article and photo by Kathryn Pankowski

Let’s suppose that you have been overcome by a sudden, irresistible urge to start saving seeds this fall, as if you were some kind of giant squirrel. After all, there are lots of good reasons to take up seed saving, ranging from the noble aim of preserving rare heritage cultivars to sheer cheapness.

But when it comes to saving seeds, not all veg are created equal. Some seed saving is dead easy, while other veg are best left to the advanced class.

Where should a beginner start then? I’d say with beans and peas.

Here’s why:

The seeds are easy to clean and handle

The seeds are ready to harvest just a few weeks after the food crop. No need to take up valuable garden space for months while you wait for plants to flower and set seed.

Most pea and bean flowers are self-pollinators: they pollinate themselves before they open enough for insects to get in. And that means that, without putting in place the horticultural equivalent of a chastity belt, you know who the Daddy is, and can be confident that plants grown from your saved seed will closely resemble the plants you grew this year.

Here’s what to do:

For home seed-saving purposes, make sure that your plants are open-pollinated, not hybrids. Why? Seed from hybrids will grow plants that may not resemble their parent. Check the seed packet if you have it or, if you know the name of the cultivar, check it on the internet. If you got the seed from a friend, at a seed exchange, or from a small local seed producer, it is probably open-pollinated.

Decide which plant(s) to use for seed production. Pick your strongest, healthiest plants.

Stop harvesting pods from the chosen plant(s) and let them ripen on the vine. At this point the plant will stop producing new flowers and pods and begin to look rather tatty. It’s putting all its effort into seeds now.


Leave the pods on the plant until they are plump and browning. Make a judgement call on when to harvest. Most directions say blithely: “leave on the vine until the pods are fully dry” – obviously written by people who have never experienced west coast fall rains.  Pick too early and the seeds will be small; too late and they may get so wet they rot.             Hedge your bets by gathering at intervals.


Bring the pods inside and put them somewhere where they will dry. I pop mine into a tall yoghurt container with no lid, so they stand upright and get good airflow around the sides, but you could also put them on a screen or paper towel. Move them around a bit every couple of days.

After the pods get dry and brittle, gently pop them open (a fun bit!) Leave the beans or peas attached, discard any pods that seem damaged or diseased, and keep on drying.

When the peas or beans fall off naturally, or come off easily at a touch, remove the pods. Put the seed in an unlidded container, in one layer, and let dry for a couple of more weeks. Shake around every couple of days to ensure even drying.

When you are firmly convinced that they are really, really dry and are not going to grow little fur coats in storage, package them in a paper envelope, label it with the variety and year, and store in a cool dry place.

And there you go – seeds for next spring, ready to plant. And if you’ve got too many, you can always throw the excess into a pot of soup.

Neighbourhood Garden News

Have some gardening experience and knowledge of native plants? The Royal BC Museum is looking for people to help with the Native Plant Garden. Interested volunteers may also be trained to give guided tours of the garden. To find out more, visit the RBCM volunteer page at . It has a link to current volunteer opportunities, where you can read the full job description.


Interested in working collaboratively with a few other people to tend a small herb bed near the James Bay village centre? Any level of experience welcome. Contact me at if you are interested.

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.