Displaced Geek

Just a city geek and father coming to terms with being replanted in farm country

Chile Seed Harvesting 101

When I got my invitation to the 4th annual tomato pepper seed exchange the other day, I figured it was about time to actually get some seeds ready.

As simple as it is to turn this: into this: it amazes me that more people don’t have their own seed collections.

First your supplies:

  • a sharp non-serrated knife


  • disposable gloves
  • vinegar
  • plastic cutting board

Totally optional:

  • silical gel packets

The real key to getting good seeds it choosing the right fruit to harvest from. You want fully ripe pods, as mature as they’re going to get without any disease, withering, or other imperfections. Obviously, you can harvest seed from a damaged pod, but why give yourself the extra work of sifting through the seeds to determine which are viable? If you pick a mature, healthy pepper, you’ll get dozens and dozens of viable seeds in under a half hour’s work.

While wearing your gloves, simply place the chiles on your plastic cutting board, slice them open, and scrape out the seeds with your finger. A mature pod should freely give up its seeds, and the little bit of placenta (the white center of the pepper that is the most laden with capsaicin, and therefore the hottest) that sticks to the seeds is not a major hindrance, and can be removed at your leisure, or left to dry with the seeds in the next step.

The drying of the seeds (and any attached placental material) is one of the most important aspects of chile pepper seed saving, and arguably the easiest. While many people advocate dehydrators and other rapid methods of drying, these can easily damage your seed, and that’s why, among other reasons, I highly recommend the much simpler air-drying method. It’s exactly what it sounds like, you leave your seeds out in an area out of direct sunlight, with decent airflow, and allow them to dry. If you leave them out on a paper towel, they will tend to stick to it as they dry, which is why I prefer a small bowl. A simple way to accelerate the process is to take a small packet of silica gel like the kind found inside many products from electronics to shoes, and place it in the container that holds your seeds as they dry.

*NB* Some guides advise you to place the seeds directly in loose silica gel. While you can do this, it is unnecessary, has a high chance of ruining your seeds, and in my experience only decreases drying time by very little (roughly one day).

After a period of a few days, you should test your seeds. Once you can no longer easily crease them with your fingernail they are dry enough to store. Storing them before they are fully dry with decrease their viability more quickly over time. It’s worth the wait to do it right.

Storage is another simple process that can easily go awry by cutting corners. The ideal conditions are low (to no) light, low humidity, and under 40°F. The experts are split on refrigeration, because ordinary kitchen fridges yield very little benefit over a cold basement, and often dangerously increase humidity. Personally, I prefer to keep mine in sealed plastic baggies with silica gel packets in the container where said baggies are kept. But don’t stress out too much, if saved properly, not only will your seeds be hardy enough to withstand imperfect storage conditions, but you’ll have so many that a germination rate of even 75% will give you more plants than you’ll know what to do with!

Some notes on capsaicin:
It’s an oil, and like the oil in poison ivy, it sticks around. Try very hard not to get it on anything that you can’t easily wash. Wear short sleeves, because skin is easy to wash, but if it gets on the cuff of a shirt, it’ll bump into any number of places when you take it off, and you’ll never get them all before someone gets burned.
Milk and vinegar are your friends. Milk and milk products will neutralize the effects of capsaicin, but they’re not instantaneous, so give them time to work. If you get some in your eye, soak a cloth or cottonball in milk and hold it over your eye for as long as you can while blinking. Milk in your eye isn’t comfortable, burning eyeballs are less comfortable.
Cleaning up with ordinary dishsoap will get some of the oil, but just push more around. Washing with vinegar will neutralize the capsaicin on kitchen surfaces. I usually clean up normally and then take a paper towel soaked in vinegar and wipe everything down.
Plastic, plastic, plastic (or glass) When working with chiles, plastic cutting boards are your friend. All cutting boards (if not thoroughly washed) will transfer capsaicin, but unlike a wood, plastic cutting boards won’t absorb any, even in those tiny slices your knife makes. Also, plastic can be soaked in vinegar to neutralize anything you miss.

Written by Peter

September 13, 2011 at 1432

Posted in Gardening

Tagged with , , , ,

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