Seed Saving Preserving History Through Your Garden
So many seeds have been passed down from generation to generation in families, holding more value than money. After all, you can’t eat money, but you can eat all the delicious vegetables those seeds grow.
If these families hadn’t saved their seeds, those varieties would no longer be in existence.
In this post we will go over some valuable seed saving tips that are not quite as known and have been largely forgotten!
A lot of the seeds that have been passed down in families or in towns can’t be found commercially anymore. Many varieties have gone extinct for this very reason.
And once they’re gone, they’re gone!
To ensure the varieties that you like are available year after year and to preserve the legacy behind them, save the seeds and replant them.
Tomato, bean, pea, and pepper seeds are the easiest to harvest and save. I’m sure you’ve noticed all the seeds when you bite into these vegetables.
The seeds are more than plentiful, and it is easy to remove them. Vegetables that are a little more difficult to seed-save include all squash varieties and melons.
Hybrid vegetables seeds should not be saved. Check your seed packets to see if they ones you have are hybrids. These seeds don’t grow back true to their type.
Choose standard non-hybrid vegetables to start saving.
If you know you are going to be saving seeds, plan the planting of your garden with this in mind. Varieties of the same vegetable should be planted 20-50 feet away from each other to ensure there is no cross-pollination and the seeds remain pure.
A seed that is cross-pollinated will be a mix of one or two varieties causing the seeds you save to not grow the same exact fruit as the one it originally came from.
The easiest seeds to save are peppers. Harvest a fully ripe pepper from your garden and remove the seeds. Lay the seeds out on a paper towel to dry. When they are dry, store them in a labeled container in a cool, dry, place. Easy, right?
The Wet Method Explained
Tomato seeds take slightly more effort yet are still very easy to save. The method is called the wet method and it inoculates the seeds against diseases.
Pick a ripe, healthy, tomato from your garden. Scoop out the seeds with all the goopy flesh around it. Put the seeds and flesh in a glass jar with a little bit of water. Leave the seeds in there for 5 days.
They will begin to ferment and smell funky and a white mold will grow on top. Every day, twice a day, stir them for a minute. Don’t let them sit longer than the 5 days or they might start to germinate.
The good seeds will sink to the bottom while the bad seeds will float at the top with the rest of the goop. After the 5 days, strain off the liquid carefully so as just to keep the good seeds.
Wash them really well and lay them out on paper towels or a brown paper bag and let them dry completely at room temperature. Drying can take 1-2 weeks.
Store each tomato seed variety in a separate container or packet with a label. If you have a bunch of different kinds, it will be impossible to tell them apart from the seeds. Saved tomato seeds are good for 4-6 years.
Cucumbers need to be left on the vine until they are past the point of ripe and turn large and yellow and the vine dies. Remove the cucumber and bring it inside to continue ripening. When it turns soft, cut it open and scoop out the seeds. Put the seeds in a jar with some water and follow the same fermentation process that is used for tomato seeds.
Pea seeds and bean seeds dry on the plant and are harvested afterwards. This makes them super easy to save. Just don’t forget to take them off the plant at the end of the season.
They should be allowed to ripen until the pods turn brown and dry out. A good sign that they are dry enough is that they will rattle inside the pod.
They will get to this point about a month after the normal harvesting time so be patient.
When the pods are all dried out and the seeds are rattling inside, pick the pods and lay them out on a flat, inside, surface for two weeks to further the drying process.
At this point, you have a choice. You can leave them in the pods and store them that way. Or, you can shell them and save them in labeled containers.
Even if you keep them in the pods, they should be stored in labeled, lidded, containers, in a cool, dry, place. The seeds will be good for planting for 3-4 years.
How To Harvest Lettuce
Lettuce seeds are simple yet time-consuming to gather. Let the lettuce go to seed, which means it will go past the point of being truly edible and stalks with flower heads will grow up.
Each flower produces one seed. The flower heads are almost always grouped together in clumps of 20 or more.
After the lettuce has flowered, let it sit in the garden for 2-3 weeks so the seeds can dry.
When at least half the flowers on the plant have gone to seed, cut the entire top off the lettuce plant.
Place it in an open paper bag upside-down. The seeds will fall out as they dry and then you can collect them. The heads of the plants can also be shaken each day to encourage the seeds to fall out.
