Seed Saving 101: Spinach & Lettuce Seed Saving

Before Monstanto, before Walmart, and before any modern hybrid seeds available in convenient packets, humans saved seeds from season to season.  This brought us closer to our land, to the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and to our own food.  These saved seeds, which were adapted to the particular climate and carefully chosen from the best fruit or plants available, were unique and wonderful.  In my own family’s history, we have journals detailing how when the women came over from Ireland, they stitched the seeds into their skirts to make sure they didn’t get stolen–their seeds were that important to their family’s prosperity.  Today, “seed savers” are those individuals who continue the practice of saving seeds and preserving old lines of seeds. In  a previous post, I detailed some good reasons for saving seeds and using heirloom-only varieties. In this post, I’m going to talk about saving two kinds of seeds–lettuce and spinach.

Watch out! Chickens enjoy spinach seeds....
Watch out! Chickens enjoy spinach seeds….and will snatch them up as you bag them!

Spinach and Lettuce Seed Saving

Two early spring greens you can grow each year are spinach and lettuce.  While the harvests of these two greens come quickly and with ease, saving the seeds requires quite a bit of waiting. Saving seeds from either plant is fairly easy, however.  Basically, rather than harvesting all of your lettuce or spinach, you let them grow.  Eventually, the plant will “bolt” which means it starts getting ready to produce seed (and for both, it means they don’t taste good at all).  Lettuce and spinach will both grow up in a tall, stalk with short leaves jutting out the whole way up the stalk.

Lettuce that is bolting
Lettuce that is bolting…it has a large, woody stalk and small, very bitter leaves.

For Spinach, seeding takes about 50-60 days for the varieties I’ve been growing (American, Winter Giant, and Purple Passion).  Once you see the seed forming, just let that plant keep growing.  Eventually, the spinach will die and start to dry out and fall over–and THIS is when you collect it up.  I usually harvest it and hang it upside down for another week or two just to be sure.

Dried spinach seeds still on stalks (American Spinach)
Dried spinach seeds still on stalks (American Spinach)

For lettuce, the seeding process actually takes a little longer, around 70-80 days.  You’ll see your lettuce start to get little puffs–it works a lot like a dandilion.  The puffs open up, and if you are unlucky, your lettuce seed all blows away.  You can capture it by shaking it into a bag.  Or you can dry the stalk right before it opens up.  I let so much lettuce seed that I don’t notice much loss from the wind. Like spinach, when they are at their seeding stage, you can hang them upside down for a week or so.

Seeding Lettuce
Post-Seeding Lettuce

Once you have let your stalks dry, you can either carefully pull the seeds from the stalks and heads, or you can just put the whole stalk/head in a bag and store it that way.   I usually opt to do this, then I can hand out seeds to friends and they see the seed still on the stalk, reminding them about seed saving practices.  I also make sure to date my seeds, as most seeds are only good for a few years.  Keep the bag somewhere dry, cool, and dark.

Purple Passion Spinach Seeds
Purple Passion Spinach Seeds


  1. How awesome that people took their seeds from their native Ireland to USA.

  2. Hello dear. I want to ask you. how to order your seeds? you can send to Russia? it is expensive for me? thank you. waiting for a response. From Russia with love. Please write to me on

    1. Hi Alfa,
      I would take a look at seed companies and see who will ship internationally (and what the laws are). My favorites are Seed Saver’s Exchange, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Victory Seeds. They may only ship to the USA. The following is a good list that includes many different countries:

  3. Hi, I live in South Africa and our temperatures are quite high at the moment! I want to save my seeds but want to know if I can put them in the freezer for a year? Not sure if that will harm the seeds? Or what is the minimum temperature you’ll advise on saving seeds? Thank you very much!

    1. Yes, put them in the freezer. The higher the temperature, the less viable they are for longer periods of time. I know many farmers who have a few years’ worth of seeds in their freezers in case of crop failure 🙂

  4. Hi Guys,
    I live in Ghana where no one knows or cares about what variety they are buying and would rather eat the produce than let it go to seed and turn bitter. Also lettuces are sold as plants with the roots and everything still attached. Now i bought 3 plants today and I’m planning on growing them. Temperatures are around 33 Celcius in the day and 24 at night. Will the plant survive and continue to grow? Will they bolt? How long do you think I’ll have to wait?

    1. You bought three lettuce plants? At those temperatures, I would suggest growing them in part sun or shade. One of the things you can do is cut them back several times to prevent bolting. That will give you a bit more harvest. You can actually grow lettuce all through the summer, but you need to replant often and cut back often :). You can eat lettuce pretty quickly. I hope this helps 🙂

  5. What if I cut it down too early? Can I dry them out?

    1. You can dry them but they have to be fully formed to be viable. So dry them and then plant a few and see what happens! 🙂

  6. I too enjoy saving seeds, and often allow a couple of plants to bolt for seed collection.. At the moment I have rainbow chard I planted last autumn going to seed… … We have planted twice this year parsnips which are bought seeds from the allotment association. Other allotment holders in the UK also saying many bought seeds not germinating..

    Loved leafing through your blog Dana… Thank you for creating a place of such valued information…
    🙂 From one Nature lover to another.. 🙂

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    in our community. Your site provided us with useful info to work on. You have performed an impressive activity and
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