Seed saving is a tradition and ritual that spans millions of years, it's as old as civilization.
For over 10,000 years, individual gardeners and farmers created and sustained our rich agricultural genetic heritage.
Our ability to grow food is the culmination of countless generations of sowing and harvesting seeds and those seeds are the continuation of an unbroken line from our ancestors to us and to our children and grandchildren. Our ancestors developed a relationship with plants that allowed their cultivation for food and medicine and this has been a central element of culture and human evolution and survival for millennia in regions throughout the world.
"We are on the verge of losing in one generation, much of the agricultural diversity it took humankind 10,000 years to create. As late as 1900, food for the planet's hungry was provided by as many as 1,500 different plants, each further represented by thousands of different cultivated varieties. Today over 90% of the world's nutrition is provided by 30 different plants and only four (wheat, rice, corn and soybeans) provide 75% of the calories consumed by man. Where once diverse strains strengthened each local ecosystem, currently, a handful of "green revolution", super-hybrid varieties are "mono-cropping" farms and gardens worldwide." - International Seed Saving Institute
Today, gardeners and farmers can continue to play an important role by learning to save their own seeds from varieties that perform best in their own mini-ecosystems. This will assure diversity in the same the way that diversity was promoted and protected instinctively throughout the history of agriculture.
I was initially intimidated in "the honor of seed saving". However, just like anything else, one you just go ahead and do it, it's a lot of fun and a very rewarding experience!
What to Harvest?
There are a few basic tips for success:
Start with the simple things; lettuce, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, many types of flower seeds. Some plants like squash and corn require special isolation practices because they cross-pollinate so easily. Others are biennials like carrots, parsnips and cabbage and won’t set seed the first year. These are best tackled when you have more experience. Many perennials once established set seed every year and are good candidates for seed saving.
**Be sure that the seeds you want to save do not come from hybrid seeds. Hybrids may have many desirable characteristics but they are not good for seed saving because they revert back to their parent stock in the second generation. This means you may get something interesting but it won’t be the same as the plant from which you are collecting. Save seeds only from open-pollinated seeds.**
Once you have decided which type of seeds you are going to collect, choose the healthiest plants from which to gather the seed. Select the plants based on the desirable characteristic which you want to preserve: Good flavor, size ,hardiness, early maturity, color, etc. Be sure to collect the seeds from more than one parent plant if possible. This ensures a broader genetic diversity for your seed collection.
Read seed savers exchange's blog post, for a better understanding of: "The difference between open-pollinated, heirloom, and hybrid seeds":
This is the easy part:
The only challenge here is to not leave the open seeds on the plant too long or you will find yourself with lettuce volunteering in every available space next year. This just takes a little practice and can best be mastered by regular visits to the seed plant to run your thumb against the seed heads. If the seeds are near the “point of departure “ it’s time to collect them. Another option is to remove seed heads once they are drying and let them finish drying in a partially shaded area.
For open seeds, a cookie sheet, paper bag, sack etc. will work fine. For many seeds you can simply collect a whole seed head and separate the seeds later. (Don’t neglect this separation step, because proper drying ensures seed viability.) Once the seeds are collected and separated spread them out in a cool dry place and let them complete their drying.
For seeds inside a fruit carefully cut the fruit open and squeeze out the seeds. If the seeds are basically dry like a pepper simply separate the seeds and allow them to air dry as above. For tomatoes and other ‘slimy’ seeds a special process to remove the gelatinous, sprout-inhibiting coating is necessary but very simple:
Put the seeds with pulp in a glass and add just enough water to get them floating. Set it on a windowsill for several days until a moldy scum starts to form. Remove the scum and any floating seeds, drain and rinse the seeds and spread out on a screen or glass or plastic plate for several days to dry. Don’t leave them for long after the scum forms or they will begin to sprout in the water!
After harvesting the seeds, we like to use a regular sack. We put the entire stem of the plant with flowers/seeds on them & hang them upside down in the sack. The seeds simply fall to the bottom for collection.
Seed Vitality - Viability
Generally speaking, with seeds big and fat is good! The larger and plumper a seed (relative to other seeds of its type), the greater the viability. When separating seeds with the wet method the seeds that float can be discarded as they will not be as strong as the seeds which sink. For seeds of peppers, eggplant, etc. which don’t require fermenting you can assess potential viability by placing in water for 24-36 hours and, as before, saving those that float, discarding those that don’t.
Storing your seeds...
Sore in a COOL and DRY space. Apart from the original quality of the seed you save this is probably the most critical factor in successful seed saving. Keeping your seeds dry and cool plays a major role in assuring their long term viability.
Thank you for reading & happy seeding!