Saving pepper seeds is straightforward in principle — leave a pepper on the tree until it gets very ripe. Once it ripens, you cut it open and store the seeds until you are ready to plant again. Simple, right? The truth is that while it’s not hard to wrap your head around the concept, there are a few factors you should take into account to maximize your chances of success.
Which plants’ seeds should you save?
Consider the traits that you want your peppers to have and select the plants with those traits. Find the hottest specimens if you are breeding for heat. Otherwise, choose for qualities like sweetness or other flavors. You will also want peppers that show no signs of damage or disease. Selecting the best fruit increases your likelihood of reaping high-quality peppers in the future.
Beyond that, you should look for heirloom plants and plants that are open-pollinated. Heirloom plants are usually 50 years old or older and are grown from seeds handed down over generations in a particular region. Peppers that are open-pollinated have all been pollinated without human intervention, which means they have been pollinated by the wind or insects. Another important aspect is that their characteristics are stable across the generations.
In comparison to hybrid pepper plants that produce uniform crops consistently, heirloom peppers bear fruit less predictably and the fruit size may vary considerably. Fruit from the same plant can vary greatly.
To prevent hybridization, you should keep the different Capsicum like Capsicum frutescens, annuum, and Capsicum chinense separate from each other as they are cross-compatible. While Capsicum baccatum won’t always cross with the species mentioned above, it’s not impossible so you should still take steps to prevent it. You don’t need to isolate Capsicum pubescens since it won’t cross with other species.
To properly isolate peppers, keep them at least 300 feet apart. Of course, this might not be possible if you are planting in a relatively small space. An alternative to isolation by distance is isolation by containment — bag individual flowers before they open. Once you see fruit, you can remove the bags.
An alternative to bagging individual blossoms is to cover the whole plant.
How to save pepper seeds over the winter
As mentioned, you need to choose ripe peppers if you want to save seeds. The peppers shouldn’t just be ripe, they need to be very ripe. They should be mature past the point where they would be suitable for eating. Your best bet is to leave peppers on the plant until they get wrinkly then harvest them for seeds.
Once you get the seeds out of the fruit, dry them. Start by removing any membrane still attached to the seeds. Spread the seeds on a flat surface away from direct sunlight and leave them in space with low humidity. They should take about two weeks to dry. Check their dryness by bending them. They should be brittle and break open instead of flexing.
Store your dried seeds in airtight containers that you have labeled with the date and the pepper type. Store your seeds the same way that you would store your spices: in a cool, dark place such as in a cupboard or a refrigerator.
Under ideal conditions, your seeds should last for as long as two years; however, keep in mind that fresher seeds are more likely to be viable.