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Seed Saving 101

Seed saving is back en vogue, and for good reason! Not only does it save you money and give you more control over your own garden, but it also allows you to plant seeds that work in your garden and, as an added bonus, gives you a nice gift to share with friends and family. Plus, it's fun!

Here's how to do it:

How to Save Flower Seeds

See a beautiful flower in a friend's garden? Love your sunflowers? Noticed your herbs flowered and went to seed? Find a clump of wildflowers you'd like to grow in your own garden? All great opportunities to save flower seeds, with a couple of caveats. Make sure you ask permission if the flowers are in someone else's garden and only harvest wildflowers if there is an abundance of them so you leave plenty behind.

Flower seeds are usually pretty easy to save. Choose a sunny day. Wait until the flowerhead is old, dry, and mostly petal-less, then cut the stem off about an inch below the flowerhead and throw it in a labeled envelop to sort and process in the cold months ahead. Or, if you have time now, identify the seeds and gently pull or shake them from the flowerhead and put them into a labeled envelop.

How can you identify the seeds? Seeds are located in the middle of the petals and generally look like seeds that come in a packet. Not sure? Do an Ecosia search!

How to Save Vegetable Seeds

The vegetable garden is an excellent place to practice seed saving. If a particular plant grew really well in your garden, its offspring are more likely to grow well also. So pay attention to which plants look healthy and produce a lot of fruits or vegetables and save those seeds. Before I go through how to save vegetable seeds, I need to give you a tiny science lesson so you can understand which seeds can be easily saved and which can't. Sorry.

Hannah's Mini Science Lesson

There are three kinds of plant types in the garden: Inbred, Outcrossed and Hybrid/FI.

- Inbred plants such as beans, lettuce, eggplant, peas, peppers, and tomatoes, pollinate themselves, which means their seeds will produce the same plant as the parent plant. Save these!

- Outcrossed plants, such as beets, broccoli, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, squash, and pumpkins, require another plant for fertilization, which means that their seeds may not produce a plant that is the same as the parent. If you only grow one kind of corn, for example, you will likely get seeds that will grow that kind of corn (unless your neighbors also grow corn). If you have many varieties of each plant in the garden, however, outcrossed plants can give you a Frankenstein pumpkin-squash or melon-cucumber. If you are feeling adventurous and/or lucky, though, go for it!

- You should avoid Hybrid/FI plants entirely if you want to save seeds because the seeds will not likely produce the same plant as the parent plant.

Okay, now that you know which seeds to save in the veggie garden, I'll go back to seed saving...

Saving Seeds from lettuce, leafy greens, herbs, and other flowering, non-fruiting garden crops

The method for saving seeds from flowering plants that do not produce fruit is very similar to collecting seeds from flowers. Basically, let a few plants "go to seed", which means don't pull them and let them flower. After they've flowered, most produce visible seed heads or pods which can be thrown into an envelop on a dry day to be sorted in the cold months.

Saving Seeds from peas and beans

These are the easiest seeds to save. Just let a few pods grow old and dry on your vine and collect them when the seeds (beans and peas) are hard. I think these are the most satisfying seeds to save.

Saving Seeds from fruiting plants

Fruiting plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants are less fun to work with. The easiest, though rather unpleasant, method for collecting seeds from these plants is to let a fruit hang out on the vine until it gets good and overripe (you'll know, trust me). I usually pick them before they get mushy and put them on my counter for a couple days to ripen more. Then cut them open and scoop out the seeds/pulp inside. Now put the pulpy seed mixture onto cheese clothe or a mesh strainer (watch to make sure the holes are smaller than the seeds) and run water gently over the mixture. If you're lucky, the seeds will separate out. If you're not, you may be picking out the seeds by hand. Then lay the seeds on a hand towel or clean rag to dry out completely before placing them in a labeled envelop.

* Brief note: While you can save seeds from local fruits and veggies you buy at local farm stands, farmer's markets, or fruits that are gifted you from a neighbor, do not save seeds from non-local fruits from the grocery store. You have no ideas where these came from and what climate the seeds are used to.

Seed saving can be a wonderful hobby and a great one to share with kids. Saving seeds to share with friends, family, and neighbors as gifts is a perfect way to get others started (you can make really nice seed packets or let the kids design them). I have received seeds from many other gardeners and it always feels like a very personal gift (for more eco gift ideas, check out this page)

Happy gardening!


PS: Not ready for seed saving? Order your High Mowing Seeds in January!

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