Late summer is the perfect time to begin to save vegetable seeds for next year’s garden. The process is not only simple, but can save big money when it comes time to plant next season. The real key is in knowing what seeds can and cannot be saved.
So which seeds can you save?
Only open-pollinated plant varieties (heirloom varieties) can be saved successfully to bear the same crop year after year. Hybrid plants should be avoided. Hybrid seeds are a cross of two or more plants – and the seeds from those plants revert back to one of the originals, or a mutation of it when grown. This often results with a plant with no fruit at all, or something with little taste or resemblance of the original fruit or vegetable.
How To Save Vegetable Seeds
Start by selecting the “best of the best” when it comes to your crop. Whether it is a tomato, a bulb of garlic, or a jalapeno pepper, you want to save vegetable seeds from the best looking vegetable, from the best looking plant. Why? because these seeds will have come from the best stock – and are more likely to reproduce the same results.
This simple process has resulted in our annual garlic crop becoming better and better each season, always selecting out the biggest bulbs to replant in early fall for an even better crop the following year.
Here are some basics to saving seeds from some well-known garden crops:
Peppers – Whether saving seeds for hot peppers, green peppers, or ornamental peppers – the process is the same, and by far, one of the easiest of all.
To begin, select a few of the best looking and largest mature peppers in your garden. Pick only mature peppers that have reached their final color. Scrape out the seeds and lay them on a paper plate for a week or two to dry out. When they have dried out completely to the touch, simply put them in a zip lock bag with a folded paper towel to help absorb any remaining moisture – and store in a cool, dark place.
Tomatoes – The tomato saving process is a bit different from that of other seeds. It is best to ferment the seeds before saving to allow them to germinate better the following spring.
Start by selecting a healthy, good-looking and ripe tomato from your best plant. Cut the tomato in half and scoop out the entire inside (seeds and pulp) into a jar. Let the seeds sit for a few days until the pulp begins to mold with that familiar green and white coloring.
Next, pour water into the jar and wash off the mold slowly – repeating the process a few time to get the seeds clean. The good seeds will sink to the bottom – allowing you to skim off the pulp and bad seeds. After washing, lay the seeds out on a paper towel, paper plate or screen cloth and allow them to dry completely before storing.
Sweet Corn and Popcorn – Popcorn is one of our favorite crops to grow in the garden – providing a great year round healthy snack. And whether it is popcorn or sweet corn, the process is the same. Again, you will need to make sure the variety you are growing is an heirloom or open pollinated type.
We grow three heirloom varieties of popcorn – Strawberry, Ladyfinger and Dakota Black. To save the seeds, let the cobs dry on the stalks as long as possible – and then hang in a cool, dark place until they have completely dried out. This process usually takes until late October or November. Once they have dried, remove the hardened kernels from the cob, and store for spring planting next season.
Beans – Beans are another easy crop to save. Allow the pods you want to save to dry on the stalks and turn brown. This usually takes the pods about 6 to 8 weeks past the time you would have picked them for eating. If the pods do not seem to be drying well on the stock – you can also pick and store the mature beans in a cool dry place to finish drying. Once the pods have shriveled up and turned dry and brown – simply shell and save the seed.
Peas – Much like beans, peas are very simple to grow and save seed from year to year. The process is the same – allowing 6 to 8 weeks for the pods to dry before shelling and saving the seed.
Other Crops – Although you could save and grow nearly everything in your garden – some crops, like carrots – have to grow for two years before they produce viable seed. Others, like heirloom cucumbers, zucchini and pumpkins need to be separated by such a long distances to avoid cross-pollination (1/2 mile in some cases), that it is far easier and reliable to purchase them each year from a reputable seed company.
So now that you know how to save vegetable seeds – Happy Seed Saving! – Jim and Mary
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