Seed Collecting and Saving
by Andi Wardlaw, Master Gardener
The world of botany is both exciting and complicated; however, it can be a world of incredible interest and fun such as seed collecting which has the potential of opening up a whole new side of home gardening.
Seed collecting and saving is an inexpensive way to ensure that favored or difficult to find plants can be grown in the garden for seasons to come. Especially when considering the cost of purchasing seeds which can cost $4 plus for just a few seeds or transplants which can cost $5 and above for a single plant depending on the plant size. Saving seeds has the added benefit of being able to share seeds with family and friends. Imagine the joy that is witnessed when a recipient of your seeds is able to successfully grow what they admired growing in your garden. Seeds are another way to share the beauty and love of gardening.
Not all plants flower, set seed, and die in a single growing season. Those that do, like lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers, are called annuals. Biennials, such as carrots and onions, don’t flower until their second growing season, after they have gone through a cold period. Some long-lived plants, like asparagus, are perennial, surviving and flowering and producing for many years.
Vegetables aren’t characterized by a certain trait because with vegetables the edible portion can be varied parts of the plant. For instance, when eating a carrot, we are eating the root of the plant, with lettuce we are eating the leaves of the plant, and with some plants both the root and leaves are edible. Many plants grown in a vegetable garden are in fact not vegetables but rather fruits, such as peppers, green beans, and cucumbers.
In order to collect seeds from plants such lettuce, radishes, carrots and beets the plants have to be allowed to mature to the point of setting flower. This is called bolting. Once the flowers mature, and sets seeds, seeds can be collected.
Hybrid plants, if described as stabilized, are bred to be open pollinated meaning that the seeds collected from these plants will grow true to the hybridized parent plant.
Fruits are characterized as a vehicle that encompasses the seeds of the plant. The seeds of these plants have a protective coating, sometimes slimy, which is the plants way of protecting the seeds as they travel through a digestive system. By safely traveling through a digestive system the seeds have the potential to remain intact thus furthering the plants existence.
It is pertinent to store seeds properly once they have been collected to ensure that there is successful germination at time of planting. Keep seeds in a cool location, with little to no light and low humidity. It isn’t easy to determine how long seeds will last, however, the longer they are properly dried the longer they will last. Some will last longer than others and the only way to determine if seeds are viable is to plant them.
Following are some simple directions on how to save seed from some of the most commonly grown garden vegetables.
BEANS (all kinds)- Al:low the seed to thoroughly mature on the plant, usually indicated by size of the seed in the pod or by the color of the pod. Pull the entire plant early in the morning and place it in the shade to dry out. This will prevent the pods from splitting open and the beans from shattering.
CUCUMBERS – Cross pollination occurs in cucumbers. This means pollen is transferred from a plant of one variety to a plant of another variety. This is done by insects. Although it does not affect the fruit borne this season, if you save the seed and plant them next year, the plants that come from these seeds will be different. So will the fruit. So, if you want to save cucumber seed, plant only one variety. Select strong, healthy cucumber plants and well-formed fruits. Let the fruits hang on the vine until ripe (skin becomes yellowish and hard). Then handle like the process for tomatoes given below.
EGGPLANT – When the eggplant fruit has obtained maximum size and shows some evidence of browning and shriveling, it is ready to be harvested for seed. Split open, remove the seed and wash thoroughly to remove all pulp. Spread out in the sun to dry quickly as moist seed will begin to germinate overnight if left in a damp condition. Store in a cool, dry place.
OKRA – Okra pods should be left on the stalk until brown and well matured. Remove the pods and place them in the shade until thoroughly dried. Although the seed may be removed from the pod, it is generally best to store them in the pod until ready for planting at which time the pods may be split open and the seed removed. Pods harvested too green will not store well and are likely to split, shattering the seed.
PEPPERS – Pepper should be allowed to ripen until they become red. Cut the pepper pod in half and scrape the seed from a cavity onto a piece of paper. Spread out the seed and dry thoroughly before placing in a storage container.
SQUASH – If seed are to be saved from squash, grow only one variety in the garden. When the outer covering of the squash has become hardened, the seed are generally mature. Split the squash fruit open, scoop out the seed and wash until all pulp is removed. Spread out on newspaper to dry.
TOMATOES – Allow the tomato fruit to thoroughly ripen on the vine. Cut the tomatoes open and remove the seed by squeezing or spooning out the pulp with seeds into a non-metal container such as a drinking glass or jar. Set the container aside for one or two days. The pulp and seed covering will ferment so that the seeds can be washed clean with a directed spray of water into the fermented solution. The clean, viable seeds will drop to the bottom of the solution, allowing the sediment to poured off. Several rinsing’s may be necessary. Then spread the tomato seed out on a cloth or paper towel to dry. After seed are dry, package, label and date for storage in a cool (refrigerator), dry location.” (1) https://www.aggiehorticulture.com
Following are some flower seed collecting and saving tips.
- Allow seed heads to dry on the plant before cutting them off.
- Collect seed heads from the best performing plants.
- Use clean, sharp pruners or snips to cut the seed heads off of the plant.
- Always collect seeds using paper bags. (plastic retains moisture which is harmful to drying seeds)
- If the desired seeds are in pods, allow the mature pods to completely dry in the paper bag. Label the bag and leave the top open for good air flow. Shake the bag periodically to release the seeds from the pod. Once all the seeds are released from the pod, they are ready to be stored. Discard the pod casing.
- Seeds collected that are not in pods should be spread out on a paper towel or newspaper for about one week to completely dry before storing.
- Once seeds have dried, store them in paper seed envelopes and keep them in a cool dry place. Plants need light and moisture to germinate, so if seeds are stored in plastic, and have moisture and light, the seeds could germinate and rot in the plastic. Label the envelopes with plant name, date collected, and growing need to know information.
Collecting heirloom plant seeds
- The plant that a person is wanting to collect seed from must be planted away from other plants of the same variety. For instance, if you have a favorite tomato plant that you want to collect seeds from don’t plant other types of tomatoes close to this plant to avoid cross pollination whether by the wind or insects.
- You can also use blossom bags to protect plant flowers from cross pollination if you are wanting to collect seeds from a particular plant. These are lightweight, see through, breathable bags with a draw string. Simply put the bag over the unopened flowers on the plant from which you wish to collect seeds. As the flowers open shake the plant to release the pollen onto the other flowers in the bag. Once the flowers set fruit, the mesh bags can be removed. By doing this you are assured of having true seeds for the plant from which you want to collect seeds.
- Be aware that plants within the same plant family have the potential to cross pollinate. For instance, the plant family of cucurbits includes, squash both summer and winter squash, pumpkins, gourds, watermelons, and cucumbers and all have the potential of cross pollinating.
Open the door to seed collecting and storing and you will have another adventure in gardening.