You can enjoy your favorite garden veggies year after year by saving seeds.
Seed saving is not quite as simple as harvesting a few seeds from your favorite garden veggies and putting them away for next year. There are some important guidelines you need to follow in order to successfully save your seeds. One rule involves spacing of plants. Plants especially tomatoes, will cross pollinate if planted too close together and you will probably end up with fruit quite unlike what you started with.
A second rule pertains to the type of seed you can successfully save. You absolutely cannot save seeds that have been genetically modified. Most likely you will never encounter these seeds in your own garden since they are patented and used primarily in commercial agriculture.
You also cannot save F1 hybrid seeds. Although they are patented as well, you will find these for sale in many seed catalogs and garden stores. Regulations require that they be identified as such. These seeds are bred for a specific trait such as disease resistance and will not reproduce accurately if saved thus requiring you to buy them new every year.
The best seeds to save are those of heirloom plants. These are plants that have been grown for generations and each year grow the very same fruit. Other seeds that have been around for years may not yet be heirlooms but are approaching that status. The Green Zebra tomato is an example of the latter.
Also keep in mind the type of plant you want to save the seeds from. Plants fall into three categories which are: annual (one growing season), biennial (grow for two seasons) and perennial (regrow season after season). Annuals are the primary seeds you will want to save so that you can grow them year after year.
The most important thing you need to remember is the fact that the seeds need to be ripened on the plant. Bean pods should be dry and brittle, peppers should be fully ripened. At this stage, the seeds have acquired as much from the parent plant as possible. The seeds must also be completely dry before storing.
Following are directions for saving some basic seeds:
- Cucumber: Remove seeds and soak for 5 days in water; stir periodically; thoroughly rinse and dry on a screen.
- Beans: Allow bean pods to dry on the plant until they become brittle. Remove dried seeds and save.
- Yellow Squash: Harvest whole fruit and place in cupboard or pantry for 1 month; remove seeds, wash and dry on screen.
- Tomato: When fruit is ripe, remove seeds and soak in jar of water for 5 days; shake daily; rinse seeds and dry on screen (or towel). Store after 2 weeks of drying.
- Lettuce: Wait for flowers to dry and then shake them over colander (or strainer) to release seeds.
Once your seeds have been prepared and dried, you must store them in an airtight container (preferably in a cool, dark place). Although saved seeds will remain viable for several years, you can also freeze them. For more information on seed saving check out Seed Savers. They also have a catalog of heritage seeds you can purchase.
Seed saving takes some extra work, but the eventual reward is definitely more than worth it!