Collecting your own pepper seeds not only provides an abundance of seeds for free, but it can also be an exciting way to expand your hobby. Want different types of peppers to grow? Simply pick up a few ripened pods at a farmers market. Or, trade your extra seeds with another grower.
Going a step further, peppers can easily be cross-pollinated to produce hybrid seeds. Plants from those seeds can then be self-pollinated (or crossed again) to form new seeds, and plants with a potentially wide array of differing (and sometimes desirable) characteristics. From there, plants can be selectively bred to capture, and intensify, desirable traits – and eventually create new pepper varieties.
With a few things to keep in mind, saving pepper seeds is super simple.
When the goal is to produce offspring plants with traits similar to the parent plant (usually the case), you'll want to provide isolation to ensure self-pollination. When close together, wind or insects can easily transfer pollen from nearby pepper plants and cross-pollinate the target plant, which can cause hybridization. This readily happens with pepper plants in close proximity – even when the plants are two different varieties.
If it's in a pot, moving the target plant away from the others is usually easiest. How far apart? The farther the better – more distance means cross-pollination is less likely, but not impossible. Every doubling of the distance provides four times the separation from an area perspective. For near certainty, plants can be temporarily isolated in a screen room, or in the house.
If relocating the plant isn't doable, then using a nylon sock or sachet bag to isolate a portion of a branch can likely get the job done. While it might not provide 100% protection against wind carried pollen, it'll keep the insects out. That should be enough to put the odds in your favor.
In either case, isolation should be performed prior to the flower bud(s) opening. Then as flowers open, gently tapping on the branch can assist in self-pollination. Once a pepper starts to form, its stem can be marked with a twisty-tie and the plant returned to its normal spot, or any netting can be removed.
On the other hand, some growers want cross-pollination and will manually cross their plants to create hybrids – many times, in hope of finding new strains for selective breeding. Interested growers can check out those links for more information.
Peppers need to finish ripening before picking to ensure their seeds are fully formed. A pepper is ripe when it completely changes to its final color. Most peppers start as green, but then change to red, orange, yellow or ivory color when fully ripened. Some peppers will change to an intermediate color, or colors, before arriving at their ripened color.
When selecting peppers for seed harvesting, choose healthy peppers from healthy plants. Avoid diseased plants or fruit that's rotted or eaten. It's possible for diseases, or undesirable plant characteristics, to be passed from seeds to the next generation of plants.
Once picked, use a sharp knife to remove as much pulp and fruit from the seeds as possible. Wear gloves! Touching hot peppers while cutting can be very painful when hands touch other parts of the body – pain can last for 30 minutes or more. Also consider wearing safety glasses, as it’s possible for a seed to get flung up into an eye – this actually did happen to us, and the pain was extreme.
If you're looking to harvest many seeds from the same pepper variety, consider using a blender. It's definitely a time saver when taking seeds from more than a few pods.
After extraction, put seeds on a paper towel or into a small cup to let them dry. When dry, usually in 48-72 hours, you can package the seeds for storage. Here again, gloves are recommended – even pepper seeds that are several years old can still have skin irritating capsaicinoid residue.
We store our seeds in small mylar zip-lock bags, with a few pin-holes made for ventilation. For large quantities of seeds, we've found emptied vitamin containers work well.
We've also used small paper/plastic sampling cups, nesting them, and adding an empty cup to the top to enclose. A strip of masking tape can then be wrapped length-wise around the tower of cups to keep it intact when laid on its side. Baggies and envelopes also work.
Some recommend storing seeds in the refrigerator to keep them viable over the long term. We've had good results with simply storing them at room temperature. If refrigerated, seeds should be removed from the refrigerator 24 hours, or more, prior to planting.
Collecting seeds by hand is time consuming, meticulous and potentially painful work. Even with care and patience, complete removal of the fruit and pulp to produce clean seeds is a challenge. Throw in the need for gloves, and potentially safety glasses, and collecting seeds by hand for anything more than a few peppers is a project.
With a variable speed blender, it's easy to quickly collect a large quantity of clean pepper seeds.
Selection of our favorite accessories for growing, storing, serving, and celebrating peppers