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 Saving Your Seeds

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sunflwrseeds.jpg (125x100 -- 3040 bytes)This Our Garden Gang article covers the basics of saving popular home garden flower and vegetable seeds.  It is important to note that plants grown from the seed you save will not necessarily be like the parent unless you can prevent cross-pollination of different types of plants in the same family.  When plants cross-pollinate, you can get some lovely hybrids - like delightful flower shades never seen before. 

You can also get some Frankensteins - it depends on the parentage involved in the cross!  If you want to have plants exactly like the parent, you must ensure that no cross pollination occurs, which can be an iffy business.  Most nursery plants are hybrids, and the seeds of these plants will usually revert to a less floriferous or fruitful variety.

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So you'll know what to look for, here is garden sexologist "Dr. Wren" with

Sex Ed for Gardeners  

flower-parts.gif (245x201 -- 5568 bytes)Flowering plants reproduce sexually.  Some plants are male, some are female.  Most plants with which we will deal have "perfect"  flowers, meaning they are both male and female and have both kinds of parts.

The male part is the stamen, which produces the yellow grains of pollen.  The female part is the pistil, in the center of the cluster of stamens.  When the pollen from the stamen lands on the stigma, (the top of the pistil or female part) a tube develops connecting the stigma to the ovary at the base of the style and allowing the pollen to fertilize the ovary.  The ovary swells and the seeds develop within it.  The swollen ovary is better known as a fruit.  

If there are no insects around to help your plants "have sex", you have to do it yourself.  Using a a soft artist's paintbrush, move some pollen from the stamen to the pistil, the way bees, bugs and wind do.  Not much to it, you just give nature a better chance.  That's where seeds (the fruit) come from.


Saving Flower Seeds


Flower seed heads fall into 2 main types - those that form pods with the seeds inside like poppies, love-in-a-mist (nigella), hosta, impatiens, etc., and those that form tufts with the seeds joined to a base and the ends open to the air like marigolds, sweet williams, carnations, sunflowers, etc.

Pod-Type Seeds

nigella_seed_pod.jpg (150x86 -- 3423 bytes)When the seeds are ripe, the pod will split or even burst open with surprising force - like impatiens for example.  The trick is to recognize when they are nearly ready so you can harvest them before the pods split and spill the seed.  For seed pods like sweet peas, lupines, nigella (shown here), cleome, and others whose pods turn dark or straw-colored long before they will split to expose their seeds, harvesting is simple.  Using a small bag or a mailing envelop, place this immediately below the pod and snip off the entire pod with shears so it falls into the container.

For seed pods like those of impatiens which remain green, a little more guesswork is required.  When you see a pod has grown to approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch in diameter, it is just about ready to "pop".  Try to get the pod inside of the paper bag or envelop before cutting it from the plant, as it may explode on you with the least bit of contact or movement.

Store the paper container in an airy, dry location to let the pods dry completely.  Then crush them with your hands through the bag or envelope.  For larger seeds like the lupines or sweet peas, you can easily remove the bits of pod leaving only the seed.  For tiny seed like poppy or nicotiana, carefully empty the contents onto a sheet of paper and using tweezers if necessary, remove the larger bits of pod, and sift the rest through a fine sieve into a bowl.

Put them into a labelled, sealed container that will keep humidity out, and store in a cool, dark place until it's time to start seeding in spring.


Tuft-Type Seeds

It's easy to tell when tuft-forming seeds like sunflowers are ready - the trick is to beat the squirrels and birds to them!  When the shells have formed, and begin to loosen, they are ready to harvest.  Shake them off the flower into a container held below the flower head, or remove the flower head and pick them off one at a time.

clematisseeds.jpg (150x110 -- 3536 bytes)For flowers like marigolds, wait until the petals from the spent flowers have turned crispy brown, or have fallen off completely, and the base of the "tuft" has grown quite large in comparison to the size at the time the flower was spent.  Often, the leafy calyx holding the tufts together at the base begins to split.  For ones like clematis shown here, wait until the seed head becomes feathery-looking.  Hold a paper bag or mailing envelope below the seed head and snip off the head letting it drop into the paper container.

Let the seeds dry thoroughly in an airy, dry location in the paper container.  Then crush them with your hands while they are inside the bag or envelope.  Remove as much of the dried bits from the seeds as you can.

Put them into a labelled, sealed container that will keep humidity out, and store in a cool, dark place until it's time to start seeding in spring.

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Saving Tomato Seeds


Preserve seed only from nonhybrid (open-pollinated) tomatoes.  They produce offspring just like themselves, with only slight variations.  On the other hand, hybrid tomatoes,  which include most modern varieties, produce offspring that won't tomato_seeds.jpg (125x115 -- 3703 bytes) necessarily look or taste the same as the parents.

Preserve seed that hasn't been cross-pollinated.  All tomatoes are self-pollinating, but a few kinds (currant or potato-leaf types like 'Brandywine') can be cross-pollinated by some insects.  If you're not growing currant or potato-leaf types, or you're growing just one of these in addition to other types of tomatoes, you can save seed from this year's harvest.  To prevent cross-pollination in the future, cover flowers with a bag made from cheesecloth or spun-polyester fiber (available at nurseries) before blossoms open.  Tag the covered flower stem with brightly colored yarn.  Remove the cover when fruits are developing.

