We’re coasting out of summer. At first, it seemed like it would never arrive; now, it seems to be clawing at the rim, refusing to leave. Soon enough, the main gardening activity we’ll all be doing is poring over seed catalogs, dreaming of warm summer days and freshly-picked produce from the garden.
Right now is a great time to save the seeds of the best-producing of those veggies from this year’s garden. Why pay a seed company 65 cents a seed for a tomato seed when you can save for yourself and your gardening friends (and drop off a few in the Wimer Seed Library) with just a few minutes work. There is also the huge satisfaction of completing the circle from seed to harvest and back to seed again – SUSTAINABILITY! If providing an entire meal at this time of year with vegetables grown less than 100 feet from your back door, then how much more local it is to use vegetables where the seed never came from more than 100 feet away!
There is nearly a mystique about sustainability and propagating life, whether human, animal or plant. With plants, the work is almost unquestioningly left to ‘experts’, even though the processes are natural and have gone on since time immemorial. “Experts” may have their place, but when it comes to the incredible variety of vegetables available, backyard seed-savers also deserve due recognition.
Saving the seed from any heirloom vegetable is easy. If you have a favorite variety, or even just want to try seed saving for the fun of it, take a few minutes to learn about the process and give it a go.
Many of us learn about the basic principles of seed saving in grade school. Kids are usually taught how to collect seed by drying and picking apart enormous sunflowers, or by threshing pods filled with colorful beans. These are all wonderful, hands-on projects for children, which teach practical, sustainable and real-world lessons. But as adults we sometimes find it easier to just purchase a few seed packets. There’s nothing complicated about saving seed. Many seeds can be saved by simply drying, threshing, separating and storing them in a sealed jar in the refrigerator, or in a dry, cool and dark place in envelopes, bags or jars. The easiest of these are, of course, the sunflower and beans, but also squash, pumpkin, melon, pepper and peas. Just clean them, dry them off and put them safely away. Other seeds, such as tomato and cucumber, are most successfully saved using a wet-method (seeds are scraped with a spoon into loosely covered jars, where they are stirred for a few days – then rinsed of pulp, strained and dried for several more days on paper towels).
Curious to learn more? A great online resource is the Seed Savers Exchange, www.seedsavers.org. In addition to providing information about how and when to collect and save seed, they also publish wonderful articles like, The Seed Saver’s Exchange is a non-profit which began in 1975, collecting and selling an enormous variety of heirloom seed through their wonderful catalogue (which you can download from the site). Another good resource is the non-profit Organic Seed Alliance (www.seedalliance.org) , which has an abundance of free and useful information, including downloadable seed-saving publications and instructions, available online.