Garden and Greenhouse

Saving Seeds

I am a seed saver. I pinch seed heads and pods when I go somewhere and see something I like (and nobody’s looking to object). I save gloriosa and Shasta daisy seeds and penstemon and Sweet William and asters.   I save my heirloom tomato seeds. And I save seeds like dill and coriander for the kitchen.

I use a lot of dill, and it doesn’t always do well in my garden. I usually have to get it in Reno, if I have to buy it, because it’s become hard to find in our small town. Some years, I have plenty of dill in the garden, and others, I don’t get any seedlings at all . So when I have a good crop, I save as many seeds as I can for the next year, so I don’t have to buy it, or at least, not as much.

The best way to save dill seeds is to put a large, paper grocery bag under the plant and clip the umbel directly into the bag. I do this when just a few of the seeds have turned brown and the rest are swollen but still green. Leave a long stem, and drop the umbel in upside down. The seeds will continue to ripen on the stem. Staple or paper clip the bag closed to keep out dust, and let it sit somewhere out of the way. When all the seeds are dry, pull out one stem at a time, breaking off the dry seeds into the paper bag. When all the seeds are off the stems, pour them into a colander or sieve to separate seeds from stem pieces. Then they go into jars (I have saved old dill seed jars from the grocery store), all ready for next year’s dilly beans or pickles. I always let some seeds drop to the ground for volunteer plants next year. I seem to have better luck letting the plants self-sow. The seeds know when to sprout in the spring.

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I use the same harvesting method for coriander seeds. Coriander and cilantro are one and the same plant. When the plant is green, before it blooms, it’s called cilantro and is used in salsa and other Mexican dishes. Let it flower and go to seed, and you have coriander. These little round seeds roll around, so you have to be careful not to let any escape! It is easy to grind them yourself in a spice grinder or coffee grinder dedicated for spices. (I have one labeled “Not for coffee!” so my husband doesn’t use it by mistake.) I love ground coriander in lots of dishes, especially my pumpkin/winter squash soup. Freshly-ground coriander is wonderfully aromatic. So if your cilantro wants to bloom, let it. Then harvest the seeds.

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This year, I let my kale go to seed. For some reason, I have a hard time getting kale to sprout from seed, and I don’t know if I’m planting too early or too late, or if the seed has not been fresh. I took care of that this year. I have a ton of seed, and I know it’s fresh. Some baby kale has already sprouted around the spent kale plants, so I’ll have kale until we get a hard freeze, and hopefully, more kale sprouting in the spring. I also intend to plant some in the greenhouse to get a jump on spring production. We do love our greens around here.

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I also save heirloom tomato seeds for the next year’s plantings. Saving tomato seeds is easy, although it takes a week or so to complete the process. I do it late in summer or early in fall, when I’m harvesting ripe tomatoes for salsa or red hot sauce.

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There usually one tomato that’s gotten a bit over-ripe on me, so that’s the one I harvest seeds from. As I’m cutting up the tomato, I just use my knife to scrape out a dozen or so seeds, however many I want, into a small bowl. Then I cover the seeds with a couple of tablespoons of water, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, label the plastic wrap with the type of tomato and the date, and set the bowl aside for a few days and wait for it to ferment.

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Fermentation of the seeds takes a few days, but this kills off bad bacteria that could affect the seeds’ sprouting capabilities. It also helps kill off any diseases or viruses the tomato plant and fruit might have had. (Heirlooms are susceptible to various diseases that many hybrids were bred to be resistant to.) I wait for a little mold to appear in the bowl, and then I pour the seeds and liquid into a fine mesh strainer, rinse the seeds well, and dump the contents onto a piece of labeled waxed paper.

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At this point, it’s easy to pick out any skin or flesh that might have adhered to the seeds when they were placed in the bowl.  Spread the seeds out so they’re not too clumped up and will dry faster.  I let the seeds dry for two or three days, until they pop right off the waxed paper when it’s jiggled.

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Then I fold the waxed paper containing the seeds into a tight packet, seal it with labeled masking tape, and put the packets into my seed jar. I have a plastic gallon jar that I put charcoal and/or silica packets into along with all the seeds I’m saving. This goes in a cool corner of the laundry room or out in one of the pump houses where it will stay cold but not freeze until I’m ready to plant in the spring.

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Saving heirloom seeds means I don’t have to worry about GMOs or not being able to find the seeds I want come spring. It also makes me just that little bit more independent, which I like.

I’ve been saving seeds and planting them with various results since I was a kid. I’ve grown peach trees from seeds that bore good fruit. This summer, I brought home a cherry pit from England, from a backyard cherry tree at one of the B & B’s where we stayed. Who knows, maybe my seed saving habits will net me a cherry tree for my orchard. We’ll see what spring brings.

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4 thoughts on “Saving Seeds

  1. the Gunslinger Poet says:

    Is it always necessary to ferment the seeds? I have been allowing some seeds I collect to dry, but I’m no expert. I enjoyed this educational post and the curious opening photograph.

    • Thanks for your comment. Not all seeds need to be fermented, but it’s a good idea with heirloom tomato seeds because they are susceptible to diseases. The fermentation process kills off most of those viruses, etc., that can be transmitted from seed to plant to fruit the following year. The only seeds I ferment are tomato seeds. I’ve read that fermentation often occurs naturally when the fruit is left on the ground to overwinter. Judging by the numbers of healthy volunteer tomatoes I had this year, I would say that’s probably true.

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