Not all seeds are created equal. They can’t all be saved to plant the next year. Well, I guess they can be saved…it’s just not a good use of time to save seeds that won’t produce true to type, if they produce at all. This was a surprising discovery when I started to research seed saving. My main resource was seedsavers.org, but I traveled throughout the web confirming and looking for more information when I needed it.
If you plant a seed saved from a hybrid or a plant that has been cross-pollinated* such as squashes and peppers, it might grow something that resembles the original but it would probably not be something you would want to eat or even use for texture in a recipe.
(*Cross-pollination occurs when pollen from one plant is transferred to another. For example, Mr. Bee grabs some pollen from a cucumber and drops it in a zucchini.)
Squashes and peppers that are planted in the same area will be pollinated by thoughtless insects (see note on Mr. Bee above) who don’t care that you plan to save money by saving seeds for next year’s garden. They need A LOT of personal space…even more than the 500 feet (at least) needed between peppers and squash.
Since we didn’t take any of this into consideration when we planted our squash this year, and since most of our squash has contracted powdery mildew, we will only be saving seeds from our tomatoes, okra, amaranth and sunflowers this year.
Tomatoes are an excellent candidate for seed saving. They take care of pollinating themselves. You still need to avoid the hybrids, but you can plant 10 different heirlooms or non-hybrids right next to each other and save seeds from every single one.
Seeds are ready to save when the fruit is ready to eat. (Note: Fruit must be ripe so if you, like me, are obsessed with fried green tomatoes, go ahead and compost those seeds. They won’t produce anything).
You pick a few ripe tomatoes and squeeze seeds and juice into a strainer, wash and spread on a paper plate or paper towel and dry. Voila!
Okra is another great seed saving candidate. The plants are cross-pollinated, so if you plant more than one variety you will need to cover the blossoms with cloth bags or separate the varieties by 1 mile. The pods have to turn good and brown and get dry on the plant before they are ready. Be sure to harvest before the pods split open so you don’t lose the seeds to the birds.
Amaranth seeds are tiny. To save them cut seed heads when they just start to get dry. Hang them upside-down in large paper bags to collect the seeds. The cool thing about amaranth seeds is that they can be saved for years and if you lose any in the garden when you are harvesting…they just may sprout the next year.
Sunflower seeds are easy (and fun) to save. I waited until I could see the black and white striping on the seeds and than hacked off the flower head and sat at the patio table brushing the seeds into a bowl. Right now they are spread out on a cookie sheet in the oven and the pilot light is drying them out…just like I do the eggshells. I’ll put them in a jar and label them for next year.
That brings me to storing the seeds. My plan is to use baggies or make little envelopes out of old newspaper, label and drop into mason jars. Maybe I’ll recruit Joe to help me make the newspaper bags.