Seed Saving 101

For me, that is!  Actually I might be up to 202 by now, since I’ve been saving “easy” seeds for some time, the sort that dry on the plant and just need to be separated from pod or husk or stem.  This includes beans, most herbs and many flowers.  Only a bit more difficult are vegetables such as peppers that have to be cut open at ripe stage, whereupon the seeds can be easily removed and left to dry for a week or two.

Then there are veggies whose seeds cling to a pulpy interior:  tomatoes are the usual example, but naturally I am going to show you mouse melons.  I found the instructions in William Woys Weaver’s article in “Mother Earth News”:

If you want to save seed, choose the ripest fruits. More likely than not, these will be the little melons that have dropped to the ground — this seems to be a signal from the plant that they are ripe. Take the melons indoors and let them stand a week or two on a tray to further ripen. Then cut them open and scoop out the seeds. Put the seed mass in a jar of water, and let this ferment for at least five days (this kills any virus that might be on the seed). Once a thick layer of scum has formed and the best seeds have dropped to the bottom, remove the scum layer and rinse the remaining mixture in a strainer. Then spread the seeds to dry on a screen in a cool, well-ventilated room and let them remain there for at least two weeks. The seed is dry enough to store in an airtight jar when the individual seeds snap when broken.

This is good in theory.  I didn’t get a layer of scum and in fact had to manually separate the seed from the pulp that didn’t dissolve.  But the seeds are now drying (on a dish, not a screen, since these seeds are too tiny for the screens I have available; just do not dry seeds on paper towels or cloth since they will stick) and I hope they will be ready for storage soon enough.

Here’s the process:

Separating seeds from fruit
Seeds and pulp in jar with water
Sorting out seeds for drying

Why save seeds to begin with?  You can do it to save money, or to save open-pollinated varieties that you want to preserve.  Anyone can do this!  I strongly suggest getting a book like Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed to provide detailed instructions (she does not list mouse melons, hence the WWW article coming to my rescue).  There are many seed savers out there, both amateur and professional; many belong to Seed Savers Exchange, which since 1975 has transformed the landscape of gardening and brought back hundreds of nearly-lost varieties.

I recently heard Rosalind Creasy lecturing on heirloom vegetables and flowers, and one thing she said intrigued me: that though there’s still a need for gardeners to participate in saving old open-pollinated varieties, Seed Savers Exchange has worked so well that we can breathe a sigh of relief about not losing them.  She added that what’s now in jeopardy are older hybrid varieties, which are the province of professionals in seed companies since they are “reborn” from designated parents in each new generation.  If you save seeds from hybrid varieties and replant, you may get a similar result or something very different; this is in the Don’t Try This At Home category, although it can be interesting.

You can make your own accidental hybrids by saving seeds from plants of the same species but different varieties that have been allowed to pollinate each other and cross.  You may have seen this happen in your own garden or compost pile:  the Mystery Squash is a prime example.  Unfortunately they don’t always taste good.  Seed saving books tell you what distance is required between varieties to keep the seed pure; some people keep insects out by covering the plants, and hand-pollinate.  I’m not ready to go there, but I am hoping my Varengata hot peppers on the deck were far enough from the sweet bananas in the garden (I’ll let you know next year when I plant the saved seed).

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