September 23, 2010 in Washington Voices

Harvest seeds today for next year’s garden

Pat Munts Correspondent
 
On the Web

Some good sources of information on heirloom varieties can be found at:

• Baker Creek Seeds, rareseeds.com

• Seed Savers Exchange, www.seedsavers.org

• Seeds of Change, www.seedsofchange.com

Now that the garden season is ending, it’s time to think about saving some of the garden glory by harvesting seeds from your favorite flowers and vegetables.

Seed saving is not hard or expensive. It just takes knowing which seeds can be harvested and then properly preparing them for storage. The best seeds to save are open-pollinated varieties; that is, seeds that transfer their genetics from one generation to the next reliably.

Determining what is open-pollinated can be a trick though because the majority of seeds and starter planter plants on the market now are hybrids created by selective breeding. Seed packets don’t often indicate if the contents are a hybrid or open pollinated. Seed catalogs may indicate hybrids by noting them as F1. Often the only indication you have is if seeds and plants are labeled an heirloom or by doing some in-depth research.

Hybrids are the result of breeders crossing different plants with desirable characteristics such as flower color, vigor, disease resistance, or tolerance to cold or heat with other plants with equally valuable traits to create a single plant. Unfortunately, while the first generation of seeds from this cross will grow great plants, subsequent generations don’t reliably pass the traits on. Open pollinated or heirloom plants will pass their traits on to subsequent generations.

To save seeds, select and tag the strongest plants with the characteristics you like. Let the flowers fade and the seed heads dry completely. Sometimes it’s helpful to put small, breathable paper bags around larger seed heads to corral ripening seeds.

When the seed heads are dry, cut them carefully and label what they are immediately; don’t rely on your memory. Shake the seed out of the head by breaking up the heads or by crushing them gently. Winnow out the chaff and junk and let the seeds dry for a week or so in a cool, dry place.

Once dry, place them in a paper or glassine envelope clearly labeled with the variety. The seeds packets can then be placed in a container with a tight fitting lid in a cool, dark, dry place like a basement. They can be stored in jars in the refrigerator; just add a desiccant like silica gel or powdered milk to the jar. Properly dried and stored seed will last several years under good conditions.

To test seed viability, either at harvest or in the spring before planting, select 10 to 20 seeds and roll them up in a damp paper towel. Place the roll in a plastic bag and leave in a warm spot for a few days. Unroll the packet and count the number of seeds that germinated.

Check my blog www.inlandnwgardening.com for some specific instructions on saving tomato, beans and other vegetable seeds as well as links to some good websites on the details of seed saving.

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