If you haven’t tried seed saving before, peas are the plant to start with. They are easy to grow, and rarely cross-pollinate even if grown near another variety. The hardest part of saving the seeds is remembering not to eat them!
Seed saving – saving seeds one year to plant again the next – is a skill that every gardener should learn. Over the years it can save you a lot of money, give you stronger plants, and make you more self-sufficient.
Here’s how to save and store your peas, step by step.
1. Plant some peas
Well, duh. But seriously, planting the peas – or more accurately, planting the right variety of peas, is the most important part of the whole process. There are dozens of varieties available, so have fun choosing one.
If you don’t know your smooth-skinned from your wrinkled or your marrowfat from your petit-pois, we have a great article on growing peas that can help you out. But remember the golden rule: you can’t save seeds from an F1 variety. They won’t breed true and the results will be very disappointing.
2. Earmark the seed saving plants
To get the fattest, strongest saved seed it’s important to identify which plants you’d like to use. Choose a section of the row with vigorous, disease-free plants. Don’t have another variety growing next to it (so you don’t lose track of which plants are which).
While you’re picking peas for all you’re worth from the rest of the row, leave the seed-saving plants alone. This lets them produce the biggest, strongest seeds that they can without having to spend energy producing more and more flowers. Just make sure you tell the rest of the family they’re off limits!
3. Remove the weaker plants
As the plants grow, remove any that look weak or in any way unusual. This is what professional growers call ‘roguing out’. Generally thin things out a little too, so that all the plants have plenty of room, but try to leave the plant that flowers first, and the plant that flowers last. This makes it more likely that in following years you will have an equal, and possibly slightly extended, cropping season.
4. Harvest the seeds… late
Avoid picking from the seed-saving plants until the pods turn brown and dry out enough so you can hear the peas rattling inside. Then snip or pinch the pods from the plants, avoiding any that have breaks or insect holes as the seeds inside may well be infected with mould. If there’s an extended period of wet weather when your peas are drying, you may have to lift the whole plants and dry them upside down inside. Hanging them from a shed roof is fine.
5. Dry the seeds
Once the pods are off the plants, spread them out on a windowsill indoors for a day or so, to make sure they are really dry. Then shell them. Put the shelled peas on a tray on a shelf somewhere that stays dry and at room temperature. Avoid the kitchen if possible – it gets humid in there!
It’s essential to let the peas dry out completely before storing them for the long term. If you want to be really thorough about it, dry the peas even further using the simple ‘rice jar’ technique as explained in our seed drying and storage article (to follow Dec 2012). The final step before storage is to remove any seeds that look damaged or discoloured.
6. Label and store the seeds
Once you’re done, store the peas in a zip-lock plastic pag clearly labelled with the variety and the date. Peas that have been dried well and stored in a cool, dry place will last for at least three years – but that won’t help if you can’t remember what they are!
7. Plant some peas
Sound familiar? Now you’re getting the idea!