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, which is important in this day and age of hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.
Seed saving is all about purity. This is an important concept you must keep in mind because if you're not careful you can create some hybrids of your own.
As a personal example, I have some Pantano variety tomatoes growing in my San Marzano tomato row, but I'm not sure how it happened. Did I mix up my seedlings or did they cross-pollinate last season?
What I do know is that one must be conscious of which seeds go where. I've created some seed packets to store my seeds, to help keep things straight, complete with sections and notes. You can find easy how-to instructions on my website.
The Steps To Saving Seeds
Step one: 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 they not germinate, but they take up valuable planting space before you discover the error.
Step two: Dry the seeds before storing. There is no greater disappointment than to have saved moldy seeds. This happened to my beans one year. I thought they could go straight from pod to packet but oh no, they had to be dried.
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. Pack them away in an air-tight storage jar -- they'll keep longer.
Easier yet, allow them to dry on the vine. However, beware 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 to beans 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 them clean and set out to dry.
Not All Seeds Are Created Equal
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 and fill with water (at least an inch or two above the seeds).
- Allow them 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 them to dry completely; this process may take a few days to complete. Then slip them into your seed saving packet and you're good to go.
Carrots, onions, broccoli and lettuce are a tad more complicated. To be honest, they're out of my competency range, but if you're the adventurous type, give it a whirl.
All you have to do is allow the plant to go to flower, or bolt, 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.
If you're purchasing seeds for the first time, make special note to buy heirloom seeds. Hybrids won't reproduce for you (at least not the same gorgeous fruit they produced on the first harvest). And as always, choose organic!
As spring approaches, think about seed saving as well as seed planting. Happy gardening!