We teach kids about germinating seeds and growing seeds and that’s wonderful, but taking the time to save seeds with kids teaches them where seeds come from and it’s a great STEM project.
There are many reasons to teach kids to save seeds. We garden hard here at Little Sprouts in our preschool garden and my kids are super curious about seeds. They naturally want to save seeds from their food and that they find outside and try to grow them.
So seed saving is a natural learning opportunity for us. If you aren’t gardening with your kids, you can even do it in a bucket or just a small plot of ground. Kids can learn a ton with just a 3 x 3 raised bed. That gives you plenty of room to plant a few things kids can explore.
Why save seeds with kids?
There are a ton of great reasons to save seeds with kids. Think about the cultural diversity and seed diversity that can be saved through seed saving. We can preserve varieties for future generations that might otherwise be lost.
Connecting to history is another great reason to save seeds with kids. Seed saving is one of the earliest practices in agriculture, dating back over 10,000 years.
Engaging students in science by showing them how food is grown and about a plant’s lifecycle. You can also compare varieties and record differences in how they grow in your climate.
Promoting biodiversity. A plant will grow differently in different climates. Even on your property, you have microclimates that will affect growing differently. So saving seeds that were grown in your area will make a difference in how that plant grows in your area in later seasons. As the plants adapt and grow better, the seed stock will improve.
Teaching stewardship by saving seeds and teaching kids to care for plants and the environment.
Saving money is a great reason to teach kids to save seeds. A packet of seeds is fairly inexpensive compared to buying seedlings, but one plant can produce enough seeds for multiple packets to use in the future.
Saving seeds with kids
The first step to saving seeds with kids is to let the plant seed out. Usually the plant will send up a flower and then that flower will produce the seeds. Once this happens, you have to wait for the seeds to dry out.
You can tie a paper lunch sack around the seed head if you are afraid you’ll miss the seeds dropping. Or when the seed head begins to dry, you can cut it off and dry it on a paper plate, then shake the seeds loose.
Let seeds dry for a few more weeks on a screen or paper plate to make sure they are completely dry. Then you can package them.
Seeds will save well in mason jars, paper envelopes, or zip lock bags. Make sure to label them well, because even if you think you will remember, you’ll forget. Store them in a dark cool place and keep them dry. I store mine under the bed where it’s cool on the floor.
Most seeds will last for several years if stored properly. For how long different seeds will last in storage, check this out.
What are the best seeds to save for beginners?
Great seeds to save with kids are nice big ones that you can easily identify. They might already be familiar with sunflower seeds as a snack. So getting a big ole sunflower seed head and showing them how the seeds are stacked tightly in there is so cool.
As they break them out, they will recognize the snack food they are used to. You can even roast them and show them they taste the same. Growing sunflowers with kids is so much fun. Saving seeds from them just makes it all the better. It’s REALLY cool how they grow on the flower too. I’m in awe every year.
The seeds are ready to harvest once your sunflower begins to wilt and all the petals fall off. I cut ours down and lay them on a screen to dry because the birds and squirrels will have them all if I don’t. We always plant extra for them too.
The larger the sunflower, the more like store bought sunflower seed snacks the seeds will look.
How to save seeds from squash
Squash is another fun seed to save. The seeds are fairly big. You can cut into your squash and they can scoop seeds out with a spoon. Then rinse them off and drain them. Lay them out on a paper towel to dry. It’s easy peasy.
When you are going to save seeds from a squash, let it get obnoxiously big on the vine, as big as it will. It will be too hard to eat, but perfect for mature seed saving.
How to save seeds with kids
Beans are another great seed to save with kids. Just let the bean become overripe until it’s hard and begins to turn brown. You can let it completely dry on the vine, or pick it off and allow it to dry on a screen or some newspapers. Just remember dry is the key to any seed saving.
Peas would work just the same as beans and would be nice big seeds for kids to work with as beginners.
Seeds from the Umbelliferae family such as carrots, dill, and fennel are super easy to save seeds from. They shoot up a big seed head that is in an umbrella-shaped pattern. When it dries, all these wonderful little seeds come out.
Once the flower begins to dry, you can tie a paper sack around the seed head and catch all the seeds as they dry or cut them off and dry them on screen or paper plate. One seed head makes a lot of seeds!
If you let radishes go to seed, they send up little pointy pencil shaped packages full of wonderful little tiny radish seeds. Once the tube starts turning yellow, you can pinch it off and dry it on your screen or newspapers, but you can also just watch daily and you can see when they start to split, harvest seeds from split ones.
Okra pods are wonderful easy seed saving delights. Let a pod get super big and then keep leaving it on the stalk. It will begin to turn brown and then split open. You can tie a paper lunch sack around it and catch the seeds as they fall, or cut the pod off and dry it on a screen or paper towel.
Saving okra seeds and selling them in our Etsy store so we can buy more plants for the preschool garden is one of our favorites! Check them out by clicking the link. We have a few other seeds as well such as gourd seeds (also super easy to save the exact same way)
Seeds are amazing
Sometimes seeds will fall and reseed the plant on their own. The seed head forms, opens up, and dried seeds fall to the ground that will then regrow. It’s pretty cool. Our fennel does this as we leave it year round for the swallowtail caterpillars we want to attract to our garden. And there are many others that do as well.
Simple seed saving activities
Use different tools to extract seeds from the seed heads. You can try popsicle sticks, tweezers, forks, spoons, etc. Kids can compare this to how a bird removes seeds for food and uses their beak.
Measure seed pods and count seeds as you remove them. You can make a chart and compare pod to pod for a cool science lesson.
Use older seeds and check germination rates by laying them on a wet paper towel for a few days and see what percentage are still viable.
Empty all your old seeds into an egg carton or on a plate and sort them by color, size or shape. You can even make patterns with them. When you are done, you could toss them out into an unused area where you might see some grow, feed them to the birds, or scatter them over soil in a bucket and sprinkle a little on top and just see what happens.
Taste different seeds and compare what you think. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peas, and other seeds you know are edible.
There are so many fun things kids can learn about plants. Saving and working with seeds is a wonderful lesson to teach them that will change the future of the world for sure! This knowledge cannot be lost, so passing it on to very young kids is a wonderful thing to do!