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Over the past several years, I’ve been saving seeds from my peas and beans to use for next year’s garden. I’ve only saved seeds from my pea plants so far this year because the beans weren’t quite ready yet, but since peas and beans are so similar, the process for saving seeds from them is the same for both. (I have some more information about the process of seed saving in my blog post about how to save seeds from your garden for next year.)
My pea plants did really well this year, and they seemed to thrive with the cooler, rainy weather that we had this year where I live. I’m in Massachusetts in gardening zone 6a for anyone who might be wondering.
I grew four varieties of peas in my garden this year: Champion of England, Dwarf Gray Sugar, Prince Albert, and Prussian Blue. All four of these are old 19th century heirloom varieties. They’re all good ones, but if I were to pick a favorite I would say that the Champion of England is the best variety as far as having big pods with lots of peas in each pod and they are nice and sweet for fresh eating, too.
The Right Type of Seeds for Seed Saving
Having heirloom, open-pollinated varieties is the first important step when it comes to saving seeds from your garden. If you have a variety that is open-pollinated, you will get that same variety next year when you plant the seeds that you saved. If you try to save seeds from a hybrid plant, though, you won’t end up getting the same variety when you try to grow those seeds. You’ll get a new mystery variety, which might be fine if you don’t mind experimenting and possibly ending up with a variety that you don’t like. But if you want reliable results, then sticking with heirloom, open-pollinated seeds is the best way to go.
You can find out whether your seeds are heirloom, open-polinated or hybrid seeds by looking at the information on the seed packet you’re using or doing an online search for the variety you’re growing or checking the descriptions on the website where you bought your seeds if you ordered them online.
Even though I grow several different varieties of peas and of beans, I don’t worry about trying to keep each one separate or spaced apart to try to avoid cross-pollination. Peas and beans are self-pollinated varieties, so it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll cross with each other. I have had it happen once with beans, but other than that I haven’t noticed any cross-pollination. And since I’m just growing these for my own use I don’t worry as much about cross-pollination as a somebody who was selling the seeds would worry about it.
The Best Time for Harvesting Your Seeds
When you are harvesting seeds for seed saving, you want to wait until the seeds are fully mature. And an easy way to tell when the seeds are mature is to wait until the pea or bean pods start to dry out. When I am able to, I like to just let my pea and bean pods dry out on the vines. And they’re are dry when the pods fade from green to a tan color and they feel crisp to the touch and they crackle if you bend them. And the leaves on the plants will start to die back, too.
If I ever need to harvest my seeds earlier, though, before the plants have fully died off and dried out, I just make sure that the pods have started to dry out a little bit. Even if they’re still partly green, you can tell when they start to dry out, and that means that the seeds inside are mature enough even if they need to dry a little bit more before you store them. (You can tell they are ready because the pods fade in color, and they start to look more wrinkly and leathery in texture rather than smooth and crisp.)
Tips for Harvesting Seeds
I find it easier to use scissors to cut off the pea or bean pods because once they get dry they are harder to break off with your hands. And if you are growing more than one variety, it’s a good idea to try to harvest them one at a time and keep them separate so you remember which one is which if you can. I don’t always remember to do this, but my pea and been varieties look different enough that I can usually tell them apart pretty easily anyways.
It’s also a good idea to save some seeds from your best and your healthiest looking plants when you can. And this year I found that it was helpful to tie a string around some of the pea pods that I was planning to save for seed so I knew that those were reserved for seed saving. Otherwise it’s easy to just harvest all of the good looking ones and forget about saving some for seed. I didn’t use the string like this with all of them, but just with a few that looked like extra big pods that I know I would have been tempted to harvest and eat otherwise.
Processing the Seeds and Storing Them
Once I’ve harvested all of my pea pods, I like to lay them out somewhere to dry for a week or two just to make sure that they’re all fully dry. I usually just spread them out wherever I can find a place for them. And then I can shell out the peas from the pods whenever I have the time to do it.
You can tell that the peas inside the pods are fully dry when they feel hard as a rock. And there isn’t any give at all if you try to squeeze them or pierce them with your fingernail.
Then you can just shell out your peas onto a paper towel or a plate or a tray, keeping the varieties separated if you grew more than one type. I usually like to let these lay out for a couple of days (or sometimes longer if I get busier with other things) just to make sure that they are all fully dry before I put them anywhere to store them just in case any of them might not have been fully dry. If there is any moisture left in the seeds when you store them you could take the risk of them getting moldy or spoiling in storage.
Then, when I’m ready to store them, I usually just put mine in little sandwich bags and make sure that I label them with the type of seed as well as the date so I know for the future. You could also use a Mason jar or some other container like that if you wanted to.
I’ve had some years where I’ve had a bad harvest of peas or of beans and I’ve had to rely on seed from previous years for planting, so it’s a good idea to include the date on your label so you know how old they are. When you use older seeds, you often end up with a lower germination rate than you would if you were using fresher seeds, so if you are using older seeds you would just need to plant more seeds that you normally would to help make up for ones that might not sprout.
But even though that’s usually the case, I’ve planted pea and beans seeds before that were several years old, and they still sprouted surprisingly well, so if you have older seeds, I wouldn’t give up on them too quickly because they might still give you good results in your garden.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.