Tag Archives: open pollinated seeds

8 Steps to Saving Corn Seed

In a previous post, we gave you 22 reasons to save seed in 2022. We hope that all of our customers are considering saving some seed this year. If you’re new to seed saving, one crop that’s great for beginners is corn. Whether you’re growing sweet corn, flour corn, Gourdseed corn, or popcorn, saving corn seed is simple! It’s an easy-to-grow annual, and its large seeds are easy to process and store. 

Selecting a Variety 

When selecting a corn variety, whether you’re growing sweet corn, popcorn, or flour corn, you need to choose an open-pollinated variety. These are seeds that were pollinated by other plants of the same variety. This means that as long as you keep them isolated from other varieties, they will keep producing true to this variety year after year. All heirlooms are open-pollinated.

Hybrids are seeds that are the result of a cross between two varieties. Typically seed saved from hybrids will not produce plants that are the same as the parent plant. 

Sweet Corn hybrids are the only hybrid varieties we carry at SESE. We have a couple of hybrid sweet corns because some of the farmers and market gardeners who purchase our seed prefer the uniformity and reliability of these hybrids. However, they’re not suitable for seed saving. 

Plan Your Garden for Saving Corn Seed

Unlike most garden vegetables that rely on insect pollination, corn is a wind-pollinated crop. Pollen is carried from the tassels of corn stalks to the silks on other stalks by the wind. Each silk connects to a potential kernel (a plant ovule). If you’ve ever had corn that didn’t produce many kernels, it’s because they weren’t fertilized. 

When you plan your garden’s layout, you want to ensure that the corn you intend to save seed from is separated from other varieties by 600 feet for home use or one mile for pure seed. 

Select Your Best Plants

When you save seed year after year, you have the ability to improve a variety. You can select for a variety of plant characteristics. You can select for traits like flavor, earliness, disease resistance, and drought tolerance if you save seed from the plants that perform the best. 

Let Your Corn Fully Mature

When harvesting corn for seed, it’s essential to let the corn fully mature and dry on the plant. The husk and stalks should be papery and brown. The silks should be dry and brown. When you harvest, the kernels should feel hard and dry. You shouldn’t be able to puncture them with a thumbnail. Sweet corn kernels should have a wrinkled appearance.Ira Shelling Blue Clarage (saving corn seed)

Harvest Your Seeds

You want to ensure you’re saving enough to maintain genetic diversity when you harvest seed. Save at least 500 seeds from at least 10% of the plants to maintain the vigor and genetic diversity of the variety.

Dry Your Ears

Most corn should be dried further after harvesting to ensure mold doesn’t develop in storage. You’ll want to dry your corn somewhere out of direct sunlight. 

You can do this in a few ways. One option is to pull back the husks but not remove them. They can be hung from the husks separately or braided into bunches. You can also remove the husks entirely and hang the cobs in mesh bags. It’s a good idea to shake the bags around every couple of days to ensure all the cobs are drying evenly. Lastly, you can lay the cobs out on a rack or screen. Large screens can be made using lumber and chicken wire or hardware cloth.

Process Your Seeds

Corn seed is easy to process. To remove the kernels, you can use your hand and twist it over the kernels. You can also use a corn sheller to make this process easier on your hands. 

Though it isn’t strictly necessary if your corn is just for seed use, you can winnow out any chafe (plant material). To do this, place a box fan on a chair or stool with a bucket in front of it. Then, with the fan on, dump your corn seed into the bucket. The fan should blow away the lighter plant material while the kernels fall into the bucket. You may have to do this several times to remove all the chafe.

Store Your Seeds

Once your seeds are fully dry and clean, you can store them in airtight containers. Mason jars work well for this. Keep them somewhere cool and dark until you’re ready to plant them next season!

Learn how to do a germination test in this post, Seeds: Tips for Storing, Testing, & Saving.

Using these eight simple steps, you can save seed from your corn crop! To learn more about saving seeds from other crops, check out these posts: Easy Seed Saving with Promiscuous Pollination, 7 Steps to Saving Cucumber Seed, 6 Steps to Saving Pumpkin Seeds, Seed Saving from Biennial Crops, and Seed Saving for Beginners.

7 Reasons to Join The Collard Community Seed Selection Project

In case you haven’t already heard, we’re very excited about a project we’ve been working on, The Collard Community Selection Project. Last year, SESE, The Utopian Seed Project, and seven other trial sites grew a total of 21 heirloom collard varieties that were allowed to cross.

We’re now offering the Utopian Ultracross Collard as part of The Collard Community Selection Project.

The project’s objective is to save seeds from the most cold tolerant and tasty collards while preserving a wide diversity of types and colors. You can also save seeds based on your own selection criteria or not save seeds and simply enjoy the unknown wonders that these seeds contain!

  1. Learn how to save seed.

    When you join the community seed selection project, you’ll receive help and support to become a seed steward. The Utopian Seed Project will provide educational materials and videos to help you on your journey.

  2. You’re helping preserve genetic diversity.

    This variety represents a massive amount of genetic diversity. Twenty-one heirloom collards have been crossed! This project will help create more seed stewards and another open-pollinated variety for folks to grow for years to come.

  3. Come together with other gardeners.

    Sadly, we may not be able to come together in person during these pandemic times. However, we can come together as gardeners, food stewards, and seed savers.

  4. Reclaim rights to open-pollinated seeds.

    When you save and share seeds, you’re helping to support everyone’s right to save and grow seeds and breed plants. Learn more about this over at the Open Source Seed Initiative. 

