An Introduction to Seed Saving

Day 131 of 365

I love seeds. They are this perfect little combination of science and magic, and, of course, they are essential to our lives here on our little farmstead. They can also be expensive. One of the things I have learned to do as a part of our efforts to live self sufficiently is save seeds. There are some seeds I have not yet learned how to save. I have not managed to through the processes of saving tiny carrot seeds or spinach seeds, but some seeds are just so big and easy to save. It just makes good sense to save them. Saving seeds saves money and makes it so we are just a little more self sufficient.

In some states, saving some seeds is actually illegal, which is hard for me to fathom. Thankfully, in most states, it is still fine to save seeds. If you have never saved seeds, I highly recommend starting with the easy ones. So far, I stick to the easy ones and have had good success. I regularly save our green beans, dry beans, corn, tomatoes, and pumpkins.

When you save seeds, you do have to make sure you are not working with hybrid seeds. When you plant hybrid seeds, you can’t be sure what will grow. You really want to work with heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are time tested seeds that have been passed down for generations and are non GMO. I also like heirloom seeds because they have been time tested to be good seeds. We have had good fortune with heirloom seeds producing tasty, sturdy food.

Since fall is the time of year to save seeds, I thought I would share the tips I have learned over the years. I hope these tips will be helpful to you. And, if you are a more experienced seed saver and have saved other kinds of seeds, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

photo credit: Engin Akyurt, Unsplash

Green Beans 
To save green bean seeds for next year, just leave several beans on each of your plants to grow big at the end of the season—the more plants, the better the genetic diversity. When the beans are big and lumpy and start to yellow, they are easiest to save. Just shell them and put them in a cool dry place to dry. 

Dry Beans  
Dry beans are the easiest because you are going to get them into shape for saving and storing anyway. After you harvest your beans, make sure you have a cool, dry place for your beans to dry out. Also, make sure you give them enough space. Mold is the enemy here. Once the pods start to feel a little bit dry, you can shell the beans and then spread them out to continue drying. Don’t put them away until the beans are completely dried. As an alternative, instead of picking the beans and then drying, you can also just hang your plants to dry and go from there. 

Squash and Pumpkins 
When you cut open your squash and pumpkins in the fall, simply remove some of the seeds for saving. Wash them to remove strings and such and then let them dry on a towel for about a week. Once they are good and dry, they can be stored in a cool, dry place, just like other seeds. Just be aware, if you have planted multiple types of squash near each other, you may not get pure seeds. Squash seeds, if stored well, can last for several years. 

Tomatoes 
To save seeds from your favorite tomatoes, all you have to do is choose some tomatoes that are big and strong and squish them up. If you are looking for saving tomato seeds that will be good for several years, you should use the fermentation method. Add water and the squished tomatoes to a glass jar. The water helps the seeds separate from the tomato. Then, place the jar in a warm spot for a few days. You should see a layer of moldy stuff start to form on the top of the mixture. Once you see the mold at the top and seeds at the bottom, you can remove the icky mold and run your mixture through a strainer to keep your seeds. Be sure to clean your seeds well and let them dry on a towel for several days. Then, just store your seeds in a cool dry place like your other seeds.

If you are planning to use your tomato seeds the next year, all you have to is wipe the seeds from your favorite tomatoes onto paper towels. Let them dry for a couple of weeks. Then, you can just fold up the paper towel and store the seeds in the towel in a cool dry place.

Corn
Corn is also easy to save. You just have make sure you have heirloom corn seeds. So many corn seeds are hybrids. There is also the issue that hybrid corn is often sweeter and tastier, but heirloom corn seeds still make delicious corn. Plus, you get the benefit of being able to seed save. Just save several ears of corn from your harvest and hang the ears in a cool, dry place to dry. Once they are dried, you can just wiggle the seeds loose and save your seeds for next year. The one issue I had when I first started saving corn seeds is that I didn’t save my seeds from enough different plants, so I wasn’t getting good genetic diversity. Still, even my beginner attempt provided us with corn seeds for three years before we decided to start fresh with new seeds. But it’s best if you can save seeds from at least ten different ears of corn. I had been using three or four.

*A portion of this essay was originally published in Volume I of the Farmer-ish print annual.

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