Every summer, I tell myself I’m going to save the seeds from successful plants. Then, fall arrives, the rain hits, and saving seeds seems like an unrealistic fantasy. It’s tough to get motivated to muck around outside when everything is so soggy. This year will be different! At least, that’s what I’ve vowed to myself. Now, I’m sharing that vow with you, so I’d better follow through.
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Tip 1: Seed Selection
The seeds I like to save are usually the seeds from flowers. Saving seeds from marigolds, cosmos and sunflowers is usually successful. If I catch them soon enough, I like to save foxglove seeds. Seeds from dill scatter naturally in our garden, so I don’t save those, although I could if I wanted to. I had never tried to save seeds from tomatoes before, but a conversation I had recently with a master gardener encouraged me to give it a try.
Tip 2: Harvesting and Saving Seeds from Plants
I usually only save seeds from plants which will have enough time to sprout from seed and produce a flower, fruit, or vegetable. To gather marigold and cosmos seeds, I just pull the seeds out of the flower head. Dry weather is nice, but when that’s not a possibility, I gather the flower heads and bring them inside to dry before harvesting the seeds. Sunflower seeds are fun for kids to harvest, as they pick apart the giant heads of the sunflowers. Foxgloves require a bit more planning. The seeds are so tiny, I like to put a paper bag over the spent blooms and shake the seeds into the bag. One thing I am looking forward to saving this year are my scarlet runner bean seeds. They’re a beautiful dark pinkish-purple!
Harvesting seeds from tomatoes is entirely different. I would not have even attempted it were it not for a conversation I had with a friend who happens to be a master gardener. (She isn’t fond of that term, by the way. In her opinion, it implies the master gardener knows everything about gardening, which isn’t the case.) Anyway, my friend made harvesting tomato seeds seem so easy, I decided to give it a try.
Tip 3: Separating Tricky Tomato Seeds
I had a few ripe tomatoes (not many), and some had been in the refrigerator. I selected one tomato from the fridge and one freshly picked from the garden. In a side-by-side test, I cut each tomato in half. I took out the seeds in their pulp, put the seeds from the refrigerated tomato in one jelly jar and the seeds from the garden-fresh tomato in another. Filling each jar about half full of water, I set them on the counter to see what would happen.
Sure enough, a few days later, the pulp had risen to the top, just as my friend had said it would.
The good seeds were lying at the bottom of both jars. I skimmed off the pulp, then drained the water through a fine mesh strainer. I kept the seeds from the refrigerated tomato separate from the other tomato seeds, and set them carefully on a paper towel to dry.
Tip 4: Making Sure the Seeds Are Dry
In western Oregon’s damp climate, making sure seeds are dry can be a challenge. It’s especially tough to dry seeds when everything outside is so wet and soggy. For the purpose of this blog post, though, I made myself go out into the garden in the rain. I slogged around and collected marigold and cosmos seeds. I’m afraid the sunflowers I planted didn’t mature in time to produce blooms. They were plagued by garden pests and had to be replanted three times! That’s another story, though. This is what I brought in from the garden on that dark and rainy day.
Tip 5: Storing Seeds
Once they had a chance to dry out a little bit, I gathered the marigold, cosmos, scarlet runner bean and tomato seeds. My friend who had given me the advice about separating tomato seeds didn’t get around to telling me about storing them. To learn about this, I turned to the University of Minnesota Extension Service. They have an excellent web page about saving seeds. Of particular interest to me was the section about seed storage, and I learned some quick facts.
According to the web page, seeds may be stored in glass jars or paper packets, labeled, of course. Silica gel (available at craft stores) folded into a tissue may be added to absorb moisture, but I don’t have any of that. I do have powdered milk, which may also be folded into a tissue and used for the same purpose.
Keep the seeds stored at temperatures between 32 and 41 degrees. If you have extra refrigerator space, the fridge is an ideal environment for seed storage. When spring rolls around, you’ll have some special seeds to plant.
What Are Your Favorite Seeds to Save?
What about you, my gardening friends from far and near? Do you have a favorite seeds to save? I save the seeds from plants I am able to grow fairly easily. Maybe there are special plants you grow well in your area which are different from the plants grown in my area. I’d love to know about them, as well as any additional seed-saving tips you may have.
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