SEED SAVING 101
By Shari Mayer, Master Gardener
Do you have some beautiful plants or vegetables in your garden that you would like to replicate next season? You can make that happen by saving the seeds from that plant and growing them yourself. If you haven’t given seed saving a try, now is the perfect time to start. As the season starts winding down, it’s a great time to look around your garden, assess what you’ve planted, and decide if you would like to grow it from seed next year. Read this article for a few tips on making your seed harvesting a success.
Do you have some beautiful plants in your garden that you would like to replicate next season? You can make that happen by saving the seeds from that plant and growing them yourself. If you haven’t given seed saving a try, now is the perfect time to start. As the season starts winding down, it’s a great time to look around your garden, assess what you’ve planted, and decide if you would like to grow it from seed next year. Here are a few tips on making your seed harvesting a success:
- Know your plant. Seed saving is not the same across the board. The big takeaway here is heirloom vs. hybrid (F1). Heirloom seed will save true, hybrid seed will not.
- Choose the ‘perfect’ specimen. There is variation in your plant, and selecting by size, shape, etc., will make a difference. Sacrifice that perfect tomato, largest flower, or tallest dill—whatever you want to reproduce.
- Collect seed when it is ripe. The seed does need to ripen before it becomes viable. This happens in different ways, but generally speaking, you need to let the plant go beyond the growing stage and head into decline. Collect and obtain the seed once it is ripe.
- I like to follow the plant’s lead. If the seed dries on the plant (typically a pod or seedhead), wait until it is dry and ready to fall off the plant, or the pods are dry and cracking open. Remove from the plant (threshing), and then remove the seeds from the pod or seedhead (winnowing).
- If enclosed in wet fleshy fruit, (like tomatoes, cucumbers, melons), wait until the fruit is almost rotting or well past prime. The seeds have a gooey substance that needs to be removed in order to improve their germination rate. An easy way to remove the ‘goo’ is to soak them in a small jar of water until it ferments (several days) and then strain and dry them. The goo will have separated during this time, and the fermentation process actually helps make the seeds disease free.
- Dry your seed thoroughly. Store in paper envelopes—they need to breathe.
- Don’t forget to label everything, including the date harvested.
- Crossbreeding—if you want your seed to be true to the plant, this needs to be avoided. Plant one variety, or keep the plants far enough away from other plants that can cross-pollinate. This does require knowledge of how the plant pollinates, whether wind, insect or self. Perhaps creating a new variety is of interest—in which case you would want to plant the two parents close enough to create cross-pollination. Do a little background on your plants to achieve your desired outcome.
If you are interested in learning more, Seed Savers (www.seedsavers.org) is a great place to get started. They have a lot of articles, seed saving charts, and more.
Photo credits: University of Minnesota (1, 2), www.Flickr.com (3)