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Seed Saving Time! Seed Saving Tips and Techniques.
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Seed Saving Tips:
- Choose your plants wisely by finding the healthiest and best-producing plants to collect seeds from. There is certainly something to be said for good genetics when it comes to propagating plants.
- In order to collect viable seeds, the plants have to be allowed to “go to seed”. During this stage of growth, plants put energy into developing healthy seeds and pods. Allowing this process often means a willingness to invite a little untidy chaos into your garden.
- Be prepared to battle the critters! It can be a bit of a challenge to let the seeds develop on the plants and get to them before the birds and squirrels do. Some gardeners will tie a plastic or paper bag over a flower or group of flowers they intend to harvest. This allows the seeds to continue ripening on the plant and protects them from the hungry animals.
- Some plants will drop their seeds before they are ripe and dry. In this case, you can let nature take its course and hopefully those seeds will make their way into the ground and sprout new plants. Nasturtiums are one of those plants and soon after the flowers wilt, the plant will drop plump green seeds onto the ground. Alternatively, you can collect the seeds from the ground while they are still green and allow to dry. They can then be stored and planted in other areas of your garden.
- Collecting seeds from pods can be a little tricky. Normally the pods will start out small, green, and tightly closed. As the pod’s age, they generally get browner and dryer. You’ll want to harvest the seeds from these pods once they are mature and dry, but not allow the pods to go so long they naturally split and drop the seeds. Shepherd’s purse has little heart-shaped pods.
- Scattering the seeds! There are some plants that produce very small seeds that are perfect for scattering randomly throughout your garden. Chamomile, Basil, and Columbine are just a few. For these plants, allow the seeds to ripen on the stem and then help them to scatter by removing the seeds and toss them throughout the areas of the garden where you would like them to grow. If you live in an area where the winters are cold and the plants are unprotected, it is best to gather the seed and store inside until spring.
- If you need to dry the seeds, keep them in a warm, dry place. If it is late summer and the days are warm and dry, hanging or laying them outdoors may work just fine (watch for those sneaky squirrels though). The garage or dining room table can work just fine too. Lay them out on a cotton cloth or torn open brown paper bags and allow to dry thoroughly. For stalks of seeds like Fennel, you may want to hang upside down as you would for herb drying, making sure to have a clean cloth or paper bag to catch the seeds that drop. There are some plants such as Echinacea, which are rather dense, that require you to use your fingers to loosen the seeds after the plant dries. Spread the seeds out to dry for another day or so.
- Have variety. Try saving vegetable and fruit seeds. Squash is perhaps one of the easiest to harvest and save. Choose one of the best specimens from an heirloom (or at least, non-hybrid) variety and scoop out the seeds. Rinse and spread out to dry an open brown paper until dry.
- Store the saved seeds in an airtight container (sealing plastic bags work fine, but I like mason jars to protect against temp changes and moisture). You can also use recycled baby food jars if you have them laying around. Don’t forget to label with the name of the plant and the year! This is often an overlooked but vital step in seed saving. Seeds do lose their viability over time and while you may think you’ll remember what’s what, labeling certainly helps when spring rolls around!
- Keep in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight until ready to plant.