Saving seeds from your garden

by Farmer Liz
Following on from my post the other day about starting from seeds, here's the next step to cheaper veges, saving your own seeds.  The advantage of saving your own seeds isn't just the money you save on seeds, it also allows you to breed plants that are more adapted to your climate and soil conditions.   

drying seeds from spaghetti squash, button squash, roma tomatoes, beans and spring onions,
I always have lots of little trays in the kitchen waiting for the seeds to dry.
I was never taught how to save seeds, I just started leaving plants that had bolted and seeing what happened.  Actually it seems to be quite difficult to find information about seed saving,  much easier to just buy seeds, but I find seed saving interesting and usually quite rewarding (I found one good step by step guide here).  All my gardening books explain how to grow seeds, but none discuss saving seeds, although I believe you can buy entire books just on the topic of seed saving, I haven't found that necessary so far.  From my own trial and error I've found that some veges are more difficult than others, but the more seeds you can save, the more free veges in your garden, so its worth trying if you have the time and space in your garden!

saving seeds from a giant pickling cucumber
Anything that forms a seed pod is extremely easy to save.  I have successfully saved broccoli, mustard, beans, peas, parsley, basil, marigold and spring oinons.  Seeds that are inside of fruit are more difficult to save.  I haven't perfected saving tomatoes, but they grow out of the compost anyway! I have saved capsicum and pumpkin seeds.  I haven't attempted corn or zucchini so far.  I have silverbeet going to seed at the moment and I'm not totally sure what will happen, or when the seed will be ready (after waiting for a couple of months now!), but I am happy to wait and see.

Broccoli seeds ready to harvest
For the seed pods, its generally best to let the pods ripen and dry off while attached to the plant, to ensure that the seeds have completely formed and are ready to sprout later.  If several plants are going to seed, I usually pull most of them out and just leave a couple to collect seed from, as that's usually plenty.  For small seeds like broccoli and mustard, I cut off the branch with the pods that are ready and shake them out over some newspaper, then I can pick out the pods and tip the seeds into a jar or envelope.  With the larger seed pods, like beans and peas, the seeds can be handled more easily and just removed from the pod and put into storage when they're ready.  The fleshy seeds like pumpkin and capsicum need to be spread out and allowed to dry completely, I leave them out on a little dish for a few days until they are dry enough to store.  I usually take these as I'm cutting the veges for cooking, however one thing that I'm trying to remember is is I see a particularly large curcubit on the vine that is too big for eating, just leave it there for a while longer and give it a chance to form some decent seeds.  I did this with my pickling cucumber and was able to harvest seeds.  Its hard to remember as I tend to see a giant one and in my annoyance that I didn't see it earlier, I pick it without thinking!  This also works with giant beans and peas :)

waiting for this pea pod to dry out
When storing seeds, its important to keep them dry and cool.  I have a little cupboard in our dining room that stays nice and cool, as I've explained previously, some people also store seeds in the fridge.  I keep all my saved seeds in little jars from the moisturiser I buy and any bought seed packets get sealed in plastic bags for storage.  Its also important to record the type of seed and the date of storage.  I have a few jars of seeds that I was sure I would remember easily, best to just write a label, as six months later the jars are just mystery seeds!  Some of the smaller seeds don't last long, while beans can last for years, so you need to know which batches are older and need to be used up (or distributed to friends if you don't have the space).  Permaculture groups are great for swapping seeds :)

As I mentioned before, I have heaps of spring onion seeds and also now mini capsicum and marigold seeds, so if anyone in Australia would like me to post them some seeds, please email me at eight.acres.liz at gmail dot com.  I will also soon have parsley and silver beet seeds and I still have crazy poor man's beans if you're up for the challenge of controlling them!

Parsley seeds tied back because they were sprawling all over the place!
Spring onion seeds
I have also found a website that explains how to save seeds from a number of different veges, and it has finally answered my question about the silverbeet seeds (let them dry on the stalk).

mess silverbeet seeds! (in with everything else)
What seeds do you save?  Any tips for keeping them fresh?

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