  • Harvest fruits when they're thoroughly ripe and soft.  Tomato seeds are enclosed in a gel sac; to remove the sac and to help destroy seed-borne diseases, put them through a fermentation process.

  • Wash the fruit, then cut it in half across the middle (not the stem end). Gently squeeze seeds and juice into a labeled glass or plastic container. Fill containers about half full, then set them out of direct sun in an area where you won't be bothered by the ripening odor or fruit flies.  (You can cover if you prefer, but keep them out from under your nose when you open the container to stir them about now and then.)

  • Allow the seed mixture to sit until the surface is partially covered with whitish mold (in three to five days).  In warm climates, you may need to add a little water midway through the process to keep the seeds afloat.  Scrape off the white mold with a spoon, being careful not to remove seeds.

  • Fill the container with water, then stir; the good seeds will sink to the bottom.

  • Pour off and discard floating seeds and pulp.  Repeat until the good seeds are clean. Pour the cleaned seeds into a fine strainer; rinse and drain.

  • Sprinkle seeds onto a plate and allow them to dry for one to three days, depending on the weather.  Keep them out of direct sun.  To make sure they dry thoroughly and don't stick together, stir twice a day.  Store dried seeds in a cool, dry, dark place in individually labelled airtight containers until planting time next spring.

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Saving Pepper Seeds


pepper_seeds.jpg (120x137 -- 3905 bytes) Peppers are the easiest seed to save.  The seeds are mature after the peppers have changed color to their final stage of ripeness.  The color is usually red, to a dark red-brown for non-hybrid peppers. 

Again, it is important to save seed only from heritage or open-pollinated types of peppers, which include almost all the hot peppers, and those like cubanelle, Italian and shepherd type peppers.

Cut the peppers open, scrape the seeds onto a plate, eat the pepper and let the seeds dry in airy, shaded place, testing them occasionally until they break rather than bend.  Then store in a labelled, air-tight container in a cool, dry, dark location.


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Saving Curcurbit Seeds


The Cucurbits family, crops such as squash, cucumbers, gourds, eggplant, pumpkins and melons must be pollinated by insects, so unless close relatives (of the same species) have been separated by a half-mile or more, you'll get some kind of squash surprise if you grow seeds. 

Melons and Winter Squash

melons.jpg (150x94 -- 3629 bytes)Seeds of  melons and winter squash are ready for saving when the fruits are ripe and ready to eat.  Simply pluck the seeds from the fruit.  Rinse or rub under running water in a sieve to remove any pulp, and let dry completely in a cool, airy location.

They are dry enough when they break, rather than bend.  Store in a labelled, sealed container in a dark, dry and cool location.


Eggplant

eggplant3.jpg (150x97 -- 3921 bytes)To save the seeds of eggplants, you'll need to wait until the fruits are far past the stage when you'd pick them for kitchen purposes.  Left on the plant, purple eggplant varieties will ripen to a dull-brownish color and will turn yellowish-green.  The white ones become golden.  Eggplants ready for seed saving will be dull, off-colored and hard. 

Cut the ripe eggplants in half and pull the flesh away from the seeded areas.  If you want to save more than a few seeds, a food processor comes in handy to mash the flesh and expose the seeds.  Let them dry completely.  They are dry enough when the seeds can't be nicked by a fingernail.  Save in a labelled, sealed container in a cool, dark, dry location.

Cucumbers

cukes_lots.jpg (149x99 -- 4006 bytes)After cucumbers ripen, they change color and start to become mushy.  NOTE:  Remember, if you stop picking cucumbers, their vines will stop producing new fruit, so you may want to pick your seed-savers toward the end of the season. 

Cut the ripe cucumber in half and scrape the seeds into a bowl.  To remove their slimy coating, rub them gently around the inside of a sieve while washing them or soak them in water for 2-days.  Rinse and dry completely.  They are dry enough when they break rather than bend.  Store in a labelled, sealed container in a cool, dark, dry location.

Summer Squash

zucchini.jpg (149x86 -- 3662 bytes)You'll need to let your summer squash ripen past the tender stage, too.  When you can't dent the squash with a fingernail, it's ready to have its seed saved.  Pick it, cut it open, scrape the seeds into a bowl, wash, drain and let dry completely.  

They are dry enough when they break rather than bend.  Store in a labelled, sealed container in a cool, dark, dry location.

Watermelon

watermelonseeds.jpg (96x80 -- 2002 bytes)And then there's Watermelons.  After finishing off the tasty flesh, put the seeds (spitting contests optional) in a strainer and add a drop of dish washing liquid to remove any sugar and saliva left on the seeds.  

Let them dry thoroughly and then store in a labelled, sealed container in a cool, dark, dry location.

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Peas and Beans


beans.jpg (149x97 -- 5390 bytes)Peas and beans will be left on the vine far longer than the eating stage.  Once the pods have turned very hard and leathery and the bumps from the inner beans are very apparent and firm feeling when squeezed, they are ready to harvest for seed.  

Split the pods and remove the seeds.  Let dry completely - they should be so hard that you can't nick them with a fingernail.  Store in an air tight container, in a cool, dry, dark location.

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