Adapted from Berkshire Organics Newsletter
Many of our customers switch to a fruit basket in the summer, because they have bountiful gardens producing lovely fresh veggies—nothing is more local than that! We often see a frantic flurry of activity at the beginning of the growing season asking about where to buy the best seed, especially seed that is non-GMO, but why not get ahead of the curve this year and save seeds from your delivery and garden for next season’s garden? Whether you’re cleaning & storing the seeds from your favorite heirloom or cherry tomato, or a crunchy sweet pepper, seed saving is a fun way to take part in your own cycle of food growth and consumption!
Although you can save seeds from almost any plant, some are easier than others. Many plants need to literally “go to seed”—where the plant has moved its energy from growing into producing the pod—before you can start to harvest seeds. Biennial plants (such as carrots, beets, cabbages, and parsley) require a second year in the ground for a seed pod to sprout, making it a bigger challenge to save the seeds. Others, however, are quite simple:
Peppers: These are the easiest. When the fruit changes color on the vine, it is fully ripe and the seeds are ready to harvest. Simply cut the pepper open, scrape out the seeds, and let them dry.
Tomatoes: The gelatinous coating on a tomato seed actually acts as a barrier to prevent sprouting inside the fruit, so it must be removed before drying. To do this, the seeds need to ferment inside a closed jar of water for about a week. Swirl the jar twice daily, and by the end of the week your seeds will be ready to rinse and dry.
Melons: Whether muskmelon, honeydew, or watermelon, these seeds are super easy to save! Simply remove them, rinse in a bowl with water (although some experts recommend a dash of natural dish liquid to fully remove the sugar from the seed), and then let dry.
Cucumbers: To harvest cucumber seeds, you first need to leave the fruit to ripen for several weeks. Cut the ripe fruit in half and scrape seeds into a bowl. Scrape them gently against a sieve to remove the coating, or use the fermentation method described above for tomatoes.
Summer Squash: These, too, need to be ripe in order to save the seeds. Once the skin is no longer tender! Cut lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a bowl. Wash them well, drain, and dry.
Potatoes: Keep the latest potatoes of the season; store them in a dry, dark, cool place for the winter where they still have airflow. In the spring, they will start to grow ‘eyes’ which can be cut out and planted individually.
Beans: Allow pods to brown and dry on the vine, about 6 weeks after you’re done eating for the season. If there’s a frost threat, pull the whole vine (roots and all) and hang in a dry, cool place until the pods brown. Crack them open to remove dried beans.
For the best results, experts recommend that you plant open-pollinated and/or heirloom varieties, as they will grow more consistently than a hybrid. It’s also worth remembering that planting 2 or more varieties may result in cross-pollination, so try to keep your plot as far from the neighbor’s as possible—especially if they’re growing GMO seeds. Finally, only collect seeds from your heartiest plants; doing so will help perpetuate a continual line of healthy specimens, resulting in the best produce.
Saving seeds is an important act, and so is sharing seeds. Save more than you need so that you will have some to share, swap, or trade for other seeds you don’t have. Heirloom varieties of seeds came about in just this fashion, through saving and planting and sharing, and it is the best way to preserve the genetic integrity and variety of crops we grow for food.
“Save Vegetable Seeds in Your Backyard.” Mother Earth News. Sept/Oct 1977
“Basic Seed Saving.” International Seed Saving Institute. 2016.
“Beginners Guide to Seed Saving.” Rodale’s Organic Life. 20 May 2015.