Saving Bean Seeds

How to save bean seeds for next year's garden

By: Sandy Feather ©2014
Penn State Extension

Q. I grew several varieties of dried beans in my garden this year and would like to save some to replant next year. However, I did not separate varieties by any distance and now wonder if they will come true from seed.

A. Beans are self-pollinating, so different varieties do not have to be separated by any specific distance for the strain to remain pure. Most beans and peas are open-pollinated, rather than hybrids, and should come true from seed that you save. This is not true of crops such as corn that are wind-pollinated.

corn fieldSweet corn and popcorn or field corn should be separated by at least 250 feet. Another method to separate corn varieties is by days to maturity so they are not at the pollinating stage at the same time. A minimum difference of 14 days is best to prevent cross-pollination. If sweet corn is pollinated by popcorn or field corn growing nearby, it will impact the flavor and/or starchiness of the current crop. Also, any seed saved from such cross-pollinated corn will not produce a desirable crop the following season. Separation in distance or days to maturity is especially important if you are growing super sweet or sugar-enhanced types of sweet corn.

Insect pollinationIt is also not true of crops such as cucurbits that are pollinated by insects. While they cannot cross-pollinate across species — say, melons and cucumbers — they freely cross within the same species. While that will not affect the current season’s crop, any seed saved for next year will likely produce fruit quite different than the parent plants. The easiest way to avoid disappointment with cucurbit crops is to purchase fresh seed rather than saving your own. Preventing cross-pollination requires at least one-quarter of a mile between members of the same species or erecting a physical barrier such as row covers or hoop houses.


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