Harvest season may be winding down, but your garden can keep on giving into next year. In fact, now's the perfect time to gather and save seeds from your best crops, to sow next spring and to use as winter spices. Small though they may be, those little pods hold a bounty of possibility.
Why Save Seeds?
- Saving the seeds from your best crops will help ensure a repeat performance next year.
- Seeds from mustard greens, fennel, cilantro (coriander) and other flavorful crops can be used as spices and to make your own condiments.
- Saving heirloom and organic seeds helps encourage genetic diversity, and lets you begin selecting the traits (color, shape, flavor) you like best.
- Roasted squash seeds make great snacks, while dried peas and beans are perfect for winter storage. You can never have too many!
How to Save Seeds
As your crops mature, let the best of each -- yes, the biggest, brightest and juiciest -- mature on the vine, or go to seed. By not eating it, you can make ten more like it next year.
For crops like tomatoes,cucumber and other "wet" plants, harvest your specimen as if you were going to eat it -- but instead, let it continue to ripen indoors at room temperature. When it softens, scoop out the seeds and wash them in warm water.
For crops like lettuce and other plants that go directly from flower to seed, leave them outdoors as long as possible to finish their natural cycle.
Tricks of the Trade
- Tomato seeds need to ferment for a few days, to remove their outer coating. Mash the fruit and put it in a jar until it gets a little crusty, then wash the seeds.
- Seeds from dry plants may need to be "threshed" - crushed slightly to remove their outer shells.
How to Store Seeds
Spread your seeds on a tray or screen, in a warm place with good air flow. Let them dry for at least a week, until they are brittle.
Pack seeds on a dry day. If you live in a humid area, package them with dry rice or grains to help absorb any extra moisture.
Store your seeds in the fridge or freezer! Many seeds need cold temperatures to germinate. This will also help them last longer. No matter what, you should use them within a couple of years for best results.
Want more ideas? Check out this collection of garden seed saving tips.
image: Bruce Guenter.