It's fall y'all and many northern gardeners, like myself, are beginning to wind down our harvest, put our beds to sleep and begin winter prep. You may also be thinking about looking ahead to next year, which means you might have one thing on your mind already-seeds! Did you know that as well as purchasing seed, you also have a bank of seeds right there in your hands, possibly in your garden still? If you have never saved seeds, are new to seed saving or need a refresher this post is for you!
Seed saving is beneficial in that it gives you some security (remember the great seed shortage of 2020)? It also allows you to keep seeds (therefore genetics) of plants and varieties that you know fare well in your particular zone or microclimate or garden setup and is just an all round great way of bolstering your home reserves.
So let's get to the seed saving part shall we? Whilst seed saving is actually only a few simple steps, these steps vary depending on whether you are extracting seeds from fleshy fruited plants (such as tomatoes, melons, pumpkins and squashes) or dry fruiting plants (such as peas or beans). Today we are focusing on the first group of plants and I have broken the process down into simple steps.
To begin with you will need some essential materials but many of these can be found in your kitchen.
You need either (or a combination) of colander, sieve, drying screen with very fine mesh.
Jug to hold water
Coffee filters/parchment paper/newspaper
Be prepared-as the seeds are nice and tucked into the flesh, extraction can get pretty messy!
Step One: Harvesting and Extracting
When harvesting, you can simply harvest when the plant reaches maturity, no need to wait for the plant to die back or dry. If you would eat it you can extract seed. Just ensure they look healthy! So ideally to start the seed saving process you want a screen, sieve or colander that will allow the flesh and pulp to fall through and you can retain the seeds on the mesh. The hard part is the extracting, I try to cut as much flesh off as possible but of course your seeds are still going to have flesh attached. Place them on the screen or sieve and rinse thoroughly under the tap. Now just rub your seeds, you nay have to do this several times but the flesh will come away and you will be left with seeds on your screen.
Step Two: Decanting
So now you have some fairly clean seeds sitting on your screen, your next step is to decant. Decanting is essentially a short step to assess your seeds for viability and it is also useful for just removing any extra bits of pulp that may still be stuck to the seed. Fill up a container with roughly four to five parts water to one part seed. Stir and let settle, after a few minutes you may notice that the seeds should settle to the bottom, these are viable! Pour away everything else and keep your viable seeds. You may want to reoeat this step to give the seeds that extra cleaning.
Step Three: Drying
Now drying is imeprative for these seeds because there has been so much noisture involved in this process and you don't want to store them damp. My favourite tool for drying my seeds are coffee filters, really inexpensive, you can label them with the variety you have and they absorb moisture, parchment paper or nespaper would also work well. As a word to the wise seeds shouldnt be sun dried as this can reduce seed quality, you dont need to bake your seeds just dry them out! I leave them out to dry, my goto is tucked away on a shelf or counter, for upto a couple of weeks. Then put them in storage and label again and you have your seeds ready to go! I prefer either coin envelopes for storage (provided risk of damp is low) or mason or amber jars.
Tomatoes-they have an extra step!
Now lets just circle back to tomatoes, they have to be fermented before decanting. The seeds in tomatoes have a jelly like casing around them and the fermenting step will break that down so they can germinate again! In the wild, when tomatoes start to rot and break down this protective casing around the seeds would also break down to allow for germination, fermenting is you doing this at home! So to ferment tomato seeds, first extract the seeds from the fruit. Then once you have all the juicy seedy pulp mix squeezed out from your tomatoes place in a container and leave for no more than three days, top up with a little water and place a loose lid on the jar. If you get a white frothy film on the top during this process that is totally fine! Hopefully, your viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom in this time, now you can move onto decanting which will give your tomatoes that extra rinse.
Happy Seed Saving!
If you would like more info on seed saving or gardening please check out my podcast The Northern Grower Podcast on all podcasting platforms. Or sign uo for email updates to get notified when a new blog post is up and running.