Today my goal is to teach you how to save seeds so you can not only save money but learn to grow seeds that are adapted to your climate. You see, when we buy seeds they don’t always come from our country. The seeds that will do best in our climate are ones that are produced locally. Seeds that you collect from your garden adapt to the microclimate in your garden and will always be the most successful seeds that you grow. By growing from seed you have so much more choice in what you can grow.
So why I am so passionate about seeds? I delight in watching seeds grow. It’s amazing that a tiny seed can develop into a full-sized plant for the garden and even better, I may be able to harvest it to bring to the table. It makes me feel more self-sufficient and gives me a sense of pride.
So what kinds of seeds are there?
Seeds are classed into different categories. Hybrids being a type of seed which is created from more than one parent plant. If you gather seeds from hybrids they will not come true as they are like our children having two parents. Hybrid seeds have been bred to achieve a desirable characteristic like disease resistance or improved flavour. If you intend to use hybrid seeds you need to buy new seed every year which can cost you money.
For example, Gold Nugget is an example of a wonderful tomato which was bred by crossing pollen from two different tomato plants through a breeding process. So its offspring could be different. I am not saying you shouldn’t try to grow hybrids out as they can successfully be grown but you may be disappointed with the resulting fruit or flower. The plant may also be not as vigorous.
I always try to look for seeds that are open pollinated. Open pollinated is when pollination occurs by insect, bird, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms. Because there is no way to stop the flow of pollen from plant to plant it can cause some variation on plants but they adapt to your garden conditions. As long as pollen is not shared between plants you will have consistency with your seeds.
The last type of seeds are heirlooms. Not all heirloom seeds are open pollinated. Heirloom means the seeds have been used for more than 50 years. An example of an heirloom seed that I grow are Swedish brown beans that have been grown in this area for 100 years.
Now that we know the different types of seeds, how do we know which to buy? I want you to look at seed packages. On the package most seeds will say OP or F1. If it doesn’t, look it up online before you buy. If you start with open pollinated seeds you will rarely have to buy new seeds.
Easy seeds to save are peas, beans, poppies, nasturtium, kale and arugula. The first thing you need to learn is when to harvest your seeds. This is done as the plant matures and finishes either flowering or produces fruit. In the case of peas if you take a look at the slide you will see different stages of development. On top the pods are wrinkled and have lost their sheen and the pods at the bottom are tan coloured.
If you want to save seeds from peas and beans try to leave them on the vine until they start to turn yellow. When they reach the rattle stage its time to bring them inside and pop out the seeds. Try to collect seeds during dry weather and when the dew has left the plants. Wet seeds can easily go mouldy.
That brings us to dry and wet seeds. Dry seeds are the most commonly collected. Wet seeds are collected from plants of tomatoes, cucumbers, and fruit. Always try to collect seeds from healthy plants and try to collect from more than one plant. By collecting from more than one plant you increase the gene pool in your seed collection.
Other vegetable seeds that are easy to collect are kale seeds. Kale seeds are produced in long pods along the stem of the plant. The trick is to harvest the pods before they split open and disperse the seeds everywhere in the garden. Bring the dried pods in the house and carefully break them open and sprinkle the seeds into a bowl. One kale plant will supply you with enough seed for thousands of plants so share with your friends.
When selecting your seeds select from the healthiest plants you have. Above I am going to strip the finished flowers off a basil plant. One swipe up the stem and then I pop them in a bag or envelope. Some seeds like basil are tough to remove seeds from. I learned to place the seed pods in a bowl and use my knuckles to thresh the seeds. They popped out doing it this way. Basil seed is very tiny so it can be time-consuming to save but the freshness of your own seed doesn’t compare with store-bought.
Flower seeds are also easy to save but you need to know if they are open pollinated or not. Many flowers are now bred as hybrids and some do not produce seeds. Many plant have trademarks banning you from reproducing the plants. I grow flowers such as marigolds, Calendula, poppies and violas which are easy to collect seed from. They come back true from seed.
Marigolds are probably the easiest to collect seeds from if you are new to saving seed. Above is a photo of immature seeds. The seeds are collected from Marigolds when the flowers have turned brown. Grab a paper bag or envelope as you go and pinch the brown buds into a container. As you pinch open the buds you will should see black seeds like this photo. Each seed will grow a new plant.
Poppy seeds are collected as the seed heads change from green to tan. Little holes form on poppy seed heads so seeds can fall to the ground. It’s best to place a paper lunch bag over the poppy seed head as you pick them off as the seed is tiny and flies everywhere.
Nasturtiums are easy seeds to find. As the flower finishes the seeds fall to the ground under the plant and can be collected and dried.
Okay, you have done everything and wonder why your squash doesn’t look the same as the year before. The squash family includes different species. If you grow two types of zucchini you could have the two plants cross which means any seed saved could be a cross of the two and be completely different the following year. So best thing to do is grow one type of pumpkin, one cucumber and a squash that is not in the same family as pumpkins. I rarely save seeds from any of these plants unless it’s the only one plant I am growing. Even then, your neighbour could be growing some that could cross with yours. Bees don’t care which plant they land on and spread pollen to each plant as they travel.
Species as follows are:
Cucumis vulgaris- Watermelons and citrons
Cucucmis melo-Muskemelons, cantaloupe & honeydew
Cucumis sativus- Cucumbers
Cucurbita maxma-Banana, buttercup, hubbard & turban squash
Cucurbita moschata-butternut, golden cumshaw, cheese squashes
Cucurbita pepo- acorn, crookneck, scallop, spaghetti, zucchini, gourds and pumpkins
We have looked at dry seeds now lets discuss wet seeds. I am a tomato grower so I collect the seeds from tomatoes. With plants like tomatoes the seeds are enclosed with a gelatinous substance that inhibits germination.
You can save the seeds by scooping them out onto a plate and letting them dry but it doesn’t remove the gelatinous goo from around it. They will grow but take longer to germinate. To clean this substance off your seeds, you can scoop the seeds in to a mason jar. You add an inch of water, label them and place the jar in an average temperature room to ferment for about five days. You will see mould form on the water’s surface in the jar and at this time you can begin to rinse the seeds. Once they are cleaned they are placed on plates to dry for a few days. Keep checking your seeds to be sure they are not sticking together. Once dry, they can be packed into envelopes. Other types of wet seeds are tomatoes, squash, eggplant and cucamelons.