Every year, you have access to thousands of seeds. You just need to remember to harvest and save them for the next year. Part of expert gardening is planning for the future, which includes how to seed save.
As your current crops mature, take a bit of time to save the seeds. These seeds need to be fully mature and then after you harvest them, they need to be dried. Store seeds in a dark, cool place, and they will be ready for planting the following season.
What is seed saving?
In simplest terms, seed saving is when you take the seeds from a current crop and then save them to be planted for the next year. Instead of going to a store to purchase seeds, you use what your garden naturally provides.
Seed saving can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be, depending on how much time and energy you want to expel. There are some plants that make it very easy to save seeds, while others are more complicated.
Why do you need seed saving?
If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that supply chains can easily be disrupted. This is why there has been a major increase in backyard gardening.
To help you take your self-sufficiency to a whole new level, you can save the seeds your garden produces, thus closing the loop in the food chain process.
Overall, seed packages aren’t that expensive. But if you want high-quality, organic seeds, this will increase the cost.
With time, constantly buying more seed packages can increase your gardening costs.
Another way to save money is by seed swapping. This is when you trade the seeds you have saved with those who have saved different seeds, thus granting you a wider variety.
Any seed that has been passed down from one generation to another, without any modification to them, can be classified as an heirloom. This means you have an old variety of plants that is as close to their natural state as possible.
If you start with heirloom varieties in your garden, you can continue this tradition by seed saving. Heirloom varieties hold a special place in advanced gardening.
Seed trading events are becoming more and more popular, especially in more rural communities. Toward the end of winter, usually in March, you may see pop-up events that promote seed swapping.
Bring your saved seeds to these events and share them with others. You can choose to give away extra seeds you have to beginner gardeners or swap them for new plants.
How to plan your seed saving
Most of the time, one piece of vegetable with have tons of seeds inside, more than enough for you to plant the crop the next year. Just think about how many seeds are inside a pepper.
Harvesting these seeds are easy because you don’t need to sacrifice much of your crop for your seeds.
Other crops, such as squash, may require you to remember to save the seeds once you actually open the squash to eat. This may be weeks or even months after you harvest it.
There are other vegetables that need to be allowed to go to seed before you can harvest. Lettuce is normally picked when the leaves are fresh. However, if you let lettuce continue to grow, it will develop flowers, which will produce seeds.
Take a look at what you are growing in your garden and research how to harvest each individual plant’s seeds. Then, add it to your gardening calendar so you have a plan in place and don’t accidentally forget about the seeds.
Categories of seeds
There are different techniques to use for seed collection, depending on the type of plants you are growing. They can usually be divided into the following two categories.
Wet seeded crops
You can think of wet-seeded crops as those fruits and vegetables that have seeds inside their flesh. In other words, you have to get your hands a little dirty or wet to access them.
The Solanaceae family of plants, also known as the nightshade family, includes tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.
Another group, the Cucurbitaceae family, includes cucumbers, all varieties of squashes, and melons.
Dry seeded crops
As the name suggests, dry-seeded crops have seeds that are dry, either in husks or pods. These are more common and can be easier to save.
The Poaceae family of plants includes wheat, rice, and corn. The Brassicaceae family includes kale, cabbage, and mustard greens.
How to save seeds?
Once you do this a few times, seed saving gets a lot easier. However, the first rounds can be a bit complicated, so be sure you are prepared to make the process go smoothly.
You will want to find a few basic supplies to get started. Start with a clean pair of small scissors, paper bags or envelopes, and a sturdy pen. You will also want a few small bowls and clean mason jars.
Let seeds mature
The hardest part of the entire seed-saving process is knowing when the seeds are ready for harvest. You want them to be fully mature for the best results.
For dry-seeded plants, look for the color. Seeds should not be green and instead should be yellow, brown, or even black. If you’re unsure of the mature color of the seeds, be sure to research this ahead of time.
Dry seeds should also be dry. When in doubt, cut the seed open to testing the dryness inside.
As for wet-seeded plants, you will need to allow the vegetable to grow for longer on the plant or vine. Even though the plant will be past its edible state, the seeds inside will continue to grow, making them easier to harvest.
Collect the seeds
Once the seeds are mature and dry, you can start to harvest them. This shouldn’t be too difficult as you simply gather the seeds or seed pods from your crops.
If the plants have very tiny seeds, snip off parts of the plants and bring them inside. You don’t want to go about collecting them in the open where there’s a chance they can be blown away by the wind.
Each plant will be different, so you will have to play around with how you collect them. For instance, some plants have seed heads, which need to be opened and then shaken.
For wet seeds, place them in a bowl and then run water over them. Lay them flat to try.
Clean the seeds
Most dry seeds won’t need to be cleaned. However, there may be dirt or other debris on them that you can gently remove.
Some seeds, such as wheat seeds, will have parts of the plant mixed in. You can employ a screening process to separate these materials but if they aren’t completely clean, you can still easily plant them.
For wet seeds, rinsing them in a bowl of water is recommended. Just be sure they dry fully before you store them. Place them on a clean paper towel and flip them over so all sides are dry.
Dry the seeds
You won’t be using your collected seeds for the next few months, so proper storage is important. Before you store your seeds, however, they need to be completely dry. If your seeds are wet, they can rot.
The easiest method for drying seeds is to simply leave them in a dry, cool area. You may be able to hang up your plants if the seeds are in a pod.
Another option includes threshing. This is done with small seeds such as wheat, where you loosen the seeds from the stems and then collect them to dry them out.
Store the seeds
Finally, proper storage is the last step in seed saving. First, gather your seeds and place them in individual containers.
You can use paper envelopes for smaller seeds or mason jars for larger seeds. Be sure to label and date your seeds so you aren’t confused when you go to plant them.
Place your seeds in their containers in an area that is cool and dark. Exposure to sunlight can create a mold to form or weaken the outer shell of the seeds.
Which seeds are easy to save?
There are certain types of plants that are self-pollinators. This means the seeds don’t need external pollinators, such as bees, to grow fruit.
Examples of self-pollinating crops include tomatoes, peas, beans, and lettuce. These plants are the easiest for beginner gardeners to grow and their seeds are easy to save.
Another option includes plants in the legume family. These seeds are a little larger, and thus easier to harvest. They are also self-pollinating, so growing them and continuing the cycle will be simple.
Seed saving doesn’t have to take a lot of time and once you get into the rhythm, you can have a bounty of seeds saved for next year’s garden. A little planning is all you need to get started.