There is something very gratifying in saving seeds from one year to the next. However, there are a few things to know in order to preserve them for the long term.
Below are some seed saving techniques to store those valuable seeds for planting next year and beyond.
1. Choose Open-Pollinated Varieties
Unlike hybrid varieties, open-pollinated varieties cross-pollinate with plants of the same variety. These bring forth seeds that produce plants that are very similar to the parent plant .
Therefore, by choosing open-pollinated, you will have seeds to continuously cultivate, having the same high quality as the parent plant.
Heirloom seeds are old favorite varieties that are at least 50 years old. You can preserve these seeds for replanting year after year.
2. Grow Enough Plants
Some plants may not produce as many seeds. Additionally, other plants needed for pollination may be in short supply or it is simply a variety that provides few seeds.
Experience will soon give you a list of those that only need a single plant to reproduce. Also, there will be those that will need the benefit of growing plenty of the favored variety.
Whatever the case, grow enough plants so you will have enough for food and seed-saving purposes.
3. Collect Mature Seeds
Gather seeds from plants or crops when they are fully mature and dry. The usual time is when the flowers start to fade, as the end of the season nears.
Lettuces may begin to bolt and ripe tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables will be past their best.
Bean pods are easy to determine as the pods will become dry and brown and start to open for themselves. However, fruit berries may be a problem as the birds can often make a meal of them even before picking time.
Collect seeds from pods when they are dry. You can also gather them when still green, as long as you keep them in their pods to continue ripening.
Additionally, allow fruits to ripen fully before scooping out the seeds.
4. Save Seeds from the Best Plants
When saving vegetable seeds for replanting, collect seeds from the best plants.
This is just like a process of natural selection whereby if you want bigger fruits, collect seeds from the biggest and best of one year’s crop.
Repeat so you keep producing healthy crops year after year. Moreover, choose from the healthiest and do not save any from disease-infested plants.
There are 2 methods to harvest seeds, depending on the crop – dry fruited or wet fruited. Test dry seeded crops like beans or grains by the condition of the pod, capsule, or seed-head.
For peas and beans, if the outer covering is brown and crumbly or ready to pop, then it’s a good bet it’s time to collect the seed. Continue drying in a well-ventilated room indoors.
On the other hand, wet seeded crops are those that contain the seed within the moist flesh of the fruit. Examples are tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, pumpkins, and watermelons.
With wet seeds, you’ll need to leave some fruits to over-ripe. Next, squeeze the seeds or press them from the flesh and dry them.
In both methods, ensure seeds are absolutely dry before storing.
6. Thoroughly Clean Them
Most dry seeds which include flowers, herbs, and beans need only minimal cleaning.
The chaff on grains and flower heads needs to be winnowed by tossing from one container to another to blow away the outer husks. Simply rolling or rubbing free of chaff and dirt may suffice.
With wet seeds, cut the fruit open and take out the surrounding pulpy gel. Next, extract the seeds and wash or let them stand in water until the gel comes away naturally.
You’ll then carefully remove the floating gel and the few surface seeds. Pour off the water and keep the seeds that remain at the bottom. Finally, dry them off completely on cotton or paper towels.
7. Dry Before Storing
Choose a well-ventilated room and spread the seeds out, leaving some gaps between so the air can get to each one.
You can place them on paper towels, plates, baking sheets, or anything that will allow enough space for the seeds to spread thinly. However, do not use paper towels if the seeds are wet as they’ll stick to them.
Moreover, it’s even better if you place them on a screen mesh as the air will reach both the top and bottom.
To properly dry seeds for next year, let them rest for about a week in the open. Next, gently stir them then allow another 2-3 weeks to properly dry for storage.
8. Store Properly
To preserve seeds for planting, they must be dried and stored correctly.
Collect the dried seeds and put them in seed packets with identifying labels. Use moisture-absorbing packets if possible.
Next, put the packets in mason jars or sealed containers like Tupperware boxes and store them in a dark and dry cool place.
You can use your refrigerator for storage but most gardeners prefer simply to keep them in a dry, cool area.
In our opinion, freezing seeds for next year and beyond may be the best way to store them long-term. If done properly, freezing will not kill or harm the seeds.
Pack the dried seeds in sealed glass jars or airtight containers and freeze them. However, when defrosting, leave the containers to thaw slowly at room temperature for at least a day.
9. Put on Your Labels
Mark the date harvested on packets to be sure to plant out at the correct time the next year or beyond that.
Additionally, keep the packets in separate marked boxes or containers with the correct labels so you do not get confused later.
10. Test Seeds for Germination Before Planting
Use some kitchen paper towels for this process.
Lightly wet the sheets and loosely wrap 30-40 seeds in them and leave for about a week. Ensure that you keep it moist and warm during this period.
Germination speed depends on the seed and how warm the environment is. The warmer the area, the faster germination will be.
Germination usually takes about 1 to 2 weeks; however, some seeds may take longer.
How long seeds last and be productive is not an exact science so trial and error may be the most effective gauge.
Generally, it depends on what condition the seeds are in and good storage. Most annual flower seeds have 2-3 years and perennials a little longer.
However, it’s best to replace vegetable seeds every 2 years. Though some like tomato, cucumber, Brassicas, and squash can store successfully for 4 to 5+ years.
Where to Buy Seeds?
If you do not wish to go through the process of saving your garden seeds for next season, the best place to buy vegetable seeds is from organic retailers such as SeedsNow. They are one of the best online organic heirloom seed companies.
Collecting and saving vegetable seeds for your organic backyard garden can be a laborious chore. However, the pleasure and money-saving benefits make the effort ultimately rewarding.