Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saving Seeds: A Smart Investment for Your Garden's Future

The summer garden is winding its way down and fall planting at the 2nd Street Chicken Ranch is well underway.  The long raised bed, that just a few weeks ago was an overgrown tangle of bush beans, has been realigned and is reemerging in tidy rows of spinach, kale and cress.  The determinate tomato plants have had their final fruits harvested and have been pulled to make room for the garlic.  

While all this reorganizing is taking place, it's also time to start investing in next year's garden by saving seeds from this year's best plants.  I'm pretty selective about which seeds I save and my friends at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds have nothing to worry about -- I'll still be purchasing plenty of seeds from them once that fabulous catalog arrives.

Saving is Easy

It's pretty easy to save seeds but here are a few thing to note as you get started:

  • If the plant variety is a hybrid, the seed you save may be sterile or will not produce a plant like the parent variety. It's best not to save seeds from a hybrid. Heirloom seeds reproduce well and will keep the variety going...that's how we got heirlooms!
  • The best seeds for a home gardener's to save are from those plants that self-pollinate (or are not cross-pollinated). These include garden favorites like tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans and peas. 
  • Choose the best fruit, vegetable or flower.  Fruit should be at the peak of ripeness, but not over ripe.  Beans and peas should be left on the plant to dry.
  • Make sure your seeds are dry -- moldy seeds rot!  Store in an envelope and don't forget to label it with the name/variety of plant. 

Mother Nature is pretty amazing when left to her own devices and you have no doubt encountered a "volunteer" of some type in your garden. This is especially true if you compost or let plants go to seed.  Case-in-point, the free seeding echinacea (cone flower).  I leave the seed heads for the birds but plenty self seed every year.  I have a beautiful garden full of purple and white cone flowers year after year. The same is true with cilantro; inevitably it bolts, flowers and self seeds.  I get a new crop without lifting a finger.

While saving beans, peas and dried seed heads is super easy, tomatoes take a little more effort and is something along the lines of a science experiment, but it's still easy.

Saving Tomato Seeds  

Here's what you'll need:

  • The best tomatoes on the plant at the peak of ripeness.
  • A glass jar or dish for collecting the seeds (one dish for each variety you are saving).
  • A find sieve for straining the seeds.
  • A paper plate for drying the seeds.
Here's how:

1. Scoop out the seeds and gelatinous tomato goo from your prize specimen into the glass jar or dish.
2. Add about 2 inches to 3 inches of water.
3. Move dish to a warm place (I recommend the garage where where fruit flies can really live it up) and let it sit until mold starts growing on the surface in about 2 - 3 days.  Yes mold. I said this was like a science experiment, didn't I? The mold is breaking down that gelatinous goo and freeing up the seeds!
4. Time to rinse the seeds.  Scrape or pour off the mold and dump your seeds into a fine sieve.  Rinse with water, moving the seeds around with your finger to make sure all the goo is washed off.
5. I like to pat the seeds dry with a paper towel and then transfer them to a paper plate to dry.
6. Let them dry thoroughly for a day or two.  Move them around to make sure none are stuck together. 
7. Label and save in an envelope. 

I store all my seeds in an airtight container, out of direct light in the unheated garage. 

Last year I was unable to find seeds of my two favorite tomato plants, the Sun Gold Cherry and the Juliet, so I purchased plants from my favorite supplier at the farmer's market.  I've saved the seeds of both of these varieties to ensure that I have seeds to start next spring!

What has been your success rate with saved seeds?  Anyone interested in a seed exchange?

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Thanks for reading and sharing your comments! Candace

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