As your garden matures, consider saving seed from you favorite vegetables for next year’s garden. Here are some tips from Mike Nocks of White Harvest Seed Company in Hartville, Mo. and Randel Agrella, seed production manager of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Mansfield, Mo.
1 What to save – The best candidates for seed saving are open-pollinated or self-pollinated vegetables, which produce true to type seed when properly isolated. Heirlooms are typically open pollinators that have produced true seed for at least 50 years, so they are a good choice. Avoid hybrids. The seed will germinate, but you may be surprised at what you get.
Avoid biennials like onions, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, celery, chard, beets, rutabaga, parsnip, turnips and parsley.
Vegetables with tiny seeds such as lettuce and spinach also may be difficult to harvest and preserve.
2 Isolation – To insure true seed, limit the possibility of cross-pollination between varieties of the same vegetable. Cucumbers, corn, squash, melons, runner beans and lima beans are vegetables that need isolation – space between varieties – to reduce the likelihood of cross-pollination. Once your seed plant is isolated, bag it – cover the plant’s blooms to keep pollen and insects out but allow air in.
3 Harvesting – Always harvest from a strong, healthy plant. Beans and peas are easy; when the pods are dry on the stalk, the seeds inside can be removed and stored. As for tomatoes, when they are ripe to eat or even slightly overripe squish the tomato in your hands and put the core of seeds and their gel packets in a bucket with water. Set outside for several days. This fermentation process will shorten the amount of time it takes for the seed to germinate. Collect only the seed that settles to the bottom and thoroughly dry it.
Melon seed can be harvested when the fruit is ready to eat. For peppers and eggplant, let them change color and dry on the vine – past the point of harvesting to eat.
4 Preserving seed – Keep cool, dry and dark. While, it’s true some have success in freezing seed, if the seed is not completely dry, it can crack during freezing and be less likely to germinate. If you do freeze, Nocks notes that, “re-using frozen seed and constantly thawing and re-freezing the same seed over and over for multiple years might cause problems, including lower germination rates.”
Store seed in airtight glass containers. Add silica gel packets, from craft stores, to remove moisture. Or wrap some powdered milk in pantyhose, cheesecloth or a facial tissue to remove moisture.
Storing seed in the refrigerator is a good choice, but Agrella says a simple shoebox under the bed works well, too. If you store seed in a basement or cellar, a rule of thumb from Mike is that the combination of temperature and humidity should be less than 100. If the humidity is 25 percent and the temperature is 50 degrees, the total of 75 would be fine for storing seed.


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