Saving seeds is one of the keys to organic gardening. Not only do you know where they came from, you know what went into producing them—important in this day and age of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.
Seed saving is all about purity; a concept you must keep front and center in your mind, because if you’re not careful, you can create some hybrids of your own! For example, I’m not sure how it happened, but I have some Pantano variety tomatoes growing in my San Marzano tomato row. Did I mix up my seedlings or did they cross-pollinate last season?
Hmph. Not sure. What I do know is that one must be conscious of which seeds go where. To help keep things straight, I’ve created some seed packets to store my seeds, complete with section to keep notes. You can find easy how-to instructions on my website in the Kid Buzz section.
So what is the first step to seed saving? Keep your seeds separate, organized by harvest and variety and learn the recommended “shelf life” for each. Trust me—planting old seeds doesn’t work. Not only will the not germinate, but they take up valuable planting space before you discover the error!
Step two: dry them before storing. No worse disappointment (other than your Italian red sauce won’t cling to the noodles) than to have saved moldy seeds. Yep. It happened to my beans one year. I thought you could go straight from pod to packet but oh no, not unless that pod dried on the vine can you do so. They must be dry, dry, dry.
If you harvest your beans—shell or bush—when they’re perfect and gorgeous, allow them to dry out for a day or so before packing them away for next season. They’ll keep longer.
Easier yet, allow them to dry on the vine. However, be aware that if you don’t harvest them in time, you may find some have already “popped” open and settled into the surrounding soil which means they’ll germinate in place next season.
Peppers are similar in that you remove the seeds and set them out to dry before storing. With the squash family (and okra) you’ll want to remove the “film” coating before storing. Simply wipe clean and set out to dry.
But all seeds are not treated the same when it comes to storing. Tomatoes require a bit more effort. Once you remove them, you need to put them in a glass (or bowl as shown above) and fill with water (at least an inch or two above the seeds). Allow to sit undisturbed for a few days. When a white mold begins to form over the seeds, scoop it out and any seeds that go with it. The seeds left on the bottom of your glass are the ones you want—floating seeds are duds.
Drain water from glass through a fine sieve so you don’t lose any of your precious gems and then rinse with cold water. Place seeds on a paper plate (paper towel over regular plate will work) and allow to dry completely; a process that may take a few days. Then slip them into your seed saving packet and you’re good to go!
If you leave your lettuce and broccoli in the ground long enough, seed pods will begin to form and then collection becomes a simple matter of split and save! Find details here.
Carrots and onions are a tad more complicated. Okay, that’s a lie. They’re tough and out of my competency range. But if you’re the adventurous type I’d give it a whirl. (I did!) And why not? All you have to do is allow the plant to go to flower whereby it will produce seeds. Tiny seeds, yes, but seeds nonetheless. If you can collect them from the flower before they blow away, you’re golden! If not, you’ll be back at your local garden shop.
So this year as harvest approaches think “seed saving” as well as “seed harvesting.” And next season make a point to buy heirloom seeds. Hybrids won’t reproduce for you—at least not the same gorgeous fruit they produced on the first go-round!—but heirlooms will. And as always, choose organic! Happy gardening!