Successfully saving seeds is easy once you know where to start. Save money on seed purchases and have a steady source of seeds to plant for years to come.
Seed saving is a skill largely lost these days. With seed packages widely available, who needs to save seeds anymore? You can simply buy more in the spring, right? Well yes, but learning the skill of successfully saving seeds is a good idea for those who strive to be self-reliant. It will help you save money on seeds and allow you to have a steady source for years to come.
Many families have been successfully saving seeds and passing them down for generations. It’s easy to do if you know what kind of seed to save.
While people have been talking about heirloom vegetables for more than a decade, they have yet to reach an agreement on exactly what an heirloom variety is.
Rodale Organic Gardening interviewed Peggy Cornett, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, and asked for her interpretation of the term heirloom seeds. “I consider plants heirlooms if they were once significant in gardens but are now rare or even extinct in cultivation,” says Cornett. “For example, there are many cultivars of iris or phlox or daylilies from the early 20th century that are nearly impossible to find.” Seeds are generally considered heirlooms if they were introduced into cultivation at least 40 years prior to the current date
So far, experts in the field agree that heirloom vegetables are old, open-pollinated cultivars. In addition, these varieties also have a reputation for being high quality and easy to grow.
Open Pollinated (OP) seeds are not hybrids. They will produce plants reasonably true to last year’s variety if planted in isolation. While heirlooms are usually open-pollinated, open-pollinated seeds are not necessarily heirlooms; open-pollinated varieties are still being developed.
Hybrid Seeds (F1, F2)
There is a problem with many common garden seeds that you purchase from the local retailer. They are most likely a hybrid. And many of these hybrid varieties have been bred for size, or resistance to a particular disease, and not for that old-time flavor.
Many cultivars available from seed companies today are F1 hybrids (that is, the first generation is a cross between two inbred lines). There are hybrids of cross-pollinated as well as of self-pollinated crops. These produce vigorous, high yielding, pest-resistant plants with high-quality flowers, fruits or roots. Do not waste your time saving the seeds from hybrid cultivars, you will not get the same reliable plant in following years.
Do not waste your time saving the seeds from hybrid cultivars, you will not get the same reliable plant in following years.
Start with the Best Seed
Ultimately, if you want to save terrific, viable seed for next year you need to start with the best seed you can afford. Your initial stock must be of stellar quality.
Many local nurseries are offering heirloom and open-pollinated seed grown in your area. Look for their displays or ask around. Local seeds will have acclimated to your specific area and give you a jump on the growing season.
If you cannot find a local seed seller, try an online seed exchange or one of these trusted vendors:
Saving Seeds from Pods
Saving seeds from a pod-like structure take a bit of work. (beans, peas, broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.)
- Harvest the seeds when the fruit or vegetable is ripe.
- Allow the pods to turn brown, and then harvest the pods, dry them for one to two weeks in a warm, dry area and remove the seeds from the shell.
- Store the seeds in a paper bag in a cool (below 50°F), dry place.
- The seeds of the cruciferous family can carry diseases that will infect your garden. After harvest, soak seeds of cabbage in 122°F water for 25 minutes. Soak the seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower at the same temperature for 18 minutes.
- After soaking, dry and store the seeds in paper envelopes in a cool, dry place.
Flower Head Seeds
Saving seeds borne in a flower head is the easiest of all. (sunflower, lettuce, spinach, dill, etc.)
- Cut off the seed stalks just before all the seeds are dried; the seeds may fall off the stalk and be lost if you allow them to fully dry on the plant.
- Dry the harvested seed stalk, shake or rub the seeds off and store them in a paper envelope in a cool, dry place.
- If you notice the seeds fall off the stalks as they dry, place the entire stalk upside down in a paper bag or cover the seed heads with a nylon stocking to catch the seeds.
Seeds in Fleshy Fruit
Saving seeds borne in fleshy fruit, like tomato or cucumber, requires a different approach. They need to be fermented to remove the seed from the flesh.
- Pick a fully ripe cucumber or tomato and squeeze the pulp, including the seeds, into a glass jar.
- Add a little water and let the mixture ferment several days at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Sound, viable seeds will settle to the bottom, nonviable seeds will float.
- Pour off the pulp, nonviable seeds, and water then spread the remaining seeds in a single layer on a napkin or paper towel to dry for a few days.
- Once dry, store them in a paper envelope in a cool, dry place.
Other fleshy fruits do not need to be fermented. Scrape out the seeds of peppers, melons, pumpkin, and squash and spread them onto a paper towel to dry. Then store them in a paper envelope as you would other seeds. You can find a comprehensive guide to successfully saving seeds of all kinds at 104 Homestead.
Once the herb garden gets in full swing it can be hard to keep up with harvesting. Watch for early-ripening seeds. If you don’t catch them in time they’ll drop on their own.
- Harvest herbs in bunches. Tie several stems together at the bottom with rubber bands.
- Hang them upside down, covered with a paper bag to catch falling seed, in a warm, dry place until completely dried.
- Remove the seeds from the heads and store them in a paper envelope in a cool, dry place.
- Once dry, herb seeds saved for flavorings, such as dill, anise, and cumin can be placed in glass jars with tight-fitting lids.
Storing Seed for Next Year
Be sure to mark the storage containers clearly with permanent ink, indicating the cultivar of seed and date saved. Place these into a seed rotation system so you will use the oldest seed first.
Most seeds remain viable for several years if properly stored in paper envelopes in a cool place. You can create a seed vault, using ultra dry rice, and extend the storage years significantly or use this simple tip to keep seeds fresh with powdered milk:
“To keep seeds dry, wrap two heaping tablespoons of powdered milk in four layers of facial tissue, then put the milk packet inside the storage container with the seed packets.”
If this seems overwhelming, learn to save just one or two types of seed each season. Allowing one or two plants to go to seed is a good idea if you’d like to save some money on seeds, and continue to have a steady source of seeds to plant for years to come.
The Takeaway Tips –
- Start with the best seed you can afford.
- Start with the right kind of seed.
- Dry seeds in a cool, dark place.
- Know if you have seed from pods, flower heads, or fleshy fruit and save accordingly.
- Store the seed in a cool, dry area or in the refrigerator.
What seeds do you like to save?
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