When it’s late summer and the garden’s still producing, it may be the last thing on your mind to consider preparing for next year’s crop. But now is the time to make at least some preparations for your 2016 garden. And, one of those preparations is saving seeds from this year’s crop. There are lots of reasons to do this. You may have been so pleased at the results of a particular packet that you’re hoping for the same results next year. Or, you may have done a little home-grown crossbreeding, and want to see if lightning will strike twice. While store bought seed packets are certainly not expensive, seed companies are under constant pressure to come up with new and better varieties. To make room in their catalogs, they drop older ones. But what if some of those older varieties are your newly discovered favorites or they produce a better yield for your garden?
Whatever your reasons for wanting to save seeds from this year’s garden, you don’t have to be a food scientist to get successful results. Before beginning however, it’s important to understand that this seed saving project will only work if the seeds in question are from a open-pollinated plant, not a hybrid one. The packet that the original seeds came in will specify this. Also, with the exception of tomatoes, avoid seeds that have been cross-pollinated by insects.
The “true” (open-pollinated) seeds that are easiest to save and achieve reproduction are:
Although other garden favorites can certainly have seeds saved from the originals.
For example, pepper seeds can be harvested when the pepper is completely ripe or through changing colors. Cut open the pepper and scrape the seeds from the pepper’s flesh. Separate the seeds and allow to dry to a ceramic or glass dish. Check the seeds daily to make sure that they are not clumping together. “Stir” them when checking to prevent this. The drying plate should be placed in a dry but not sunny location. When the pepper seeds can be bent but are not so brittle that they snap, then they are ready for storage. Never use an oven for drying pepper seeds, although a food hydrator can be used if the temperature is kept under 85 degrees (F).
Cucumbers should be harvested for seed purposes at the end of the growing season. Since cucumbers can pass disease on to future generations through seeds, make sure the plants you harvest from are disease free. Scrape the seeds from the flesh, wash in a sieve, and rub the seeds gently against the sides of the sieve. Alternately, soak the seeds in water for two days. Both methods will remove coating so that the seeds can dry out for storage. After washing or soaking, rinse the seeds and allow them to air dry. Seeds are dry enough to store when they can be snapped in half.
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Summer squash seeds can be saved by waiting until the squash has ripened past optimal eating time. When the squash has hardened to the point where it can’t be dented with the fingernail, cut it open, remove the seeds, wash, drain, and dry them. Seeds are dry enough for storage when they can be shattered with a hammer.
Are you allowed to have a garden without tomatoes? Harvest their seeds by selecting several tomatoes of the same variety, cut across the middle, and squirt juice and seeds into a glass bowl. Add half as much water to the bowl as there are juice and seeds, and allow to ferment. Stir mixture twice a day for about three days until bubbles or mold appears on top of bowl. When this is seen, stir mixture briskly until seeds sink until the bottom of the bowl. Water and any floating seeds should be discarded. “Sinkers” should be rinsed off and placed on a ceramic or glass plate out of the sun to dry. Check daily and “stir” to avoid clumping. Seeds are generally dry enough to store after a week.