These are the best ways to save seeds
Question: Now that the gardening season is over, we would like to save some seeds from our flowers and vegetables to replant in the garden next year. What’s the best way for us to do this, and can we save seeds from all plants or just certain ones?
Answer: Saving seeds is a fun way to save money and experiment in the garden. While you can certainly save and replant seeds from any plant, the results won’t always be as positive as you’d hoped, especially for seeds saved from plant species that easily cross-pollinate, such as melons, squash and corn. Unless you separate each different variety by a large distance, these plants produce natural hybrids with a great diversity. Sometimes this is great, but other times it isn’t. You may want to start by saving seeds from plant species less prone to cross-pollination, such as tomatoes, beans, peas, lettuce and peppers.
I also recommend saving seeds from most annual flowers. While these often cross-pollinate, too, no edible plant parts are produced, so the only variation you’ll see is with the flower color and form, or the growth habit of the plant. Zinnias, sunflowers, salvias, marigolds, cosmos, calendula and other annuals are great choices for seed saving.
When it comes time to harvest and save your seeds, here are a few simple strategies to follow.
1. 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 fruits, into a jar with enough water to cover the seeds. Put the jar in a warm place (75-85 degrees F), stirring it daily. For tomatoes, fermentation is complete in five days, but members of the squash family should be fermented for only 1½ days. For eggplant seeds, the ideal fermentation time is 3 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, before packing them away for storage.
2. For other wet seeds surrounded by flesh, such as peppers and eggplants, 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.
3. For dry seeds produced in pods or husks that, when dry, readily separate from the seeds, the technique is a bit different. 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. Examples of these seeds would be lettuce, beets, carrots, dill and most annual flowers.
When you’re collecting seeds, select ones from the healthiest plants or those with the most flowers or fruit.
After the seeds have dried, store them 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. Put the sealed jars in the refrigerator and keep them between 34 and 41 degrees F.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.