As each planting season arrives, you are faced with the choice of which veggies to grow. Once this decision is made, the next step is to acquire seeds for planting. This can be done by shopping at local farm and garden stores or online ordering, but it gets even better than that: you can instead save your own seeds for planting rather than buying more. In addition to saving money, this option allows you to take advantage of a renewable resource that has been right at the tip of your fingers all along. All you need to do is collect seeds at the right time and dry them for storage until you are ready to plant.
In order preserve the seeds you collect, they will need to be removed from the proper area of the plant which is in some cases the flower and in other cases within the vegetable itself. Seeds will then need to be cleaned and dried appropriately before being placed in an adequate storage container. Drying on a screen is best as it allows air to access seeds from all sides for faster, more thorough drying. Once dry, seeds will need to be stored in airtight containers that will keep moisture out. Acceptable containers range from Ziploc bags to mason jars or even film canisters. Whichever container you choose, be sure to label it with the type of seed it contains to eliminate confusion when it comes time to plant.
Harvesting seeds can be done quite easily but there is some variation amongst vegetables and how their seeds need to be gathered and stored. Here are 5 popular plants and how to harvest their seeds:
1. Tomato seeds need to be collected from healthy tomatoes that are picked when ripe. Cut tomatoes open and remove the pulp, pressing seeds free from the pulp. With seeds separated from the pulp, remove and rinse seeds before setting seeds out to dry for approximately one day before storing in an airtight container.
2. Lettuce grows a flowering stalk that can become several feet in height. Each flower that develops on this stalk can produce in the neighborhood of a dozen seeds, give or take. Collect seeds when flowers are in bloom (usually in the fall) and allow a couple of days to fully dry before storing in airtight containers.
3. Pepper seeds can be harvested easily by removing the seeds from the interior and breaking them apart for easier drying, after which they can be put up for storage. The only catch with peppers is that they can cross-pollinate and sometimes the seeds you plant will yield a slightly different variety of pepper. This could be as simple as a pepper that is surprisingly sweet or hotter than expected.
4. Beans can be harvested from pods after the process of drying down when they have lost all their leaves. Pick the beans you wish to preserve, keeping the pod intact; do note that pods that become too dry can release on their own accord, so keep an eye out for this in order to retain your seeds. Leave the seeds in the pods and lay out for drying for a couple of days, then remove beans and store. If rinsing appears necessary, allow dry time to compensate for any water added.
5. Cucumbers for seed harvest need to remain on the vine past the point of ripeness. You will notice a change to a lighter color and it is when this occurs that cucumber seeds are ready. Cut cucumbers open and spoon out seeds and pulp, placing them in a container with some water for fermentation. Stir this mixture as it ferments, which will break down the pulp encasing seeds over the course of a few days. At this time, harvest the seeds that have sunk as they tend to be the most viable. Rinse and set out to dry, placing them in an airtight container for storage once they are coarse to the touch.
Depending on the type of seed, it is possible that they can still be used even after a few years spent in storage. With this in mind paired with the money saved by harvesting your own seeds, it makes good sense to adopt a policy of reuse rather than making repeated purchases, not to mention the possibility of preserving heirloom seeds. Also imparted upon you will be a feeling of accomplishment at a job well done when you take your veggie gardening the one step further that is harvesting and storing your very own seeds.