One of the first tips I learned about successful vegetable gardening in cold-weather climates is that by repurposing between the years you can grow more vigorous, resistant, and climate-friendly plants. How do you go about creating these killer veggies?
The most important step in the process is seed saving.
By this time of year, most home gardeners have enjoyed multiple harvests and are beginning to wind down from the height of the harvesting season. This is the perfect time to begin considering saving seeds for next year. Instead of repurchasing seeds or seedling plants simply harvest, dry, and store seeds from your favorite most delectable plants! This is a great way to save money, reproduce your favorites, create adaptable plants, and practice sustainable practices.
Plus, it can also be super fun and incredibly rewarding!
Want to get started with your own seed saving practice? Read on to learn all about the best practices and how to go about starting.
Seed Saving 101
Saving seeds between growing seasons is not only a great way to save some money and repopulate your favorite veggies, but it can be an incredibly rewarding and fun experience that you’ll want to continue throughout the years.
First off, what is seed saving?
Instead of buying a packet of new seeds or pre-sprouted vegetables every single year for your home vegetable garden, seed saving allows you to properly dry and store seeds from your current garden to replant the next year. Seed saving also happens to be one of the oldest gardening techniques in the book and is used by large agricultural productions all the way down to your local farmer.
Type of Seeds for Saving
With that said, one of the biggest misconceptions about seed saving is that you can do it with any food that grows from your garden.
While this would be truly wonderful, it’s unfortunately not true.
Stick to open-pollinated, heirloom, and self-pollinated plants, which “are the only varieties that will grow true from seed, meaning the seedlings will be exactly like the parents.” Which types shouldn’t you save? Hybridized. Most seeds you buy in the store are actually hybridized. This is a commercial process — now available to home gardeners as well — in which “new, marketable plants are developed with particular desirable qualities,” plus hybridized plants are also “developed for disease resistance, size of plant, flower, or fruit, increased flowering, color, taste, or any reasons a plant might be considered special.” Unfortunately, “seed saving is not really an option with hybrids, unless you are looking to discover something new.”
You’ll also want to take extra care if you’re saving seeds from cross-pollinated plants. Cross-pollination refers to a plant that has been cross-bred with another variety, either by insects, the wind, or your own hand. While you can save these seeds, they “require a bit of extra care” and may not be the best option to get you started with seed saving.
Benefits of Seed Repurposing
If you’re a seasoned gardener, then you’ve most likely noticed that seeds are incredibly cheap. In fact, sprouted veggies that you simply have to pop in the ground are also relatively inexpensive.
So, why in the world should you go through the trouble to prep, dry, store, and save your own seeds?
Take a moment and add up all those seeds and seedlings that you buy every year. If you garden each and every season, it actually does add up, no matter how cheap they are on a one-off basis.
On top of that, what if you have a plant that you absolutely fall in love with and you just have to recreate that same fruit or vegetable for the next year. By saving the seeds from the best fruit or vegetable, you’ll be guaranteeing a far better chance of recreating that wonderfully delicious food item. This is also true when it comes to preserving the quality of your garden. While store-bought seeds are generally hybridized in order to make customers happy, you can choose heirloom varieties and simply make the guarantee yourself!
Yet, while these are all great reasons, one of the most overlooked reasons to save seeds is adaptability.
For those of us that live in harsh climates, it can oftentimes be frustrating to attempt to plant certain veggies that may need a lot more care. By saving seeds between growing seasons, you can actually boost the adaptability of certain plants to particular climates. In fact, “growing plants from seeds saved from your own garden, will, over the years, result in plants uniquely adapted to your garden.”
How To Repurpose Seeds
Just as most vegetables require special care — watering, sunlight, soil composition, space, etc. — so do certain seeds require particular prepping steps. It’s recommended to do a few minutes of research on the particular seed you’re attempting to save.
With that said, there are a few basic guidelines to follow when saving seeds between growing seasons.
- Choose the right type of seed to save such as an open-pollinated, self-pollinated, or heirloom. Don’t save seeds from hybridized plants.
- Select a robust, healthy, and tasty fruit or vegetable from the plant.
