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 new pepper varieties 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 unexpected (and sometimes desirable) characteristics. From there, plants can be selectively bred to capture, and intensify, desirable traits – creating whole new varieties of peppers.
Keeping a couple things in mind, saving seeds for growing pepper plants 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 the plants are in pots, 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. When flowers open, gently tapping on the branch can assist in self-pollination. Once fruit starts to form, fruit stems 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 a 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. If unsure, check the internet to research the ripened color for a desired pepper.
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 while separating 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 a significant amount of seeds from the same pepper variety, consider using a blender. It's definitely a time saver when collecting 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 24-72 hours, you can package the seeds for storage. Again, gloves are recommended – even pepper seeds several years old can have skin irritating capsaicinoid residue.
We place our seeds in small paper or plastic sampling cups, using one cup per seed variety (baggies and envelopes also work). We stack the cups and add an empty cup to the top to enclose. We then use a strip of masking tape around the tower of cups to keep it intact when laid on its side.
It's best to store seeds in the refrigerator to keep them in a dormant state. 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.