Beautiful image from Thomas Rainer’s Landscape of Meaning Blogspot
Seed saving is really a no-nonsense game! It’s important right at home because the plant that grew best does well at your location! It’s important to our world community, as Thomas Rainer says, to preserve our garden heritage & biodiversity! Besides, it’s fun!
Did you let a couple of your carrots become full grown plants with elegant flowers that brought bees and pollinators?! If so, clip off some of those dry seeded heads, let them dry some more, then bag and tie with a ribbon to give as gifts to other gardeners! Or put the seeds in a snazzy little jar, label with year and name and tie on a ribbon! And, of course, store some for your future plantings! That plant has done well in your microclimate niche and will make tons of more healthy carrots for you! Fennel is much like carrots, and has a lovely scent. I use it to flavor my rice, and they say it aids digestion! Parsley is a biennial, seeds in its 2nd year.
Per goingtoseed.wordpress.com all Brassicas can be grown as biennials (planted in late summer and overwintered to produce seed in their second year). If you want seed the same year, the trick is planting early enough for seed to mature.
Lettuce seeds are very tiny and take some patience. Put a bag under the tufted seed heads, pull them off into the bag. Later, sit down and separate the seeds from the tufts. Don’t keep them in the heads because they can rot. Since there are so many seeds, it won’t take long to gather a year’s supply. You really need to record your lettuce types, so if you plant from 6 packs, keep those name tags! Important: some lettuce seeds are surface planted, barely patted into the soil, others need to be planted a 1/4” deep.
Onions, garlic and leek are pretty and fun! You’ll see the black seed dots all over the drying flower head. Put a bag over it, tilt down and shake it, Baby! If you want them anywhere and everywhere throughout your garden, fling a few far and wide! They will come up where and when conditions are right for them, and adorn that spot. Or simply clip off and lay a seeded head where you would like a patch to grow. The head provides natural habitat just like it does in nature, protecting the seeds and keeping them moist. Cilantro is so pretty and fragrant! I let it grow randomly, flinging some of its seeds across my garden when they start to get a bit of rose shading. As seed it is called coriander. Let it dry completely on the plant if you want to jar it for gifts or storage for cooking or future planting. And if you love basil, gather ye basil seeds!
Arugula and other Brassicas like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower come neatly in little pointy pods! Let them dry on the plant and they are yours! You can fling them too, but the plant has a pretty big 1 ½ to 2’ footprint and some height if you let it grow fully, plus they like a lot of water. So I’m a little more careful where I dribble those seeds. Okra comes in big fancy dress-up pods! Let them dry on the plant then, over a bag or bowl, break open the pod to collect those awesome black seeds!
Here’s a clever tip for home growers from the UK Real Seed Catalogue! Many of the brassicas (cabbages, cauliflowers etc) love to cross with each other. Right. So only let one kind flower each year: you don’t really want to end up with some sort of sprouting-cabbage, or brussels-kale. But that’s ok – the seed keeps for years and years – so you simply let only one kind of Brassica flower each year and not worry about cross pollination. You can still grow all the others – radish, Mizuna, turnips, arugula – to eat of course, just don’t let them flower.
Now if you are in a community garden or have nearby neighbors’ with flowering plants, this might not work. It is recommended to separate different varieties at least 1000 feet for satisfactory results or at least 1 mile for purity.
Let beans grow to full mature fat pods and dry on the vine for full nutrition from their mother plant. If it is July, even August, if you’re having a hot summer, tuck a few into the soil for another round. Otherwise, pop your bean seeds out of the pod and store for next spring’s planting.
When are seeds mature? Seeds that dry on the vine may turn black in pods as Brassicas often do, as shown in the image. They may become brown in the air like beet or cilantro seeds. After lettuces flower they sprout little tufts. Below and attached to the tufts, are the tiny seeds, white, gray, brown or black. Be sure the seeds are dry when you pull the tufts. Bean seeds rock! They dry to many colors, some are speckled! Wet seeds are as you see them.
Dry seeds are easy to harvest, what about WET seeds, like tomatoes? No problem. Heirlooms are true, hybrids are unpredictable but fun. Put the little guys in water, let sit no more than two days. Recent studies show tomato seed germination is best when seeds are soaked for only one to two days before they are rinsed and dried. Fermentation times longer than three days substantially lower the germination rate from 96% to only 74% on the 4th day! Word. Scrape off any scum that has formed. Rinse, add water, do it again, until you have clean seed. Dry. See all the tips and details!
Other seeds, like in mature cukes, melons, peppers (different varieties need to be 500’ apart to prevent hybridizing) and squashes, are so simple. Let a cucumber yellow and dry. Just take the seeds out of an over mature fruit, clean, rinse, and spread them in a single layer on a screen, coffee filter or piece of newspaper, or a paper plate to dry. No ceramic or plastic. You want the water to wick away. They will stick to paper towels. Use a little dishwashing soap to remove sugar from watermelon seeds. Pepper seeds are dry when they break rather than bend. Oh, and melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, and squash need even more personal space – at least a half-mile is required to prevent hybridization.
Eggplant takes a little more work. Wait until it’s dull and shrivels on the plant. Cube it, mash the seeds out. Put them in water, toss the ones that float. Dry for 2 to 3 days, a week or more if your weather is damp.
Corn will hybridize. If you want what you want, then don’t save, buy new seed each year. Here are some of the important details at the International Seed Saving Institute.
Know that hybrid anything will have mixed results, usually not true to the parent plants. Just saying.
Label everything with name and year! For example, beet and chard seed are virtually indistinguishable. Arugula seeds look a lot like broc seeds. They do.
Store in airtight jars except legumes (beans & peas), which store best in breathable bags. To keep them dry, put a small cloth bag with about one-half cup dried powdered milk beneath the seed packets. Let them languish in a cool, dark, dry place like the fridge. Avoid opening the container until you are ready to plant. Check them occasionally for insect infestations. Remove seeds with bore holes and pray for the rest.
Stored seeds will retain their viability for different lengths of time depending on the type of seed, when harvested, how harvested and how you store it. You will see different lengths of time online. Here is a general guide:
May you and your plants be happy and your seeds very healthy!
The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. We are very coastal, during late spring/summer in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is. Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!