- Deduce when it’s right to harvest the fruit or vegetable for its seeds. This changes depending on the type of plant. Rule of thumb for pods says that you should harvest “when the seed pods have dried on the plant (flowers, beans, broccoli, lettuce …).” Also, make sure to “keep an eye on the pods as they start to brown” as this is an indicator that they may “open and disperse on their own.” Rule of thumb for veggies says to allow the product to fully ripen and wait until they are “well past their edible stage,” as this is an indicator that the seeds will be ready for harvesting.
- Always make sure the seeds are completely dry before storing.
- Store your seeds in a paper envelope within an “airtight container, such as a canning jar.”
- Make sure to put your properly package seeds in a cool, dry, dark place until the next growing season begins.
Best Veggies for Seed Repurposing
While you can pretty much save seeds from any vegetable in which you are able to obtain seeds, there are a few varieties which are a bit easier: tomatoes, peppers, beans, and peas. These particular plants “have self-pollinating flowers and produce seeds that require little attention before storage.” If you choose to save seeds from “plants with separate male and female flowers (such as squashes and corn)” be aware that these “can cross-pollinate and hybridize, making it difficult to keep the variety pure.”
If you haven’t tried growing tomatoes yet, make next year the year you try! Tomatoes are not only delicious vegetables (or fruits, depending on who you ask), but they are also super easy to grow. All you need is healthy soil, lots of sun, and ample amounts of water, especially if you live in a hot dry climate.
Plus, tomato seeds are super easy to save for the following year!
Select your favorite tomatoes based upon their physical appearance for the best genes. Slice your tomato in half with the “stem end … on one side and the blossom end on the other,” in order to “expose the seed cavities.” Next, scoop the seeds into a bowl, add a bit of water if there’s not enough jelly (tomato guts), cover, and set aside in a warm spot for two to four days to allow to ferment (you’ll know its done when you see mold and it starts to bubble!). Remove the mold covering, add some water, shake vigorously, and you’ll notice the good seeds sinking to the bottom. Simply strain the seeds, rinse, and dry — spread on a dish and allow them to dry naturally and completely — then store in an airtight container!
Bell peppers are one of the natural sweets of the vegetable kingdom and one of my favorite veggies to grow! They are crisp, juicy, and sweet, making them an all-time classic raw snack for kids and adults alike. Plus, bell peppers are filled with lovely nutrients including vitamin C, which will come in handy as the seasons begin to change, the temperature drops, and that yearly cold you always get starts cropping up!
Saving the seeds from bell peppers is actually relatively easy!
Always choose the best fruit from the bunch in order to recreate only the most desirable genes. Wait for the bell pepper to not only ripen but also wait until the skin gets a bit wrinkly. This will ensure that the “pods you have chosen become fully mature for the maximum pepper seed viability.” Slice the pepper open, remove the seeds, remove those that are damaged and/or discolored, then “spread them out on paper towels or newspaper to dry.” Take note, seeds should dry in a warm place, but not directly in the sunlight! Complete drying can take over a week, so be patient.
That’s it! Now you just have to store them.
Choose a room that is kept consistently cool and dry. Store your seeds in containers that won’t allow air or moisture in such as “airtight plastic bags within a Tupperware container, for example, in the fridge,” or even in “tightly sealed glass containers.”
If you’re a first-time seed saver — or even a first-time gardener — then peas may be the perfect veggie to start out and experiment with, mostly because they are the easiest! In fact, peas are widely recognized as the “easiest types of seeds to collect from the garden, and one of the most recognizable seeds too.”
First off, wait until the “pod has turned brown and looks dried out, then you know it’s time to harvest pea seeds for planting.” The pea seeds can also turn a slightly tan color and may even rattle around in the pod, which is totally fine, this just means that they’re definitely ready to harvest for seed saving! Break open the pods, collect the pea seeds, and (if they aren’t completely dry) lay them out on a paper towel, newspaper, or paper plate in a warm place to completely dry. You’ll know that they’re ready for storage when they are completely and solidly hard.
Similarly to tomato and bell pepper seeds, make sure to store your pea seeds in an airtight container, in a temperature-controlled space, that is cool, dry, and secure.
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