You’ve planted a bountiful garden and enjoyed an abundant harvest. Now what? If you’re keen on saving some money next spring, now’s the perfect time to harvest some seeds for winter storage. Harvesting seeds is easy work, all you need is a dry, sunny day, some envelopes, a sieve and a pen.
1. Identify seeds ripe for the harvest. Mature seeds come from mature fruit or flowers–pick good ones, not small or damaged ones. In flowering plants, you’ll find the flower turns brown and the petals curl back, revealing the seeds. The seeds are just waiting to drop out into your hands if you brush across their surface. To harvest seeds from fruits or vegetables, remove seeds from ripe fruit and let them dry on newspaper in a cool, dark spot. Pumpkins, squash, zucchini, peppers, really ripe cucumbers, tomatoes and eggplants require splitting the fruit/vegetables apart and prying or squeezing the seeds onto clean newspaper. Rinsing with water will not hurt the seeds, but it’s not a necessary step. Lettuce, spinach, carrots and beets are plants that “go to seed” which means they’ll flower and release mature seeds. Peas and beans require drying while in the pod before you can remove the seeds for future use. A good seed has a plump body and tough shell.
2. Drying out the seeds is the first step. After you’ve harvested your seeds, lay them on clean newspaper and let them dry for a few days in a cool, well-ventilated, dark spot. When the seeds are adequately dried, the “chaff” can get blown away or sifted out using a sieve. If seeds get moldy at any time during the drying or storage process, throw them in the compost pile, they’ll do you no good. Trust Enviro Girl on this–she had a lot of sunflowers come to no good end a couple winters ago.
3. You need to store the seeds in paper–any type of envelope will do. Label the envelopes, then put the seeds in a refrigerator. Enviro Girl likes to store her seed envelopes in glass jars for extra protection against moisture.
Heirloom or heritage varieties will result in the best seeds to save. Unfortunately, many hybrid varieties have been genetically altered so they cannot replicate themselves–the seeds are “duds” mainly so that customers have to return again and again to buy new seeds each season.
To test seeds after you’ve dried them, just to check on your success, place a few inside a damp paper towel and place the works inside a plastic baggie for a week. Most viable seeds will sprout in this situation.
Enviro Girl recommends flowers and sunflowers as the easiest seeds to save. She got started with some Cosmos about 7 years ago and never looked back–now she saves all sorts of prairie seeds in addition to carrots, lettuce, spinach, herbs, tomatoes, pumpkins and sunflowers.
Some really useful links for further reading include:
Harvesting Seeds: You Grow Girl (great photos alongside basic explanations)
Seed Saving Tips: Planet Green.com (good general information)
Seed Harvesting (lots of super little tips, charming British site)
University of Illinois Extension (excellent advice & instructions on the ‘wet method’ of seed saving)