By Sommer Cartier.
Seed saving can be incredibly rewarding and satisfying. Not only does it reduce your gardening costs, but it also allows you to preserve plant varieties you enjoyed most while maintaining control of how your food is grown. Perhaps the greatest reward is the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with nature and your food. In watching plants mature and transition from flower to seed, you’ll observe nature’s cycles and seasons first hand, bringing the system full circle.
With the warm season coming to an end, this is the perfect time to transition towards harvesting seeds for next year’s garden. Many warm season varieties start winding down in the fall and production tapers off. Plants instinctively know to shift energy toward producing seeds and creating offspring.
Basic seed saving tips will help maintain the integrity of your seeds. Keep in mind that you will achieve the best results with heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. Avoid hybrids, which are usually designed for one season. Also, once you've chosen which seeds you want to save, make sure you harvest seeds at the right time and properly clean, dry, and store them.
Proper techniques will be determined by whether you are harvesting “dry” or “wet” seeds:
These seeds come from plants such as peppers, beans, the carrot family, onions, and many herbs. Allow the fruit or vegetable to remain on the plant until it has fully ripened and begun to wrinkle. At this point, you can strip the seeds from their pod or husk and spread them out to dry.
These seeds come from plants such as tomatoes, eggplants, and certain cucumber and squash varieties. The process of preserving “wet” seeds is more involved. These seeds must be thoroughly cleaned, including removal of the pulp. (In some cases, seeds may require fermenting.) Before removing from the plant, allow the fruit or vegetable to fully ripen. Then remove the seeds, along with the pulp, and place them in a bowl of water. Healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. Next, use your fingers to separate the seeds from the pulp.
Once the seeds have been separated, carefully pour out extra water with all floating material on top. Next, drain your seeds in a strainer to remove excess moisture and all of the pulp. Repeat this process as needed until the viable seeds are pulp-free. Finally, lay your seeds across wax paper (they will stick to paper towels) and allow the seeds to dry for several days.
Lastly, you’ll need to properly store your seeds. Seeds preserve best with a desiccant in tightly sealed containers in a dry, cool place, such as your refrigerator. Don’t forget to label your seed varieties and be sure to include their harvest date. Seeds should be used within one year of collection. After this point, they begin to lose vigor and their germination rate decreases.
Follow these steps and you will continue to enjoy the fruits and veggies you love most, right from your own back yard, year after year.