How to save pepper seeds
Wondering how to save pepper seeds? Fortunately, these seeds are among the easiest to save.
To save pepper seeds, start by picking the first peppers off healthy plants. You’ll want to collect ripe peppers from 6-12+ plants of the same variety. Slice the peppers and remove the seeds with a clean spoon. Don’t forget gloves and goggles for hot peppers! Swirl the seeds around in a jar of water and discard any seeds that float. Then pour off the water and place the seeds out to dry for a day or two before storing them for winter.
Read on to learn all about how to save pepper seeds!
Introduction to saving pepper seeds
Pepper seeds are easy to save! Beginners can easily save seeds from bell peppers grown in the garden, while hot pepper aficionados will enjoy saving their own prized seeds. Just be sure to choose open-pollinated pepper varieties.
Planting peppers for seed saving
Start by planting a minimum of 6 to 12 pepper plants of your desired variety. This will help ensure you have a good amount of viable seed that is genetically diverse. Most peppers can self-pollinate but they are also commonly cross-pollinated by bees and flies.
Choose an open-pollinated variety
Make sure the variety you’ve chosen is open-pollinated. Open-pollinated varieties, including heirloom and non-heirloom (newer) types, as long as they aren’t hybrids (F1 crosses), are acceptable.
Here are some great open-pollinated pepper varieties:
- California wonder bell pepper
- Banana pepper
- Corbaci sweet pepper
- Spanish mammoth pepper
- California reaper hot pepper
- Tam jalapeño hot pepper
- Anaheim hot pepper
- Tobasco hot pepper
Isolation between varieties
Other types of peppers should be kept separate from the group of 6-12+ peppers. The variety you’re preserving can simply be separated from others by planting it far away from other varieties (or just planting one) or by erecting a physical barrier between them.
Pepper plants have large isolation distances for seed saving. To minimize cross-pollination, isolate varieties by 100 feet (30 meters) or more. If you have a small garden, put up a physical barrier or bag individual flowers with fine-mesh or cloth bags.
Row cover, for example, can be used to isolate with a solid barrier. Planting may take place in polytunnels, greenhouses, or hoops covered with insect netting. To prevent bumblebees, mason bees, flies, and other pollinators from entering make sure the insect netting is firmly attached to the ground and around the doors.
Companion planting for seed saving
Consider also planting a variety of flowers around the garden area. These blooms are meant to divert pollinating insects and keep them occupied. Instead of traveling between pepper plants, we want the bumblebees to visit nearby flowers.
Planting a tall hedge-like crop like corn between varieties, or a flowering crop like squash is another option. To keep bugs distracted, try growing crops and companion plants that blossom at different times of the summer.
Growing peppers for seed saving
Keep your new pepper plants healthy by watering them regularly, removing any sick leaves, and staking or cage them if necessary. You’ll also want to use a slow-release organic fertilizer and mulch the soil around the roots to keep it wet and keep the roots cool.
As the plants start to flower, take a bit of time every day to tap the flower clusters or gently jostle the whole plant. Most pepper flowers are self-fertile and have both male and female parts. Jostling the plant can help pollinate the plant by causing the pollen to fall from anthers onto the stigmas of the blossom. Make it a habit to shake the flowers to increase the chance of self-pollination.
To minimize cross-pollination, consider putting a mesh or silk bag over the individual flower buds before they open. This will keep out insects and allow for careful hand pollination with a paintbrush.
Once the peppers are pollinated and the flowers have fallen off, the peppers themselves will start to grow. Continue to care for your plants as usual, making sure they get enough water and nutrients.
As the peppers mature, you’ll notice that the seeds inside start to swell. These are almost ready to harvest!
Choosing peppers to save seeds from
Harvest the first peppers from the plants for the best future germination rates. If you have more than 6-12+ plants, only pick from the middle of the patch to reduce the danger of cross-pollinated seeds.
Look for healthy, uniform plants that have a lot of blooms/fruits to save your own pepper seeds. In the vegetable garden, avoid harvesting peppers from sick, diseased, or weak plants. For saving your own seeds, try to select healthy consistent plants with many flowers/fruit.
Harvesting peppers for seed saving
When the first peppers are ripe, they should be picked for seed harvesting. The seeds inside are ripe when the pepper itself has turned its expected final color and is ready to eat.
Try to pluck the ripe fruit from inside the plant (rather than hanging out the side of the cage, where the blooms were likely more susceptible to cross-pollination). Do not save seeds from rotten peppers.
How to save pepper seeds
Start with safety! Always use rubber gloves and goggles when working with hot peppers, as the capsaicinoids in hot peppers can burn your skin and eyes.
Slice the pepper open and scoop out the seeds into a bowl or glass jar. If you are saving seeds from multiple varieties of peppers, label them with a permanent marker so you can keep track of them.
The next step is to add a bit of water and stir. This is not to wash the seeds (although it does this), but to separate the non-viable seeds out. The seeds that float should be removed and discarded while the seeds that sink can be dried and stored for planting.
Dry the pepper seeds on a plate, coffee filter, paper towel, window screen, or in a fine mesh strainer. A minimum air temperature of 70°F will aid in the drying process. Avoid using a dehydrator or oven, as the high heat can damage the pepper seeds.
Once the pepper seeds are dry, store them in a glass jar with a tight lid in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard or closet. You can also store the seeds in the freezer.