Seed saving is a lot like storing wine. There are optimal conditions that help each preserve their unique potential. Don’t worry: it’s easy! So what are the seed saving techniques you need to know?
Heirloom or Hybrid
An heirloom seed is also called open-pollinated (OP). This means it will produce plants that are the same as the parent plant. Hybrid seeds are exactly what they sound like – crosses between two varieties.
When purchasing seeds, those that have “F1” after the name are hybrids. These won’t store. If you use these, they’re for planting immediately. Any that has “OP” or “Heirloom” in the catalog or on the label is good for storage.
Benefits of Saving Seeds
Saving seeds allows you to save money, and you’re not stuck waiting for the right type or price to come along. It also means you can foster genetic diversity in your garden. It’s also fun to be part of a seed-saving community. This lets you share seeds with others or trade them for seeds that can further increase your garden’s diversity.
Start saving seeds in the fall. This is when a flower or fruit-bearing plant will be spent and won’t be producing much more this year. This is typically once the plant is looking droopy and worn out. Certain plants will start doing this earlier in the year, whereas some will flower or produce more than once a year. It takes a little research to figure out the best seed harvesting time for each.
You’ll end up letting the vegetables you want to harvest for seeds go unused. They’ll ripen past the point of being good to eat anymore. Flowers you want to harvest for seeds shouldn’t have their blooms removed. Let them droop and weather for seed collection.
Annual or Biennial?
Annual seeds include a long list such as tomato, peppers, pumpkins, cilantro, cucumber, lettuce, radish, spinach, marigolds, and many more. These you can harvest seeds from the first year.
Biennial seeds mean you can’t harvest seeds from them until two years have passed. These include, but aren’t limited to, carrots, onions, beets, kale, and leeks.
Most flowers and a few vegetables require their seeds to be kept dry. Harvest seeds from these plants on a dry day. Cut off the flower head, or the beans, or peas, or whatever section contains the seeds. Place these in a paper bag. Just like storing wine, place it in a consistently dry place that gets air flow.
Once they’re fully dried, you’ll thresh and winnow the seeds by separating seed from plant material.
Wet seeds are typically used for fruits and vegetables that are fleshier in nature. Think tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash. After the plant has ripened, you’ll scoop out the seeds with a spoon (if you’ve ever made jack-o-lanterns for Halloween, this should be familiar). Wash the seeds after and rinse them in a sieve.
Next, you’ll ferment them by putting the seeds and some pulp in a jar of water. Put it somewhere where it will get warm (but not hot). Use a coffee filter or tissue paper to ensure it doesn’t turn into a buffet for fruit flies. After a few days, bubbles will form. Now you can rinse and clean the seeds again. Allow them to dry thoroughly, and then store the seeds via the dry seeds method.
Use what works: re-labeled seed packets, jars, envelopes, baggies. Just make sure that the storage method will keep the seeds absolutely dry. Check every week to ensure that they haven’t developed condensation or been exposed to moisture. Like storing wine, you also don’t want wild temperature swings or a hot storage space. The temperature should be steady and on the cool side.
You can freeze the seeds if you want, though it’s not necessary. Ensure the seeds are absolutely dry and the container is airtight if you do this. Otherwise, condensation can make moisture contract and expand in ways that crack the seed and make it unusable. When you thaw the seeds in spring, do so slowly by leaving them in a room temperature area.
Label each container appropriately. This means what seeds are stored there, and any special instructions to yourself about their care. When you’re done – again, like storing wine – turn the lights off to make sure the storage space is dark when not in use.
That’s all the seed saving techniques you need to know to begin. It should be easy to look up each plant whose seeds you want to save to determine if it’s heirloom, annual or biennial, and needs dry or wet storage.