By Sommer Cartier, for Let’s Talk Plants! September 2023.
Harvesting the Future - Saving Seeds
As the days grow shorter and summer comes to an end, it's the perfect time for gardeners to embark on a simple yet rewarding practice: saving seeds from your vegetable garden. This age-old practice ensures the legacy of your favorite plants while maintaining control over how your food is grown. Saving seeds can also empower you to be more self-sufficient and sustainable in the garden. To learn more about the art of seed-saving, why it matters and how to get started, please find my simple guide below.
Why Save Seeds from Your Vegetable Garden?
· Preserve Biodiversity: In our current agricultural climate, food is becoming increasingly homogenized in terms of agricultural practices and crop varieties. When considering food security, it’s important that we maintain diversity in our crops to ensure we have varieties that can withstand pressures from disease, pests, and climate change. When you preserve seeds of heirloom and open-pollinated plants, you contribute to the diversity of plant genetics, creating a more resilient food system.
· Cost-Effective: Purchasing new seeds each season is an unnecessary expense when you can harvest your own. By saving your seeds, you reduce the need to buy new ones, making gardening a more budget-friendly activity.
· Regionally Adapted Varieties: Over time, the seeds you save will adapt to our local growing conditions and produce crops that are better suited for our San Diego climate, soil, and garden environment.
· Sustainability: When you save seeds, you reduce your carbon footprint in terms of packaging, transportation, and storage practices.
Steps for Saving Seeds from Your Vegetable Garden:
1. Select the Right Plants: Plant selection is very important when selecting seeds to save. When available, opt for open-pollinated or heirloom varieties. These plants produce offspring that more resemble the parent plant. Hybrid plants will often produce unpredictable results.
2. Timing is important: Vegetables should be fully mature and ripened when harvesting them for seeds. If you are unsure, look for signs such as dried seed pods or over ripe, overgrown fruits.
3. Harvest and Prepare: Depending on the vegetable type, you'll need to harvest and prepare the seeds differently.
Dry 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.
Wet Seeds -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. Next, remove the seeds, along with the pulp, and place them in a bowl of water. Healthy seeds will sink to the bottom. You can then use your fingers to separate the seeds from the pulp.
Once the seeds have been separated, pour out extra water, including the floating material on top. 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.
4. Storage: Store your dried seeds in a cool, dry, and dark place. Envelopes and glass jars are great for seed storage. Make sure you label each storage container with the plant name and the date of collection.
5. Germination Test: You can test the viability of your saved seeds with a simple germination test. Place a few seeds on a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag and keep it in a warm spot. After a week or so, check to see if the seeds have sprouted. If the majority have germinated, your seeds will be good for planting.
Saving seeds from your vegetable garden at the end of each season is not only a sustainable and economical practice, but also a great way to connect full circle with your garden and our food system. By maintaining the legacy of your favorite vegetable varieties, you not only ensure future harvests for yourself, but also help ensure the biodiversity of our food supply.