size or color), but saving seeds from hybrid offspring will not reliably produce plants identical to the parent. In contrast, seeds saved from open-pollinated varieties of plants produce offspring identical to a parent plant. “Heirloom” is a term for seeds that are open-pollinated and have a history of being handed down from generation to generation.


Another factor is the difference in time. Peas, for example, are ready to eat long before their seed (the peas themselves) are mature enough to be seeds. How you process a type of seed is as varied as fruits and vegetables themselves. And then, once processed, you will want to test that a seed is viable, which means seeing if it will sprout and therefore be worth labeling and storing for next season and beyond.


Pine River Seed Library co-founder Barbara Kaufman invites people who are familiar with the process to donate seeds to the Pine River Seed Library at any time. “The steps are to first make sure the seeds have not been cross-pollinated and have been thoroughly dried for storage. Second, place seeds in an envelope, plastic bag, or jar with a lid.”


Then, Barbara instructs, add a label with the following information:

Type of seed (eg; tomato)

Variety (eg: Roma)

Date and location of harvest

Donor's name and contact info


The contact info will not be shared but used by Seed Library volunteers if there are any questions. You may bring the seeds to the Seed Library desk at the Pine River Public Library and place them in the black, 6" pot on the right hand side of the cabinet. “We check regularly and will package the seed for distribution next Spring,” said Barbara.


If you are an armchair seed saver (as I am to date), you can enjoy some videos from Gardener Dave below.




Learning Opportunity in the Northern Lakes Region


If you’d like an in-person training, check out this upcoming class:


Seed Saving 101, Saturday, Sept. 24, 10am-noon at Balsam Moon Preserve with Barbara Kaufman, co-founder of Pine River Seed Library. Learn how to collect, preserve and save your seed for growing next year's crops. This age-old process is a key part of sustainability and thanks to generations past, we have MANY seed varieties to choose from. Be part of saving and passing on seeds for the next generation. Barbara had extensive training at Seed Savers Exchange of Decorah, IA, and has been an active gardener for many years. Call 218-587-3808 or email balsammoon3148@gmail.com to register.


Opportunities in the Driftless Region


Seed Savers is a trusted source for heirloom seeds and did you know they are located in Decorah, Iowa…not too far from the Driftless Region. The City of Winona also has a seed bank.


Explore Even More


Want to delve even deeper into the history and benefits of seed saving? This excellent blog post from the Minnesota State Horticultural Society lists their goals for seed saving. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has some great links and photos about seed saving on their website.


Finally, for another great way to experience an Indigenous perspective on the importance of seeds, do not miss the Minnesota-Book-Award-winning novel, The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson. Fun fact: Wilson was also our 2022 Back to Basics keynote speaker!