Saving Seeds 101

Seed saving is a sustainable practice and an aspect of the permaculture movement. Some plant varieties are easy to save the seeds and replant next season but other plants are rather difficult and improperly selecting and saving seeds may result in diseased plants or lack of germination altogether.

Anyone can start saving seeds!

First it is important to understand what type of seeds should be saved and which should not. Hybrids can be very hearty plants but their seeds are often sterile or if they do germinate they do not produce the hybrid plant but rather one of its parent varieties.

Other plants that are open pollinated by insects or wind are not good candidates for seed saving as they cross with others within their family and will produce a hybrid if cross pollination has occurred.

Experienced seed savers can geographically isolate these plants to prevent cross pollination; this can be done by separating the plants by large distances or by keeping them in individual greenhouses. These plants include cucumbers, melons, squash, corn, cabbage, chard, broccoli, mustard greens, celery, spinach, cauliflower, kale, radish, beets, parsley, onion, and basil.

The best options for saving seeds are from heirloom varieties that are not open pollinated. Many gardeners successful save seeds from beans, peas, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers.

In order to properly save seeds it is important to harvest from the best of the plants. Choose plants that you would like to grow again; select the most flavorful vegetables of a good size and those that grow well in your region. Remove the seeds from a mature plant; this may not always be at the time that the plant is best to eat. For example, radishes are the best to eat when the plant is young and before the flower has matured to produce seeds. Cucumbers are similar and you must wait until near the end of the season to harvest for seed saving.

Once seeds have been removed they should be washed and dried. A good way to wash seeds and to determine which seeds have a higher probability of germinating, place the seeds in a large bowl or bucket; the more viable tend to be heavier and will sink to the bottom. Seeds should be dried on a nonporous surface such as a glass or ceramic dish; using paper towels or paper is not advised as the seeds will stick when dry.

Saving seeds is an essential part of sustainable agriculture. It promotes biodiversity within our food supply, greater nutrition, access to local produce with minimal transportation cost, and a personal understanding and contribution to environmental sustainability. -KATHY FAIRCHILD

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