Seed saving starts in the spring
I remember the year I couldn’t buy spaghetti squash seedlings. Store after store told me they were sold out, it was too late in the season (third week of May), they didn’t order the right seeds, and so on. It was a surprisingly distressing situation.
Growing food is a satisfying pastime, to be sure, but I also think a lot about food security. What can we do to make sure we’re not completely dependent on business systems to provide our food for us? If we can grow our own vegetables, we’re a little closer to the goal. If we can save seeds for the next season, we’ve begun a cycle of additional self-sufficiency that will benefit us year after year.
A neighbour who grows the most beautiful tomatoes and peppers told me they brought the seeds with them from their homeland many years ago. Saving these seeds for the next year’s harvest not only ensures that they have their favourite varieties, but also preserves the precious tastes and memories of their family history.
Seeds that are easy to save
Some seeds are easier to save than others. Some require more skill, more commitment or more space. Starting with even a few types of seeds is good experience and a step in the right direction. The most important thing to consider now, in the spring, is what varieties you plant. For success, it is important to choose open pollinated varieties so the plants you grow from your own seed the following year will come true to type.
Plants that are self-pollinating and produce seed in the same season they are planted are the easiest to save seeds from. Beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers are all well worth trying.
Peas and beans
Leave some of the nicest early pods on the vine. You might tie yarn around their stems so they don’t get picked by accident. When the pods start to look fat, dry and withered, collect them and shell out the seeds. Air dry these in a single layer for a few weeks, then label for storage in paper bags or envelopes.
Which plant fruited earliest and produced the tastiest, well-sized tomatoes? Leave a couple of these tomatoes on the vine, marked with yarn at the stem, until they are fully ripe. To save the seeds, cut the tomato in half, squeeze out the seeds and the gel that surrounds them. Put the seeds and gel in a jar of water for one to two days, then rinse them well in a strainer. The gel will release the seeds which you can then dry for a week or more before packaging, labelling and storing.
Mark several fruits to save, just as we described with tomatoes. Leave these on the plant until they begin to wrinkle. Don’t rush this ripening time. When fully mature, cut open the pepper, scrape out the seeds and separate them from the pith. Spread the seeds thinly on a plate to dry, stirring every day or so. It will take a week or more. Package and label.
Dry your seeds in a warm place out of sunlight. After that, to preserve them the longest, keep them cool, dark and dry because moisture could cause them to develop mold or sprout. Seeds can be viable for a decade or more, even longer if you keep them in an airtight container in the freezer.
Good luck with your seed saving as we travel along the path of growing food together.
Karen is past president of the Abbotsford Community Garden Society, where she has been a member since 2010 and served on the board of directors for eight years. A student of organic gardening all her life, she is an advocate for local, sustainable food systems and ecologically responsible lifestyles.