Food vs Seed

Planning a garden that yields seeds is a little different than planting for food consumption (or blossoms) only. We have listed some things to consider below.

If these new concepts are new to you, 8 worry, we offer workshops throughout the gardening season. If you’re not familiar with a term, check out our glossary.

Basic Concepts

  • Be realistic about how much time you have available to garden. Allot time to observe your plants.
  • Start with plants you feel confident you can grow, or have grown in the past.
  • Choose one or two favourite varieties that you can’t do without, from which to save seeds.
  • Start with annual varieties. Annual varieties produce seed in the same year that they are planted.
  • Do a bit of research to find open-pollinated (i.e., not hybrid, or F1) varieties.
  • If the seed or plant is not labelled ‘hybrid’ or ‘F1’, it is likely an open-pollinated variety.
  • Do not buy hybrid varieties because the plants you grow from their seed next season won’t look like this year’s plants.
  • Choose self-pollinating varieties. These are unlikely to cross with other varieties.
  • Great self-pollinating varieties for first-time seed growers include:
    • Beans, tomatoes, peas, and lettuce
  • Varieties that cross-pollinate need to be isolated from similar varieties being grown nearby.
    • Cross-pollinators include broccoli, arugula, spinach, squash, beets, carrots, and onions.  Other varieties do cross-pollinate, but your neighbours are likely to harvest theirs to eat before yours start to bloom, leaving your plants to only cross amongst themselves. This means no surprise hybrids!
  • For varieties that cross-pollinate and bloom to set edible fruit (e.g., squash, cucumber, pumpkin, corn), ask neighbouring gardeners what they are growing. Consider whether you can both grow the same variety.
  • Some cross-pollinating plants can be relatively near to other varieties of the same species; some need to be kept far away from each other.
  • You can isolate cross-pollinators, by:
    • Growing them a distance away from neighbouring gardens
    • Putting netting around the crop
    • Planting them on a schedule where they won’t be flowering at the same time as their neighbours.
    • Hand-pollinating them
  • In order to ensure genetic diversity in the seed you collect, there are recommended population sizes for each crop. For example, you can grow as few as 5 pea-plants, but you’d need 200 corn plants to maintain diversity.


(Chart courtesy of  USC Canada)

Days to Maturity

  • Most commercial seed producers label their packets with an estimated number of  ‘Days to Maturity’. This number usually describes the point at which the plant yields food that is ready to eat. You typically have to wait another few weeks for their seed to mature.
  • You can eat some food, and save some seed from each plant that you grow.
  • Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant (started indoors and finished outside) do not require more time.
  • But beans, peas, and lettuce will need the full growing season to mature their seed.

Standard Operating Procedures

  • When you start plants indoors, check them daily for water needs and general health.
  • ‘Rogue’ out (discard) any seedlings that don’t have the physical characteristics that are typical for the variety (e.g., fuzzy leaves instead of smooth).
  • Monitor your plants at least weekly once they’re set out for the growing season. Check for disease. If the plants are not growing well, or look infected, remove them and compost them, preferably before they flower.
  • Label each row in the garden clearly, as to the variety growing there, and/or draw and label a map.
  • Once you start harvesting, keep the varieties clearly labelled and separated so you don’t mix up the seed.
  • Process only one variety at a time on your work table to avoid mix-up.
  • Label seed envelopes with the variety name and date of harvest.
  • If storing seeds in jars, label the jar, not the lid. Lids can end up on the wrong jars!