Preserve seeds for your zone, climate and growing conditions
Gardeners have been saving their seeds for centuries, and recently we’ve seen a resurgence in modern seed-saving amongst food growers. Even though purchasing seeds is fairly affordable, saving your own will help your plants adapt to their microclimates and soil, increase garden yields each year, maintain food security, and preserve the strongest (and tastiest) crops you’ve grown.
Let’s dive into which seeds to save and how to save them so that you can be guaranteed seeds for years to come...
1. Grow open-pollinated or heirloom varieties
While hybrid seeds are used by many conventional growers since they’re specifically bred to have certain beneficial growing characteristics, seed-savers may want to opt for open pollinated seeds or heirloom seeds. Open-pollinated or heirloom seeds are less likely to be genetically modified, and heirlooms have been grown and saved by families and growers for centuries. Over 90 percent of cultivars are extinct, so maintaining heritage seeds is more important than ever. Plus, there are some really unique varieties out there to grow.
2. Let some veggies go to seed
Certain veggies may “go to seed," so make sure to designate a section of your garden for seed. As they dry, they’ll blow around and germinate in your garden if not harvested right away. Biennials like carrots, beets, kale and onions don’t flowers until their second growing season (after a cold period), but tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are annuals and can be saved right from the plant. You can find a list of biennials, annuals, and perennials here.
3. Save the strongest
Did one cucumber plant survive a particularly dry season and still produce incredibly? Save seeds from that cucumber! Did a tomato plant produce longer into the season than the others? Those are seeds for you! From early harvests to pest-resistance, there are endless reasons for which seeds you’ll want to save, and they all vary depending on your garden and climate needs. In general, you’ll want to save seeds from the best tasting and healthiest fruits and plants.Photo by Kelly Neil on Unsplash
4. Let plants fully develop for seed production
Veggies are ready to eat long before their seeds are “viable” for planting, but seeds need a little extra time to form. Tomatoes will almost be “gushing” off the vine, cucumbers will be fully yellow, and bean pods will be completely dried and crisp on the outside. You can find a full list of types of plants and how to save their individual seeds here.
5. Learn the difference between wet and dry seed-saving
Tomatoes and cucumbers are good examples of wet seeds, which have a little gel around the seed that needs to be fermented off. This is done by soaking the seeds, allowing the non-usable seeds to float and the viable ones to sink, and then drying the viable seeds on a paper towel. Dry seeds are much easier and include sunflower seeds, lettuces and beans that just require a brown paper sack and a method called “threshing.” Once your seed pods are completely dry, you can shake out (thresh) or crumble the pods into the bag to remove the seeds. Leave the seeds in the paper sack for a few weeks until completely dry and then transfer them into a sealable jar for storage.
6. Store them properly
You’ll want to make sure all of your seeds are completely dried before you store them over the winter. If they haven’t dried, you might run into a mold problem. For longest storage, place seeds into Mason jars or other sealable containers, label your seeds and harvest date, and then store them in a cool, dark and dry place to use for your next season.
7. Start sharing the garden love
One of the best parts of saving your seeds is sharing the abundance with friends and family. If you have extra seeds, you can donate them to local seed banks, gift them to other gardeners, or swap with other folks in your area who have saved their seeds. Not only will this spread the wealth, but it will help to preserve heritage varieties, and help to feed you and your neighbours for generations.