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

pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, saving pumpkin seeds, saving seeds

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

Zone 9b – Time to Start Seeds!

By Angelina Williamson

Right now is the perfect time to start seeds indoors in zone 9b. It’s generally recommended that you give most plants about 8 weeks to get big enough to plant outside. If you’re a stickler for planting your vegetables after the last predicted frost date then you still have a couple of weeks to get your seeds started as our last frost date is usually May 1st. I, however, nearly always plant my vegetables in mid-April which is two weeks early. It’s a gamble, but one that has nearly always paid off for me.

Vegetable seeds that must be started indoors in zone 9b:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplants

You can also start summer squash, winter squash, and cucumber seeds indoors but they grow so fast and do really well direct-seeded later in the season that I don’t bother with them. I’ve seen beans and peas in starts too but, again, they tend to do much better being direct sewn that I never start them or buy them in pots. There are some plants I don’t grow here, such as melons, so I can’t say with experience whether they do better started indoors or not.
Other plants you can start now are flowers and herbs for your summer garden.

seedlings-in-paper-cups

Seed-Starting Secrets

I have mixed luck starting seeds indoors but there are three things I’ve found essential to my seed-starting success:

Use sterile seed-starting mix. This ensures that you’re starting off without any viruses or bacterias that can cause your seedlings instant death. I have learned this from sad experience. Don’t plant your indoor seedlings in straight compost either. Unless you’re sure its nitrogen content isn’t too strong, use the sterile seed-starting mix. Seeds have all the nutrients a plant needs to get started, too much nitrogen will burn them and cause them to wilt and die. I’ve made this mistake, it was such a sad time for me seeing all those tiny dead plants.

Find a good light source. You can buy indoor seed-starting lights and as soon as I can afford this I will do it. If you have a very bright south facing window you probably won’t need artificial lights. In my current situation I don’t have great window light for my seedlings. I will probably bring them outside during the day and in at night to get them the extra light they need. If your seedlings grow tall and thin with few leaves it means they aren’t getting adequate light.

There are many containers you can start seeds in but I have only had luck with the ones that have a water-wicking mat that draws water up from a bottom tray into the base of the plant cells. This type of seed-starting tray prevents you from overwatering or under-watering the seeds, both things that can kill off your seedlings. All you have to do is make sure the bottom tray stays full of water.

seed-starting

Starting your own seeds certainly is more work than buying starts in a nursery. I want to say right now that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting your plant starts from a nursery, but there are real benefits with going through the trouble to start your own. The greatest benefit, in my opinion, is that you have a vastly increased number of plant varieties to choose from when you grow from seed. There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes you can grow from seed while most nurseries will carry no more than ten or fifteen. Another benefit is control over what kind of seeds you use. You can choose to use only organic and/or non-GMO seeds if that’s important to you. The last real benefit is that seeds are less expensive than plant starts, even after you factor in sterile soil and specialty pots if you use them.

Here are the seed varieties I put in my seed-starting tray yesterday:

Tomatoes:

Aunt Ruby’s German GreenCaspian PinkRoman CandleOpalka, and Gold Medal.

Eggplants:

Thai Chao PrayaThai Lavender Frog Egg, and Tadifi.

Peppers:

Fish Pepper and Aji Cristal.

I’d love to know what other people are starting from seed this year! What will you be growing? Let us know in the comments section below!

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New Year, New Opportunity to Create a Community Seed Bank

By Catherine Winter

The holidays are coming to an end soon, and those of us in the northern hemisphere now have a solid chunk of winter to slog through. This is the most frustrating time of year for most gardeners, as unless one lives in one of the warmer patches of North America or Europe (I’m looking at you, Texans and Spaniards), winter consists of snow, sleet, biting winds, and grey skies.

One saving grace about the winter months is that being forced to cocoon indoors allows us the opportunity to make plans for the coming growing season. It’s also a perfect opportunity to reconnect with friends… and if you put those two together, the conditions are ideal for creating a truly spectacular community seed bank.

A benefit to creating a seed bank in your own neighbourhood is that it’s more than likely that conditions will be quite constant in  your area: those who live near you will be contending with the same growing zone, rainfall, and similar soil conditions, as opposed to trading seeds with friends who live across the continent. This makes comparing growing notes much easier, and gives everyone a solid idea about what will or will not thrive in your area.

organic-seeds

How to Build Your Seed Bank

If you haven’t done so yet, request seed catalogues from a few organic/heirloom seed companies. Few things can brighten up a dismal winter day like flipping through a colourful booklet full of photos of all the vegetables and herbs that you can grow in a few short months. It’s important to use only organic seeds, as the plants that grow from them will be much more nourishing than those that are conventionally grown (i.e. genetically modified and pumped full of insecticides.) Your plants will be healthier, you’ll be healthier, and you’ll be able to save viable seeds from them for next year’s garden… and to share with your friends.

A few great companies to order from are the following:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Heritage Harvest Seeds

High Mowing Seeds

Salt Spring Seeds

Sustainable Seed Company

Then, you just need to gather some friends together for coffee or dinner, and discuss options.

One of the goals of community seed bank creation is that people can split the cost of organic packets and share the seeds around, instead of each individual making a huge investment. A typical seed packet contains between 30 and 300 seeds, depending on the plant to be cultivated, so a small group of people can grow a huge variety of different foods at very low cost. Let’s take a look at this breakdown as an example:

  • Friend 1: Three types of lettuce, and cucumbers ($10)
  • Friend 2: Kale, cabbage, carrots, and beets ($10)
  • Friend 3: Three varieties of tomatoes, and basil ($10)
  • Friend 4: Squash, pole beans, bush beans, thyme ($10)
  • Friend 5: Carrots, beets, oregano, leeks ($10)
  • Friend 6: Chard, onions, spinach, dill ($10)
  • Friend 7: Mesclun greens, assorted sweet peppers, peas, radishes ($10)
  • Friend 8: Melon, broccoli rabe, jalapeños, celeriac ($10)

That’s just a $10 investment per person, and if all the orders go in together, there will be just one small shipping fee. In turn, every person gets 32 edible plant varieties to cultivate. Isn’t that a much better investment than for each friend to pay $80 for the same number of plants, especially if they’d only use a fraction of the seeds in each packet that season?

Even if your group decides that they really only like the types of vegetables that can easily be turned into salads, there are dozens of tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and leafy green species to explore. If your group consists of tomato lovers, each of you could have over 20 different varieties growing in your yard for just a few dollars!

Sharing resources like this just makes sense on so many levels.

Related Post: Greens to Grow Indoors This Winter

friends-talking

Gathering the Community

This is also a great chance to branch out from your immediate friend/family circle and engage others in your community. The average person doesn’t know too many people in their neighbourhood aside from their immediate next-door neighbours, so putting up a notice on public boards (like in local shops or religious institutions) or even popping printed flyers into mailboxes is a good way to connect. You can create a Facebook group page, arrange meetings at your community centre, and cultivate great new relationships alongside flourishing gardens.

Multicultural neighbourhoods are also ideal for branching outside of regular comfort zones in terms of the vegetables and herbs that you might not be familiar with. When I was still living in Toronto, the neighbours around me were Chinese, Tibetan, Jamaican, Nigerian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, and Bolivian. By chatting with them and sharing items from one another’s gardens, I had the opportunity to try callaloo (amaranth leaves), bitter melon, tatsoi, and a huge variety of herbs that I had never tried before.

Community seed banks really are ideal ways to cultivate biodiversity, and help groups of people get a head start on food security for a very small investment. You might also find that you develop some wonderful friendships along the way too.

Photos via World Bank Photo Collection and Wikimedia commons.