Storing Seeds

The summer garden is in. Days and weeks of digging beds and barrowing compost are over, and daily tasks shift to weeding and watering. It is time to store seeds.

I often have seeds left over after I plant what I want. If stored properly, most seeds will be viable for three to ten years, depending upon the variety. Sweet corn, beets, carrots and onions are infamous for their refusal to germinate after the first year, but tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, cucumbers, and brassicas are more cooperative if stored in the right conditions.

After I have planted the garden, I tuck the packets with the unused seeds into small, plastic, ziplock bags, and write the name of the seed on the bag. It’s a good idea to add the date, too. I put the bags into a plastic shoe box with a tightly-fitting lid and stash it in a corner of the freezer. Yes, the freezer!

Store seeds in the freezer for future use.

Store seeds in the freezer for future use.

Seeds germinate when they encounter moisture and warmth, and the freezer is dry and cold. When you are ready to plant again in the spring, take the seeds out of the plastic bags and let them come up to room temperature. Condensation is not a good thing!

If you go to all the trouble to grow heirloom, open-pollinated varieties so that you can save your own seeds, make sure to store them properly so that you can enjoy a good harvest for many years.


Saving Seeds

This is the fall garden. We have been enjoying salads for a couple of weeks and are looking forward to peas, carrots and beets.

This is the fall garden. We have been enjoying salads for a couple of weeks and are looking forward to peas, carrots and beets.

This is the groundhog that has been scoping out my fall garden. So far, the dogs seem to be keeping it at bay.

This is the groundhog that has been scoping out my fall garden. So far, the dogs seem to be keeping it at bay.

I’m trying to save more seeds this year for next spring’s garden. I have been saving tomato seeds for quite a while now, but this year I decided to save seeds from beans, broccoli, cauliflower and chard. In the spring, I hope to get seeds from beets, carrots and lettuce. You can gather your own seeds from all kinds of vegetables as long as they are heirloom varieties. Heirlooms are vegetables that have been grown for many years and seeds from these varieties will “grow true,” which means that when they are planted the following year, you will get vegetables that look very much like the ones you grew last year.

This is not true for hybrids. When a vegetable is labeled as a hybrid, it has been produced by crossing two different varieties to get a new one, but it will not grow true the following year. Seeds saved from hybrids will grow, but you don’t know what you will get, and it will not look anything like what you grew before. Also, hybridization is NOTHING like the bioengineering that creates GMO seeds. Don’t get me started!

Most seeds are easy to save. With beans and peas, I simply leave any pods that have gotten a bit too big for eating fresh, and when the plants stop producing, I pull them up by the roots, tie them into bundles and hang them in the barn. In a few weeks, the pods are brown and dry, and the beans can be removed. With most other seeds, you can simply dig the seeds out, let them dry on a plate and then store them in paper envelopes. Being the kind of weirdo that I am, I save envelopes from the mail, put seeds in them, write the contents on the envelope and tape it shut. Do not store seeds in plastic bags! No matter how dry they may appear, there will still be enough moisture in them to create condensation and that leads to mold which leads to dead seeds in the spring.

Tomatoes are a bit trickier. Tomato seeds have an outer covering that needs to be removed in order for them to germinate in the spring, so they have to be left to ferment for a bit. Remove the seeds and put them in a plastic container, then add an inch or so of water. Let the seeds soak for a couple of days and stir them daily. Eventually, you will see a white film beginning to form on top of the water. That is a good thing, because that means the coating on the seeds is breaking down. Let the coating build up for a few days, and then add more water to the container and stir. Skim off the stuff on the top and any seeds that float–they won’t grow–and then strain. Keep rinsing until the seeds are clean. I put them on paper towels on top of paper plates, and write the name of the variety on the plate. I stick them on the upper shelf of a cupboard and forget about them for a while, but eventually I put them in envelopes.

A few more things to consider: if you plan to save seeds, try to isolate each variety in the garden to keep them from cross-breeding. Also, seeds need some time to mature before they will be viable, so choose a nice specimen of whatever you plan to save and leave it on the plant much longer than you would if you were going to eat it. Don’t let it rot, though.

This article from Organic Gardening has some good information.,2 Happy seed saving!