Seed Saving: How to Save Squash Seeds

The basics of seed saving include hand pollination, drying and storing. Learn how to save squash seeds ensure the best plants for next season.

| December 2012

In The Resilient Gardener (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010) scientist and gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields—resilience science, climate change, sustainable agriculture and more. In this book you’ll learn how to garden in an era of unpredictable weather and climate change; grow, store and cook different varieties of her five “key crops”; and keep a home laying flock of ducks or chickens. Deppe didn’t just write this book, she lives the principles in it every day, and you can, too, with her expert advice. In this excerpt from chapter 10, “Squash and Pumpkins,” learn the basics of seed saving and how to save squash seeds. 

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: The Resilient Gardener.

Hoarding Squash Seeds and Pumpkin Seeds

I introduced the idea of hoarding seeds, that is, putting away a long-term, ideally frozen stash of seed of every variety you care about, whether you save seed of the variety or not. I didn’t start out with that policy. I started out, as most seed savers do, simply saving seeds of certain varieties and not others. Since I was actively breeding both pepos and maxes, I had to do lots of seed saving for my breeding projects. I figured I didn’t have to also save seed of the squash varieties that are widely available commercially. As should be graphically apparent, that turned out to be a big mistake. No matter how widely used and available a variety is, we really cannot count upon the commercial supply. I did not actually need to save seed of every variety initially, however. It would have been sufficient if I had simply hoarded some of the good “store-bought” seed of each variety I cared about. Then I could have used the hoard to start saving my own seed of a variety when something went wrong with the commercial lines.

To hoard squash seed we have bought, we often need to dry it additionally. We need to learn how to evalu­ate squash seed to see whether and when it is dry enough. The way to do this is to shell out some seeds and examine the seed shells and the meats separately. When the seed is dry enough, the shell is brittle, and the meat is also. The meat snaps clean when you bend it instead of bending. Very often, small seed such as is typical of pepos is easy to dry, but people often don’t dry the big seeds from the larger-seeded max varieties well enough. What happens with the latter is that it is easy to dry them to where the shell or whole seed is dry enough to snap, but the meat isn’t. The moisture content is too high. In addition, the moisture from the meat re-hydrates the shell in storage, often enough so that the seed molds if stored at room temperature. So to evaluate the dryness of squash seed, always shell some and test the meats.

Saving Squash Seeds and Pumpkin Seeds

Saving our own seeds is the ultimate act of gardening resilience. It’s also a lot of fun. We can produce seed of much higher quality than what we can usually buy. In addition, by doing selection properly, we can improve each variety and shape it so that it better fits our growing conditions, tastes, and purposes. We can enjoy a glorious bounty of seed. We can over-sow cheerfully, saving ourselves considerable work in the process. We can have seed enough to share, seed enough to give away, and in some cases, even seed enough to sell. Buffalo Bird Woman normally traded a single string of seed ears of corn for a tanned buffalo robe. Seed is valuable. Knowing how to save seed is one of the most valuable of gardening skills. Good seed is the ultimate high-value garden crop.

There are four basic aspects to seed saving. One is just the physical processing of the seed. Many people think of this as the primary aspect. It isn’t. Learning to clean squash and dry squash seed just gets you some seed that will grow some something or other. The squash or pumpkins that result may be nothing like the plant the seed fruit came from; the fruits may not even be edible. The primary aspect to seed saving is controlling pollina­tion so that the seed you save is pure seed of the variety you want.

2/9/2013 2:35:08 PM

The Resilient Gardener written by Carol Deppe is the most in depth book that I've ever read about gardening. All aspects of gardening are covered. Guide lines for not only which hand tools are best but information on how to use them with the least amount of strain on back and legs is included. Food preservation with the least amount of energy and time opens up new thoughts about how to keep produce through out the winter months. I checked this book out from the library but am certainly going to purchase this book for my garden library.

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