  5. Adapt seeds to your garden.

    As you continue to save seeds from these collards and any other plants, you will slowly adapt them to your garden. Saving seed from the strongest will create plants that do well in your local climate. You can also select for any other desired traits.

  6. Support The Utopian Seed Project.

    The Utopian Seed Project is a crop trialing non-profit based in western North Carolina. Their vision is to develop a regional seed hub that can support, encourage and celebrate a diverse food system of regionally adapted crops. 50% of all packet sales go straight to supporting their work, and your contribution to helping save seed is priceless!

  7. It will be an adventure!

    As noted above, the project’s goal is to seek cold-tolerant, tasty collards. We are already one year into that selection, but given the broad cross-pollination of this seed mix, we are likely to experience a WIDE range of traits and outcomes (some good, some maybe not so good!). Enjoy the excitement with us.


If you decide to participate, we’ll be in contact to offer support and further resources will be available. For now, you can check out these links.

Order your seeds now to have time to grow your collard plants for the over-wintering trial and to enjoy fall-winter harvests! Plants sown now through early fall will be ready for seed harvest next year in late spring.

Seed Saving for Beginners

Saving seed and heirloom varieties is extremely important work, whether on a large scale like at Southern Exposure or a smaller scale like a family’s backyard garden. Saving seed helps to preserve genetic diversity, provide people with secure food sources, and connect people to the earth and their local community.If You want to buy some seed in America, I recommend you to visit most trust worthy site  best American seed banks.

Unfortunately saving seeds isn’t as simple as harvesting and cleaning your seeds. First you need to ensure you have the right kind of plants to start with.

Open Pollinated vs. Hybrid

In order to save seed that will “breed true” or have the same characteristics as its parents you need to start with open pollinated or heirloom seeds or plants. All heirlooms are open pollinated but not all open pollinated plants are heirlooms.

Open Pollinated

Open pollinated simply means that a variety has been bred and then maintained until it was genetically stable. This means that if you save seed from an open pollinated individual that seed will grow plants with the same characteristics as its parent plants.


Heirlooms are just open pollinated varieties that have been passed down for many generations. While there are a few definitions, at SESE we describe heirlooms as varieties dating from before 1940. Unlike modern varieties that have been developed for use with modern industrial agriculture and our global food system these varieites were grown, saved, and cherished by small farmers and gardeners.


Hybrids on the other hand are not genetically stable. They are the seed from two seperate varieites being crossed. While their first generation traits are predictable they would not be if you were to again save seed. The second generation seed can have characteristics from one or both of the parents or entirely new characteristics altogether.

Hyrbrids are not GMO or inherently bad. In fact many people grow them for their “hybrid vigor” which can make them grow faster than their open pollinated counter parts.

Choosing a Variety

Obviously you’ll want to choose a variety you love and care about. Maybe you fell in love with an heirlooms story or your family just can’t eat enough of your a certain variety. Whatever the case, it’s much easier to stay motivated throughout the season and proccess if you’re really invested.

If you’re a first time seed saver you may also want to consider choosing from a few easy vegetables. Squash, cucumbers, beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers are all great choices for beginners.


If you want to grow plants to save seed there’s a couple things you need to consider. First many plants require other plants of the same variety to pollinate with and produce viable seed. Also for this reason seperate varieties should be kept a certain distance apart to avoid cross pollination. For more about how to plan a seed saving garden check out this post:

Garden Planning for Seed Saving


Even if you don’t have longterm goals for changing or creating a new variety selecting which seed to save is still important. You want to save seeds from healthy and productive plants that have desirable traits.

Harvesting the Seed


Old German Tomato

To save seed from tomatoes you should harvest them when they’re fully ripe. Then the flesh can be seperated from the seeds and gel that surrounds them. The gel and seeds should be placed in a glass container with a bit of water and lightly covered. This mixture should be stirred twice a day unil the seeds sink to the bottom. The liquid can then be poured off and the seeds rinsed and spread on a towel to dry.


Cayenne, Long Red Hot Pepper

Peppers are much easier to save seed from than tomatoes because their seeds lack that gelatinous coating. Wait until the pepper is over ripe, it should begin to wrinkle, and then harvest the seeds and spread them out to dry.


Mexican Sour Gherkin (Mouse Melon, Sandita)

A ripe cucumber for eating is not the same as a ripe cucumber for seed saving. Cucumbers you wish to save seed form should be allowed to ripen on the vine until they’re yellow or brown in color. Then they need to cure for an additional two weeks or until mold begins to appear. Then the seeds can be scooped out and fermented in a jar just like tomato seeds.

Peas & Beans

Creel Crowder Southern Pea (Cowpea)

Harvest your peas and beans when the pods have turned brown. Then dry them in a single layer for 1-2 weeks until they’re crisp and dry enough that you can here the seeds rattle in the pods. They can be threshed individually or stomped or beaten in a pillow case to remove the pods and then winnowed.


Candy Roaster Melon Winter Squash

Winter squash, summer squash, and pumpkins are all harvested in the same method. Wait until the fruit is hard and large to harvest. Then cure for 1 month at room temperature before removing the seeds. Wash seeds thoroughly and lay out in a single layer to dry for 3 weeks.


All seeds should be stored in air tight containers in a cool dry place. Some people choose to add a small amount of silica desiccant in with their seeds to absorb moisture. It’s also important to note that different types of seeds have different lifespans.


Saving seed really isn’t difficult. It’s a great way to connect with land and a bit of history. Start saving seeds this season or making a plan for next year’s garden! For more information check our Seed Saving Guides in our Growing Guides Library.