Old Fashioned Seed Saving

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By Renee-Lucie Benoit

Have you ever thought of saving seed from your vegetables or flowers only to get stymied because it seems like a lot of trouble for possible failed returns? I’m here to assure you it isn’t as hard as you might think and it’s also not as risky. You might read about seed saving from the experts, if you wish, but don’t let them intimidate you. They throw around big words like “open pollinated” and things like that, but let me tell you great grandma did not have this science. She just knew that she would let certain plants go to seed and then she’d take them. It wasn’t a big deal. I was curious as to when commercially packaged seeds became available. They’re ubiquitous now. Almost no one saves their own seed but not too long ago that’s all everyone did.

According to Wikipedia, the Watervliet Shakers near Albany, New York are thought to have been the first to package seeds in small, paper envelopes and then sell the seed commercially in 1811. I think it would be very cool if everyone started saving seed again. There’s only a few things you really need to know.

This year I am saving seeds from sunflowers, spinach, tomatoes and cilantro. I might also try zucchini and zinnias. These all have “big” seeds that are easy to find. Just for fun I’m also going to go along the road sides and take seeds from the wild sunflowers I find. I want to seed the ditch in front of our house for a nice crop of wild sunflowers next year.

If you grow a garden from store bought seed make sure you get varieties that say “perennial.” Here are some of the sunflowers I am growing this year that I’m going to let dry out and get seeds from. I like the idea of sunflowers. The seeds are really big and are almost fool proof.

Look at these beauties!

A dried up sunflower ready to have seeds removed.

This is a lot of almost free seed!

For anything where I plan to save back seed I grow extra so I could have some to eat, use for cut flowers and some to let go to seed. I also leave some for the birds. They have to eat, too!

And speaking of birds that’s one way to tell if seeds are getting mature. Watch to see when the birds are coming to eat. If I’ve grown a lot there’s plenty for both them and me so I don’t worry to much. I wait until the flowers die back and get brown and crunchy. I keep looking at them as they wither to see when I’m getting some seed. This is when the flower is pretty dry (see above).

For crops that produce “wet” vegetables, the seeds are usually not mature when the vegetables are ready to eat. We eat eggplant, cucumber, and zucchini when the fruits are immature and tasty, but before the seeds are actually mature. This means that I need to leave a few vegetables to fully mature to save the seeds. You’ll see a vegetable that is getting very soft and even decaying. The harvested vegetables are either crushed or cut open, and the seeds are extracted from the flesh and then the seeds are dried. I’m going to do this with my tomatoes this year. Last year I let some tomatoes stay on the vine and this year a got a few plants just growing like “wild” all by themselves. I have had this happen numerous times.

Certain vegetables, like lettuce or beans, can be harvested once seeds are dry and hard. Cilantro is an herb I grow a lot to use in tacos, sauces and marinades. What I love about cilantro is that not only can I use it fresh but I can crush the seeds and make coriander which is an Indian spice.

Here are my spinach seeds. Pretty big, huh?

Little round seeds of the cilantro are not quite ready. Let them get a little brown and dried out.

Lettuce is also not ready. Wait until the flowers die back and dry.

Store your seeds in a cool, dark, and dry place. When you get really good at this you can think about selling the seeds as a boutique home based business! But that’s another story!

No need to buy sunflower seeds next year!

Published on Jul 9, 2018