Congratulations, you have a successful garden! The tomatoes are ripening, melons are getting bigger, you are up to your ears in cucumbers, and the the greens are so prolific you gave all you could away to the neighborhood and you are still drowning in them. If you are in a four seasons area like me, you can look forward to this bliss of garden produce for another month or so, then rest through the winter and start all over again in the spring (unless, of course, you are going to give winter gardening a try). Now is the perfect time to save seed!
If you start your garden from seed or would like to give it a try next year, saving seeds from your prolific garden is by far the most economical way to go, and can be very easy if you know and follow these basic ground rules:
You cannot save seed from hybrid varieties.
Well, you can try. But if you plant seeds that came from a hybrid variety plant, you really never know what you are going to get from those seeds, because they do not come back true to the parent plant. Usually an inferior plant is the result.
This is why I plant heirloom/open-pollinated seeds in my garden, because I would rather save the seeds rather than have to worry about buying them every year, like I would if I were growing hybrid varieties.
Know which plants will cross-pollinate.
So this year in an attempt to keep my garden organized, I planted two different types of heirloom cucumbers in the same bed without thinking. For this year, no problem. My pickling cucumbers and my burpless cucumbers are doing great. However, I won’t be saving the seeds from the cucumbers for next year because the cucumbers have likely cross-pollinated and mixed with each other.
Various types of squashes with mix with each other if planted too closely, as well as melons. Members of the Brassica oleraceae family (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and calabrese) will also cross-pollinate if allowed to flower at the same time. Ditto for chard and every type of beetroot. Sweet peppers and chilis, although self-pollinating, will happily cross if planted near each other. I unwittingly planted my pepper plants all in one area last year, and that explains a few rather interesting peppers I am getting this year!
Know when the plant will set seed and how long to wait for seed maturity.
Are the seeds you are hoping to harvest coming from an annual or biennial plant? Annuals include tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, melons, cucumbers, broccoli, and basically anything that will set seed that year. Biennials include parsley, carrots, beets, celery, turnips, and parsnips and set seed in their second year.
Cucumbers and summer squash will need to be matured on the vine beyond the “edible” stage if they are to be used for seeds. Lettuces and herbs need to be allowed to bolt and flower to set seed.
Choose only the best and healthiest plants to use for seeds.
Survival of the fittest applies heavily in the plant world. If you want next years garden to be successful, then choose seeds from the plants that have been successful.
Collect the seeds, clean, dry and label!
Once you have the seeds, clean them from any juices or debris, then gently dry them out so they will keep for storage. I usually lay them out on paper towels and allow them to air dry. Adding heat can actually damage the seeds and cause cracking, so unless you have a temperature controlled dehydrator I would not recommend that route.
Store in a cool, dry location. Sealed bags are best as they keep out the humidity and any unwanted munchers (I used a small envelope once with some pea seeds. When I went to plant them that spring I found that a little bug had made a decent sized family in my seeds!).
With these basic guidelines in mind you can easily save seeds from your garden. Are there any tips you have for saving garden seeds?