Saving pea seeds for next year’s garden

Dry pea seeds ready for storing by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Do you want to take the next step on the road to self-sufficiency? Try saving seeds from your garden to plant next year. Peas are a great place to start, since the pods are easy to harvest, dry, and extract the seeds.

To save pea seeds from your garden, let the pods dry completely on the plant, or pick them when then are mature and spread them out to dry indoors. Remove the seeds from the pods and store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight. Properly stored, pea seeds will last for three years.

Saving seeds might seem like an impossible task that only professional gardeners can master. While there are many tricks we can learn from these masters, people have been saving their own seeds since the beginning of gardening. You will wonder why you didn’t try it earlier when you learn how simple it can be.


Why Save Your Own Pea Seeds?

Self-sufficiency is about being able to provide for your own needs without outside aid. Saving seeds from your own garden gives you a great sense of security for the future. It is always a terrible thing when a seed company sells out early of your favorite variety; or when a disease wipes out their supply of a vegetable seed you wanted to grow and preserve for your winter store.

Saving your own seeds protects you from these unforeseeable problems. Of course, your own crop might be lost to unfortunate events, but this is a risk that gardeners take every day. And you always have the seed companies for your backup plan.

When seedlings emerge for the first time from seeds you grew and saved yourself, you are witnessing a miraculous part of a continuous cycle, and you will become more in tune with how nature is at work in your garden.

Peas on the vine by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Choosing Which Pods to Harvest

No two peas plants are alike. As you are snacking on peas throughout the summer, keep an eye on which plants produce the choicest pods, or which peas are the sweetest. These are the plants you want to save seeds from so you have a tastier crop next year.

Every so often one of the plants you grow will be a dud: the peas will be tough, or bitter, or produce tiny, flavourless pods. Don’t save seeds from these plants, since you want only the best to grow again next year. Other important factors to consider when choosing which plant to save seeds from are how much did the plant produce? Did the plant produce pods all year long? Did it tolerate heat, or cold, or the particular weather in your area?

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all these seeds will grow into perfect plants. People have been selectively breeding plants for generations with mixed results. But by choosing the peas that best match your climate and gardening desires, you will be on your way to producing a very hardy, and delicious, pea patch of your very own.

Now it is time to dry your pea seeds so they can be stored until the next growing season.


Drying Your Pea Seeds

Let Them Dry on the Vine

The most ideal way to dry seeds is to allow them to dry right on the plant. Simply leave the pods you want to save on the vine until the pods become brown and dry. You will know when they are ready because the seeds will rattle inside the pods. For ultimate seed maturity, leave the pods until the leaves of the plant have started to wither and die back. However, if you wait too long, the pods might burst open, scattering your precious wares in the dirt.

As you are harvesting peas throughout the summer, you might come across pods that you want to save for seeds. Mark these pods by tying a ribbon or garden twine around the stem (not around the pods itself or it will damage it), and leave them on the plant. This will give them extra time to properly dry before the frosts come.

Peas drying on the vine by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Dry the Seeds Indoors

There are many reasons why you might not be able to dry the pods on the vine. In many areas, the growing season is simply not long enough to let them fully dry. You might be cursed with a particularly rainy fall (not ideal for drying anything), or hungry mice might be raiding your plants for their own winter stores.

Whatever the reason, your pods can be dried very successfully indoors. Choose pods that are fat, heavy, and full of large seeds.

Check what is inside!

It’s always a good idea to check inside a few of the pods, as sometimes the pods get big and swollen but are just full of air.

It is good to leave the pods on the plant as long as possible to ensure the seeds are fully mature and let them dry as much as possible to reduce their molding indoors. A good time to pick them is when the pods have started to turn translucent.

Spread them on newspaper to allow air circulation in a cool, dry location. You will know they are ready when the pods are brittle, and the seeds rattle around inside.


How to Store the Seeds

Now that your seeds are dried, remove them from the pods for storage. Peas are considered a “medium-lived” seed and will remain viable for three years when stored properly. Seeds like to be stored in a cool, dry and dark place.

Ideally, seeds should be stored around 4°C to 10°C. Most basements stay fairly cool and are sufficient to store your seeds. One downside of many basements is that they are too damp, but keeping the seeds in an airtight container will fix that problem.

Put your seeds in clearly labeled paper envelopes, and place the envelopes inside a container such as a jar, plastic container, or a sealed plastic bag. You can also put a desiccant pack or a handful of raw rice in the container with your seeds to absorb any unwanted moisture.

Dried peas for for planting by Carmen Edenhofer
Image by Carmen Edenhofer

Can I Store Seeds in the Fridge or Freezer?

Seeds should not be stored in the refrigerator. The temperature might be perfect, but the humidity is too variable for the seeds to remain dry.

The freezer is also not recommended. Many large seed vaults use large freezers for long-term seed storage, but these are professional-grade equipment in a laboratory setting perfectly suited to keeping seeds viable. Most home freezers will kill your seeds unless they are perfectly dry and meticulously managed.


The Never-Ending Cycle

Winter is a time to rest from the growing season and plan for next spring. It is also a time to eat the preserved harvest you meticulously cultivated. Food security is a wonderful thing, and an important part of this is saving your own seeds. When you save your own seeds, you eliminate the need to ship seeds across the country (and sometimes around the world). Your own food is grown from a never-ending cycle of self-sufficiency.

As you rest and plan in the winter, you know that your next year’s garden is lying dormant and waiting to start the cycle once more.

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About the Author Harry Thompson

Involved in home renovations throughout his life, Harry is an expert in everything to do with home and garden DIY. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and tending to his garden.