Seed Saving

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Rattlesnake pole beans forming seeds.

If my quick perusal of various seed sources is anything to go by, you may find that it will be tough to get the seeds you need for next year’s garden. For that matter, there are plenty of seed companies tacking “Out of Stock” notices on many of their current offerings. But it’s still early enough in the year for you to plan to save at least part of your own seeds. While this is by no means a full primer of seed-saving, here are some useful basics.

There are a few rules when you’re looking to save seeds. First, it’s easiest to save seeds of annuals that self-pollinate. You can save seeds from beans, peas, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant and (if you have enough room to grow at least 100 plants) corn. If you move on to biennials or more esoteric techniques like hand pollination, you can add pretty much every vegetable in the garden to the list. Second, if you’re a beginning seed saver, stick to a single variety of each plant. That will quickly simplify your life because you don’t have to worry about distancing, caging or otherwise protecting your seed plants from outside pollen sources. There’s a caveat, however – if you garden in suburbia and all your neighbors do, too, you’ll have to protect your seed plants to keep the strain pure. Third, you have to grow open-pollinated varieties rather than hybrids to be assured of getting the same thing next year. Fourth, do save and replant seeds from several plants to promote genetic diversity.

Beans and peas are the all-time easiest plant for the beginning seed saver. Eat your fill of them in green form and then walk away and let them dry on the vine. Yep, that’s it. they are also among the most productive vegetables, especially if you plant pole varieties. Lettuce is next – harvest a few leaves to check for flavor in your potential seed plants, then let them go to seed. It’s best to pick the plants that take longer to flower rather than those that immediately bolt when the weather heats up. When the flower heads have dried (they look like tiny dandelions), cut the stalks and rub the seeds out of the flower heads over a sheet of paper.

Peppers, tomatoes and eggplant have “wet” seeds, meaning you want to collect the seeds from mature, dead-ripe plants. In addition, tomato seeds should be fermented to destroy substances in the seed that inhibit germination. Let the fruits go well past the eating stage to the point of being over-ripe. Cut peppers and eggplants open and pick out the seeds – dry on paper towels. For tomatoes, scrape out the gelatinous pulp with embedded seeds and put the pulp in a small jar of water. Store in a warm place (usually one to five days) until the mix starts to bubble. Pour into a strainer, gently massage the pulp though the strainer and rinse. Repeat until the seeds are clean, then let them dry on paper towels.

You can grown 100 ears of corn in a 10-foot square plot. As with beans, eat your fill of corn and then let the remaining ears dry on the stalk. Most corn plants produce two ears per stalk, so you can eat one ear from each and leave the second for seed. Shuck the husks and rub the kernels from the cob. Let dry completely.

Next week – squash, cucumbers, biennials and non-seed plants.

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