If you plant a large vegetable garden each year, you know that seeds aren’t cheap, and they’re just getting more expensive each year. Each spring, we spend quite a bit of money buying seeds, so my newly-found frugality (as well as my inner doomsday prepper) has encouraged me to learn about seed saving. It’s a great way to save money, make your garden more of a money-saver, and it’s just so much fun to do.
If you’re interested in saving seeds, I think the key is to first focus on seeds that are easy to save and grow–and important for you and your family. For us, that means starting with the beans, tomatoes, corn, and, carrots.
Here are some helpful tips on seed saving on a few of the basics I think most people will find in their gardens (just be sure to always start with non-hybrid or heirloom seeds).
In order to save green bean seeds for next year, just leave several bushes of beans to grow big at the end of the season. When the beans are big and lumpy and start to yellow, they’re easiest to save. Just shell them and put them in a cool dry place to dry. I have saved green bean seeds for two years, and they work well. If you let your green beans get old and yellow on the bush, you are set for seed saving.
Dry beans are the easiest because you’re going to get them into shape for saving and storing anyway. We raise French horticulture beans, which are wonderful, and we tried pinto beans this year as well. The beans will get big and fat, and the pods will turn yellow and red. The key is that they need a chance to dry out.
We have found that if we have a wet September, it will ruin the beans and cause them to mold. It’s best to pull the beans, bushes and all, and leave them in a place to dry. Just make sure you give them enough space. Mold is always the enemy here.
Once the pods start to feel a little bit dry, you can shell the beans and then just spread them out to continue drying. Don’t put them away until the beans are completely dried. Then, in the winter, just make sure you save out enough for growing next spring. We have seed saved our French horticulture beans for four years, and they always come right up. Dried beans are the easiest to seed save, I think.
Carrots are trickier. You can’t get seeds from your carrots the first year. You have to wait until the second year for them to go to seed. Leave a few carrots in the ground this year and then wait. Just be sure to place mulch around the plants to keep them warm in the winter underneath all that snow. Next year, when the plants start to seed, let the seeds start to get brown and dry. It kind of looks like a little nest. Then, take the seeds and place them in a brown paper bag to continue to dry. Be careful with containers that trap moisture. Again, mold is the enemy. Once your seeds are totally dry, shake them in a bag to release the seed from the plant. Save them in cool dry place.
We’ve been seed saving tomatoes before we even tried to. One year, I noticed that places where tomatoes had fallen to the ground and been left all year were growing tomato plants. It’s kind of amazing. But, of course, to do a better job and have consistency, all you have to do is choose some tomatoes that are big and strong and squish them up. Add water and the squished tomatoes to a glass jar. The water helps the seeds separate. Then, place the jar in a warm spot for a few days. You should see a layer of moldy stuff start to form on the top of the mixture. Once you see the mold at the top and seeds at the bottom, you can remove the icky mold and run your mixture through a strainer to keep your seeds. Be sure to clean your seeds well and let them dry on a paper plate or something the seeds won’t stick to. You don’t want to use paper towels or paper, as the seeds may stick. Then, just store your seeds in a cool dry place like other seeds.
First, of course, you have to get heirloom corn seeds. Corn is particularly tricky to save because so many of the corn seeds out there are hybrids. This means, if you save those hybrid seeds, you won’t get the same corn. You actually don’t know what kind of corn you will get. But a couple of years ago, we founds some heirloom seeds, and we’ve been using them every year since.
When it’s time to harvest your corn, just choose three or four (depending upon how many you want to save) ears of corn. Pull the husks back but don’t remove them. Then, just let the ears of corn hang upside down in a cool, dry place to dry out. Once the corn cobs are fully dry, you can just pull off the corn seeds for storage. You can also just leave them hanging out all year. That’s what I did this year, and things went very well.
These are just a few of the basics I know, but it feels like a good place to start. As I learn more about seed saving, I’ll definitely share and let you know how it goes. And, if you know how to save some seeds, please share your tips here. It would be great to get a conversation going. You can also check out this handy site with a chart for seed saving a wide variety of seeds for your next year’s garden.