By Molly Fincher, World Ark writer
If your garden was perfect this season, why not save seeds so you can recreate it next year?
1: CHOOSE WISELY
Open-pollinated plants are pollinated by natural means, such as wind or insects. Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties cultivated and passed down through generations. If you make sure your open-pollinated vegetables are only pollinated by the same variety, they will produce offspring with the same characteristics as the parent plants. Seeds from hybrid varieties don’t hold up so well. Hybrid varieties produce offspring that is less vigorous and has characteristics of the hybrid’s parent plants, rather than the hybrid itself. Beginner seed savers will want to start with annual plants. Biannual plants like carrots and onions don’t flower until their second season. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans and peas are good choices.
Seeds won’t be viable unless you wait for the fruit to ripen before harvesting. But ripe for eating isn’t the same as ripe for seed harvesting. When you harvest dryfruited crops, like beans or peas, let the pods ripen on the plant until they are dry and the seeds rattle inside. Then harvest the pods and let them dry for about two weeks before storing. Wet-fruited crops, like tomatoes and squash, are typically ready when they’ve passed the point of reaching their full color and are overripe for eating. Wait until your peppers have started to shrivel, your cucumbers are fully yellow or your squash’s skin has hardened.
3: DRY AND STORE
Once you harvest your seeds, it’s time to clean, dry and store them. For plants with pods, simply let the pods dry on the plant as long as possible, then continue to let them air-dry for a few weeks after gathering them. For wet-fruited seeds, break open the fruit and remove the seeds, then wash the flesh and membrane off with running water before setting them out on paper towels or a screen to dry.
For vegetables whose seeds are coated in a gel-like substance, like tomatoes and cucumbers, you will need to remove the gel by fermentation. Place the seed-andgel blob into a waterproof container and add an equal amount of water to your concoction. Leave in a warm spot out of direct sunlight for about five days until the good seeds drop to the bottom and the bad seeds and other undesirable gunk rise to the top. Then you can rinse the good seeds thoroughly and dry them as you do other types of seeds.
You can test to see if a seed is sufficiently dry by squeezing one with pliers. If it feels spongy, it needs more time to dry. If it is dry enough, it will be brittle and break apart. It will probably take several weeks for them to completely dry out. Once your seeds are dry, store them in a dark, dry and cool place. Ideally you should use your saved seeds within the year, but if you store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer, they can last for several years. Be sure to label your seeds with the name, variety and date you collected them!