Seed Saving Basics

Imagine for a moment that mid-winter you attempt to order your favorite seed varieties only to find them out of stock.  Or next spring, you stroll into your local garden center expecting to pick up your garden seeds and there is a limited supply of a poor selection of seed. One type of bean and only ‘Better Boy’ tomatoes!  By learning some seed saving basics and creating your own seed stash year after year you don’t need to worry about having enough garden seed!

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As far back as the beginning of human history, saving seeds has been necessary for survival.  The concept of seed companies may be a few hundred years old but that is merely a blink of an eye compared to the thousands of years that humans have been letting plant seeds reach their peak and keeping them for following years.  Seed saving is living history and can also be a lot of fun too!

Dry nasturtium seeds!
Dry nasturtium seeds!

There are so many compelling reasons to begin saving seeds from your garden.  Things such as flavor, disease resistance, genetic diversity and regional characteristics can all be factors.  It could even be food security or a turn away from industrial agriculture.  Some seeds are scarce or simply unavailable.  With some seed packets priced as much as $5 each, seed saving is a great way to save money on gardening.  Each spring, gardeners spend big bucks on fresh garden seeds.  Seed swapping with friends or seed clubs are excellent ways to obtain more varieties.  Finally, the satisfaction of having a seed collection of your own brings a feeling of self-sufficiency!

Drying some kale seeds.
Drying some kale seeds.

I called this post ‘Seed Saving Basics’ because I wanted to relay some basic guidelines to get people started with seed saving.  I always encourage everyone to start out with a few types and go from there.   Perhaps you could start with some bean seeds and then move on to peppers.  As a side note, seed saving is sometimes illegal.  Google it and you will find out why!

Nasturtium and Winter Marvel lettuce seeds.
Nasturtium and Winter Marvel lettuce seeds.

First of all, one thing to be clear about is that saving seed from hybrid plants is not a great idea.  To produce the desired traits for the intended plant, two different inbred plants are crossed.  The subsequent offspring can be far superior to the parents.  But, if you save seed from these guys, the produce from them can revert back to some fairly undesirable characteristics.  So, without getting too complicated, try for open-pollinated varieties.  This means that the seed will result in a plant that is reasonably the same as the parent.

Love the nasturtium seeds growing in the garden!
Love the nasturtium seeds growing in the garden!

Annuals

Among the easiest seeds to save are from annual plants.  These plants will develop mature seeds by the end of one season.  This will be a terrific place to start.  Some choices are lettuce, beans, peppers, peas, squash, tomatoes and radishes.  A few flowers include marigolds, nasturtiums and portulaca.  You can start letting some of these go to seed.  Tomato seed needs special care to preserve them.  Just keeping seed is not enough.  The references I’ve listed below will give you plenty of information.

Rudbeckia seed heads.
Rudbeckia seed heads.

Perennials

Most perennial plants are very straight-forward when it comes to seed saving.  In the edible department, you can choose rhubarb, chives or asparagus.  For flowers the list is huge!  Daisies, cone flowers, rudbeckia or poppies.  There are so many more!

Poppy seed heads!
Poppy seed heads!

Biennials

Many plants that you may want to experiment with are in a category called biennials.  This means that the veggie or herb plant will not produce seed until the following season.  Plants such as beets, carrots and turnips are in this group.  It may not be worth attempting if you have a small garden.  You as the gardener need to make sure the plant makes it protected through the winter so that those seeds form.  All seeds should be collected at their peek.  Fully formed but not over ripe and moldy.

Nasturtium seeds forming!
Nasturtium seeds forming!

For any of these seeds, try to pick colors that you want to retain and specimens that hold all of the qualities that you would like to carry over.  Even tag specific ones you would like to save for later.

Scarlet runner beans!
Scarlet runner beans!

Drying Seed

All seeds will need to dry before being stored.  One way to dry seed is to place them on newspaper in a warm, dry location.  Give seeds at least a week before storing.  You can even go by how they feel.  If the seeds are still soft, they probably need more time.  Pack them away when you feel they are sufficiently dry because they can reabsorb moisture from the air.

Asclepius seeds.
Asclepius seeds.

Seed Storage

Proper seed storage will ensure adequate germination next year. Seeds are best kept between 32-41 degrees Fahrenheit.  This may be totally unrealistic for a home gardener.  Pick the coolest, most moisture free place in your house.  Paper envelopes, glass jars or other closed container will do.  Stay away from plastic zipper bags as they can harbor moisture.  We have a wood stove in our basement so I keep the seeds as far away as possible!

Radish seeds.
Radish seeds.

The better the conditions you create for your saved seeds, the longer they will stay viable.  The better the seed, the more likely you will have great produce next year.

Beans in jars!
Beans in jars!

Of course, seed saving can be very technical.  Research individual varieties for the best results.  Once you learn about all of the techniques, you may truly appreciate what it takes for seed companies to get the seed to the customer.

For some in depth reading on seeds and seed saving, try The New Seed-Starters Handbook or Seed To seed: Seed Saving Techniques For The Vegetable Gardener.  Both are excellent guides to saving your own seeds.  Research online by going to seedsave.com or HowToSaveSeeds.com.  The Seed Savers Exchange blog is also worth reading.  Many seed companies offer open-pollinated stock.  A local group, the Medomak Valley High School Hierloom Seed Project, saves hundreds of types of rare seeds.  You can read all about their work in A Unique Seed Saving Project.

Romano, scarlet runner, provider and Indy gold bean seeds!
Romano, scarlet runner, provider and Indy gold bean seeds!

Now is the time to start collecting seeds for next year.  Try a few things, I think you will love seed saving!  I’m sending out a huge thank you to all of you that made last weeks article Grow Great Garlic In 4 Easy Steps my biggest post so far!  Don’t forget to subscribe and leave a comment.  I’d really like to hear what you think.  The leaves are coming down around us.  Time to get out and pick some apples, the weather has been outstanding!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Why I Love Fedco Seeds

“The day has come!”  What day?  What could possibly be so exciting?  The day when the Fedco seed catalog gets put in my mailbox that’s what!  Without even taking off my coat and hat I had to take a picture of it in my hand and text it to my gardening bestie with the above statement.  She was of course wildly jealous because hers had not shown up yet.

So what makes this in my mind the seed catalog of all seed catalogs?  How do I begin?  Content!  No glossy pictures.  Just lots of valuable seed info and vintage clip art.  Quotes from happy customers interspersed.  You are essentially picking out seeds based on the facts.  What a novel idea.  They have many heirloom varieties, organic options, books, supplies, cold hardy selections (hint, hint) and it’s a really entertaining read.  Sure, there are lots of other catalogs that I receive, but no other brings so much joy to my heart.  It makes us downright giddy!

Good winter reading!
Good winter reading!

Just to let you know how much of a seed freak I am, when I didn’t get to order last year, I still had plenty of seeds to plant.  I’m a bit of a seed hoarder you might say.  I still remember the day that my mother stumbled upon my seed collection.  With a look of horror on her face she implied that I had a real problem.  We won’t get into her problem of endlessly buying up pieces of copper and chunks of marble at yard sales, that’s a whole other story.  I can’t help it.  I need lots of seeds!  When you grow salad greens all year, you need multiple varieties to fill all your needs.  Cold tolerance, heat tolerance, color, texture and flavor.  Some of my favorites include ‘Summer lettuce mix’, ‘Deluxe lettuce mix’ and ‘Winter lettuce mix’.   Continue reading “Why I Love Fedco Seeds”