saving seeds, holding seeds, preserving seeds

How to Save Your Seeds

By Catherine Winter

As desperately as we try to cling to summer, especially since it’s so fleeting here in Quebec’s zone 4, the signs of autumn’s arrival are all around us. Trees are losing their leaves, and the temperature has dropped down to near freezing at night, so we’ve had fires blazing in the woodstove almost every evening. Summer is indeed coming to a close, which is prompting me to get off my arse to collect seeds for next year’s garden.

If you’ve grown some varieties that you really love, be sure to save a bunch of their seeds, both to grow again next year, and to trade with your friends/family. One cannot have too much biodiversity in one’s own vegetable garden, and it’s always wonderful to discover new varieties that those close to you have grown and love.

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Tomato Seeds

To save seeds from both cherry and full-size tomatoes, scraped the seeds out and place them in a very fine sieve. Rub gently to remove as much pulp as you can, and alternate between that and running them under water to rinse the pulp away. After you’ve done that, put the seeds in a clean jar filled with about half a cup of room-temperature water, and seal with the lid. Place that in a cool, dark cupboard and shake gently a couple of times a day. In about a week, you should see bubbles forming, and most of the seeds will have sunk to the bottom: those are the viable ones. Any of the floaters will be infertile, so toss those into the compost bin.

Rinse the viable seeds in your sieve again, then place them on a piece of paper to let them dry. After a day or so, you can either remove them from the paper and store them in a paper or glassine envelope, or store that entire piece of paper in a larger kraft paper envelope: come springtime, just tear or cut the paper into pieces with the seeds left in place, and plant the seeded paper directly into your soil.

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Beans and Peas

If you’ve discovered some fabulous varieties of beans or peas and would like to grow them again next year, that’s awesome: they’re incredibly easy to save. Just let some pods mature fully and dry in the sun as much as possible. Once the skins have started to shrivel up a bit, pick them and put them in a basket or paper bag for a week or so to dry out a bit more.
Then pop the beans/peas out of the dried casings and store them in paper envelopes or glass jars until next planting season. If they’re climbing varieties, you can even grow them indoors over the winter on strings or mesh hung over a sunny window.

Related: Create a Community Seed Bank

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Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

You know those slippery, gooey innards that squash and pumpkins have? Pick as many seeds as possible out of that mess, and then place them in a colander or other strainer. Rinse them as clean as possible, then spread them on a screen (like an old, clean window screen) to dry in a warm place for a week or so. Place in a paper bag and store in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant them again.

(Be sure to save extra if you’d like to roast them as snacks, because who doesn’t love those, really?)

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Melon and Cucumber Seeds

Use the same technique as for the pumpkin and squash seeds, but try to harvest them from a plant that you’ve allowed to mature for as long as possible out in the garden. Seriously, wait until the thing is close to rotting before you harvest them. Why? Because the seeds within actually get more fertile and viable the longer leave the fruits attached to their stems. If you elevate the fruits on rocks or bricks (or even suspended via some fetching old stockings), the air circulation will delay their decomposition. Once the skin hardens, you’ll know the seeds are at their best and are ready to harvest.

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Herb Seeds

Since herbs—whether medicinal or culinary—tend to have tiny little seeds, the best way to collect them is the brown paper bag technique.

Let a couple of plants mature and go to seed, and once the seed heads are drying nicely in the sun, pop paper bags over them and tie them securely in place with some twine. Use scissors or a knife to sever the stem a handspan or so beneath the twine, then hang the bag upside-down in a dry place. As the plant dries within the bag, the seed casings will shrink, releasing the seeds into the bottom of the bag.

 

After a couple of weeks, shake the bag well to release as many seeds as possible, then cut the bag open and pour the seeds into envelopes.

Keep your seeds in a cool, dry place away from direct light and any form of moisture, and you’ll have a plethora of plants to play with next spring!

 

Photos via Unsplash and Wikimedia Commons

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Light-Dependent Germination

By Catherine Winter

Have you ever struggled with starting plants from seeds? Almost all of us have, and it’s absolutely normal. Some seeds fail because they’ve been rendered infertile through improper storage, others fail because they’re grown in the wrong type of soil… and still others fail because they just haven’t gotten enough light to trigger germination.

That might sound weird to those of us who were taught to plant seeds based on the 3x rule: that the seed should be planted at a depth 3 times its own size, and covered lightly with soil. The truth is that there is no true rule of thumb in that regard, and there are many seeds that require direct sunlight to shake them awake and tell them to get growing already. This is especially common for very fine seeds, like certain flowers and herbs, whether culinary or medicinal.

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Seeds that Love Light

The following are just a few plant species that require direct sunlight to germinate:

  • St. John’s Wort
  • Lettuce
  • Poppies
  • Columbine
  • Angelica
  • Geranium
  • Catnip
  • Mullein
  • Nicotiana
  • Lovage
  • Violets
  • Bee Balm
  • Savory (winter and summer)
  • Lobelia

Related Post: There’s No Such Thing as a “Black Thumb”

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How to Cultivate These Plants

When it comes to sowing seeds for any of these, pre-water the soil in your growing bed, then scatter the seeds loosely overtop it. Then, using the palms of your hands, press those seeds lightly into the surrounding soil so they’re “hugged”, but not buried. If you live in a cooler climate, wait until the hottest, sunniest days of your growing season to plant these, or you may risk losing the majority of them to rot.

Water these regularly, but lightly, making sure you don’t drown them with overzealous flooding. If you’re growing these plants indoors, be sure to keep them in a very sunny spot, and try to keep pets away from your pots so they don’t disrupt the seeds while they establish their rather delicate root systems.