Store the seeds in a cool, dry, place, in a labeled packet or container.
Lettuce seeds remain good for up to 6 years.
Collecting Seed From Spinach
Spinach plants should be planted early in the spring to allow them enough time to produce seeds.
Wait until the plants have turned brown. This can take 4-6 weeks after the plants would normally be harvested.
Pull the entire spinach plant out of the ground and hang it upside-down in a cool, dry, place.
Hold the plant over a container and strip it by moving your hand up the stem, letting the seeds fall off below. Collect the seeds and store them for up to 5 years.
Squash seeds are a bit more complicated. They are easily cross-pollinated by insects, which means they intermix with other squash varieties and any seeds you save will not be true to the parent variety.
A garden with many squash varieties could create a whole host of possibilities when it comes to saving seeds.
A pumpkin can cross with a zucchini; a summer squash can cross with an acorn squash. Some of these new creations are perfectly fine and edible but they for sure won’t be the same as the variety you originally grew.
Growing one variety at a time is the best way to have squash seeds for saving. This means only growing zucchini. Or only growing pumpkins.
This is not ideal for any gardener so in most cases squash seeds are not saved and are purchased new every year.
It is possible to hand pollinate the plants to reduce the chances of cross-pollination, however, this is a time-consuming and difficult task.
To harvest winter squash seeds, pick them when they are done growing, like you normally would. Let the squash sit for 4 weeks up to 3 months to ripen further.
Cut the squash open, dig out the seeds, wash them well, and lay them out on a paper towel to dry. When they are completely dried, store them in a container in a cool, dry, place.
These seeds can be good to plant for up to 6 years.
Carrots, chard, beets, celery, and onions are biennial plants, which means the seeds are viable for harvesting the second year. This means you can’t harvest the seeds the same year you planted them.
To save carrots, the crop will need to remain in the garden and not be picked.
If you plan to save carrot seeds, it is a good plan to plant one crop for seed saving and one for eating so you don’t have to go the season without carrots.
The second year, the flower heads will ripen and then turn brown. When they have reached this stage, carefully cut them off the top of the plant. Place them in paper bag and let them sit until the seeds have completely dried. Carrot seeds remain good for up to 3 years.
Broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and other vegetables in the brassica will all cross-pollinate with each other like. This is the same situation as with squash seeds. If you want to save these seeds, plant only one type in your garden at a time.
Do not cut the heads off the plants that you want to harvest seeds from. The majority of these varieties will need to go through a cold weather phase for several weeks before they flower. Leave them in the garden until the flower heads turn brown and dry out.
Each flower head can be picked by hand and the seeds removed. The flower pods at the bottom of the plant will dry out first.
Instead of picking each individual flower pod when it dries out, you can wait until a majority are dry and pull up the whole plant to harvest the seeds.
All seeds should be dried to the brittle state for saving. If there is any moisture remaining in them, they are likely to mold in the airtight container.
Seeds need to be stored in a cool, dry, location. The colder the better. Individual glass containers are ideal for this because they don’t allow any moisture in.
The glasses should have tight seals to keep the seeds fresh. Don’t forget to label the jar, including the vegetable variety and the year.
One glass jar can hold a variety of seeds to save space. Put the individual seed varieties in labeled paper packets and put them together in the jar. This is a great way to save space and makes for easier storage especially if you are saving a lot of seeds.
A silica-gel desiccant added to the jar will assist in keeping the seeds dry and viable.
A cool spot in a basement is a good place to store seeds. The refrigerator or freezer are also really good.
Seeds Should be at about about an 8% moisture level when drying.
Be certain to separate the seeds so they dry more evenly. Generally the drier the seed the longer the seed will remain alive while being stored.
The average gardener wont have a means to actually know the moisture levels.
What i have done in the past is when i was certain they where dry, i would separate half of the seeds for storage and leave the other half another week.
There are many variables to consider that have to do with where you live and the conditions for that growing region. It will require some experimenting on your part.
Saving seeds is an important tradition that has been largely forgotten or ignored by home gardeners. This has led to the loss of many wonderful vegetable varieties.
When you save seeds, you not only preserve a specific vegetable, you preserve a heritage. Start with the easy ones, like tomatoes and peppers, and see how easy it is to keep and enjoy seed varieties for years to come.