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Tips for seed saving: The how and why of it

As summer wanes and fall approaches, the gardener’s thought turns to putting the garden to bed and planning for next year. This is the perfect time to start collecting seeds from your favorite crops for use next spring. Mother Earth News offered a few tips on how to do it correctly so that you get the best seeds and the best plants next year.

Tips for seed saving: The how and why of it
Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

First, define what it is you hope to accomplish by saving seeds. Are you trying to save money or perpetuate a particular variety? If you just want ample seeds, save them all. If you are trying to refine a variety to get produce that is true to its plant type, chose only seeds from the best plants that produce the cahracteristics you are looking for.

Next, only save seeds from non-hybrids. Hybrids are the offspring of two or more plant types. The seeds from the flowers or produce will not produce the hybrid you just grew but one that is more like one or the other parent plant. Open-pollinated plants are best for seed saving. These will produce one true generation after another.

To keep seeds true to their type, try alternating which crops you plant from year to year so that multiple varieties of the same plant type don’t cross pollinate. You can also segregate them in your garden to prevent cross pollination.

Label your seeds promptly and in great detail. Mark it with the variety and the year stored. You may want to note any details relating to the characteristics you are trying to preserve, too.

If you plan to harvest seed as well as crops, you may want to plant extra. The seeds are not often ready when the fruit is harvested. After harvest your desired crop, allow the other plants to go to seed. For those that develop pods, allow the pod to become dry but not to the point of shattering. Pluck the pods or plants in whole and allow them hang until dried out. Then thresh the plants in a bucket to collect the seeds. With flowers, wait until the flower heads have dried out on the stems. Hand pick the seeds and allow them to dry on a screen.

Allow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers to over-ripen on the vine. Remove the seeds form the fruit and soak the tomato and cucumber seeds to remove the gel sac that encases the seed. This sac can prevent germination and if left on can lead to fungal growth on the seeds. After soaking for 48 hours, the good seeds will sink to the bottom and the immature ones will float. Pour off the bad seed, water and pulp. Rinse the seeds again and drain. Spread them on newspaper or paper plates to dry. As they dry, break up any clumps. When completely dry, store and label the seeds.

You can use glass jars, plastic bags or paper envelopes to save seeds. Keep them out of the sunlight, in a cool dry place where the average temperature is about 50 degrees. The colder it is, the longer the seed will last. You can store them in the freezer for the best results. Simply allow the container to come to room temperature before opening it when you are ready to use the seeds.