Strategies for saving seeds

Jessica Walliser
| Friday, Aug. 1, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

This is the second article in a two-part series on saving seeds.

In last week's column , I discussed how best to decide which vegetable seeds to save. This week, I'd like to outline a few simple strategies to follow when it comes time to harvest and save your seeds.

• Some seeds require a fermentation process to remove germination-inhibiting substances from the seed coat. The process of fermentation mimics the natural process that takes place as fruits rot or pass through the gut of an animal. Fermentation is required for tomato seeds and is helpful for members of the squash family, as well as eggplants. It can increase germination rates and kill some seed-borne pathogens.

To ferment, squeeze the seeds and any surrounding gel or pulp from very ripe fruit, into a jar with enough water to cover the seeds. Put the jar in a warm place (75 to 85 degrees), stirring it daily. For tomatoes, fermentation is complete in five days, but members of the squash family should be fermented for only one-and-a-half days. For eggplant seeds, the ideal fermentation time is three days. Fermenting too long begins the germination process and limits seed viability. Once fermentation is complete, drain and rinse the seeds. Dry them for two weeks on a glass or ceramic plate, or on a coffee filter, before packing them away for storage.

• For other wet seeds (those surrounded by flesh such as cucumbers and peppers): Scoop the seeds and pulp from very ripe fruits and put them in a bowl of water. Use your fingers to separate the seeds from the pulp. For larger seeds, this will be an easy task. Remove the pulp and strain off the water. Allow the seeds to fully dry in a warm, dry location for several weeks before storing.

• For dry seeds (those in pods or husks that, when dry, readily separate from the seeds): Harvest the seeds only when they are completely dry. Seeds of beans, peas, carrots, beets and the like should be allowed to stay on the plant until the seed pods begin to crack open and naturally dehisce. Harvest seeds from broccoli, lettuce, kale and radish a few days before they fully ripen and fall out. Put the pods in a brown paper bag to catch the seeds when the pods pop open.

Whenever possible, you want to collect seeds from the healthiest and most vigorous plants, as well as the plants that had the most flowers or fruit. Place each variety of seed in a separate envelope and keep track of the plant name and collection date by marking each envelope carefully. Store seed packets in dry, screw-top glass jars with a packet of silica gel or a bit of rice in each one to absorb any excess moisture.

Place your stored seeds in the refrigerator between 34 degrees and 41 degrees F.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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