Gardeners tend to be a thrifty lot, and saving seeds from one year to another just makes sense. So, start saving those vegetable seeds! Here’s a quick primer on the benefits of seed-saving and how to know when a seed is ripe.
Why Save Seeds?
There are three good reasons to learn the technique of seed-saving.
- Saving seeds ensures that you’ll always have seeds of a favorite variety. Just because you’ve been able to order a seed variety from a commercial source in the past doesn’t mean it will always be available.
- Saving seeds is cost effective. It makes no sense to buy seeds that you can grow yourself. You have to be realistic, however. If you don’t have the space or inclination for biennials such as cabbage, just save seeds for annual vegetables.
- Savings seeds opens a whole new world of seed trading. At least half the vegetable varieties being grown today have no commercial sources. If you’d like to try them, you have to trade seeds that you have for seeds you want. Saving and sharing seeds is essential to the cultivation of sustainable heirloom gardens and healthy living.
Which Seeds to Save
Some crops are easier to save than others. If you are a beginner, we would highly recommend that you start with vegetables such as peas, beans, lettuce and tomatoes. Here are a few guidelines:
- Only save seeds from “open-pollinated” varieties, as this ensures that the seeds produced this year will result in the same plants next year.
- Remember that some crops can cross-pollinate if they are planted too near each other. For saving seeds, it’s best that the variety of seed you are saving isn’t intermixed with other varieties.
- It’s important to know when a seed is fully mature. It is NOT always when you would harvest the seeds for eating.
How to Save Seeds
Tomatoes and Cucumbers
Because tomatoes and cucumbers have seeds that are coated with a gel, the first step is to remove it by fermentation. The process smells bad, so don’t do it in an enclosed room in the house. Follow these steps:
- Squeeze or spoon the seed mass into a waterproof container (glass, jar, plastic cup or deli container).
- Add enough water to equal the volume of the seed mass, and put the container in a warm spot out of direct sunlight.
- Stir the contents at least once a day.
- In a couple of days, the viable seeds will sink to the bottom and bad seeds and debris and white mold will float to the surface.
- Wait five days for all the good seeds to drop, then rinse away the gunk at the top.
- Wash the seeds in several changes of water, and lay them out in a single layer on a glass or plastic plate or screen.
- Put the plate in a warm place until the seeds are fully dry, which can take several weeks.
- Cut peppers open to find the seeds in a mass on the central stem.
- Brush them off the stem onto a plate or screen.
- Put seeds aside to dry.
Squashes & Pumpkins
- When squashes are ready, break them open and remove the seeds.
- Hold the seeds under running water, rubbing them between your fingers to remove any stringy material and membrane.
- Then lay them out on a plate or screen to dry.
Peas & Beans
- Pick the brown pods from the vines and remove the seeds, which will require about six weeks of air-drying. One way is to put them in loosely woven baskets and stir them once a day.
- If frost or other inclement weather threatens legumes that are ripe but not dry, pull up the vines by the roots, and hang the plants upside down in a warm area, such as your basement or barn. The pods will draw energy from the plants for another few days, which will increase the seed viability.
- For watermelons, simply rinse the seeds under running water to remove any traces of flesh or membrane. For cantaloupe and musk melon, seeds will have more fibers and membrane attached to them. Wash this off, rubbing the seeds between your fingers to remove as much as the debris as you can.
- Then put the seeds in a container of water, and the good seeds will sink to the bottom.
- Remove what comes to the top, give the good seeds another rinse, and dry them on a plate or screen.
Lettuce & Greens
Radishes, lettuce and Asian greens also produce seeds in pods after the plant has flowered. With these vegetables, too, it is best to let the pods dry on the plant.
These plants, however, tend to dry from the bottom up, a few pods at a time.
The dry ones are prone to shattering and spreading their seed all over the ground, so either bag the seed heads—literally putting a paper bag tied at the base over the plants to capture the seeds—or pick the dry pods on a daily basis. Old nylons or row-cover materials work well for bagging because you can still see what’s going on with the plant.
Storing Saved Seeds
Once your seeds are completely dry, they can be stored in any dry, secure container and kept in a cool, dry area. Keeping them dry is very important (as you probably could have guessed by now).
- For large seeds, such as beans, you can recycle the cardboard canisters that certain snack foods come in.
- For small seeds, such as pepper and tomatoes, washed-out pill bottles work well.
How long a seed remains viable depends on its type and the environment it’s kept in. Tomato seeds may last for more than five years, while squash seeds typically last for less time. You can extend seeds’ viability by freezing them, especially if you have a zero-degree freezer. Properly dried and frozen seeds can remain viable for at least 40 years!
Information courtesy of Almanac.com