Granny Miller’s heirloom tomatoes or simply saving money at the garden center, collecting seeds is just another adventure in gardening. There are so many seeds to save and share with others, and as many reasons as there are seeds.
Seed saving started when humans settled in one area growing plants rather than gathering what was available while traveling.
Thousands of plants have sprouted with no help from humans, relying on animals, wind and insects to carry pollen from one plant to the next. These open pollinated plants, often called heirlooms, grow true to their parent plant and are the best seeds for saving.
Hybrid seeds may be sterile or not grow back to the plant you want. Saving these seeds will result in unpredictable combinations of the traits of the grandparent plants instead of the parent plant from which you saved seed.
While not good for saving, hybrids are important for all growers — especially organic growers who benefit from the disease resistance or another aspect of certain hybrids.
After the flower or vegetable has matured, you may harvest the seeds. The seedhead or seedpod will often turn a shade of brown when they dry out. This lets you know the seeds are mature and ready to harvest. You need to watch certain seed heads as many open by themselves when seeds are ripe, and you might lose them to the wind or to the ground (and they are too difficult to find!) Tie a bag over the flower’s head, shake the plant and the ripe seeds will fall into the bag. If you’re collecting seeds from a variety of plants at the same time, carry paper lunch bags with you and label as you go. Pick peas and beans right off the vines when the pods have dried out.
After saving black-eyed susans, coneflowers, and zinnias, I just crumble the dried flower heads into prepared soil to plant in spring. I always leave some flowers for the birds. Flower heads of small seed heads are easy to separate by rubbing the flower head across a mesh screen nailed onto a simple wood frame. Large seeds from sunflowers come off the flower head by rubbing two heads together after allowing them to ripen and dry for a couple of months.
Vegetables such as pumpkins, cucumbers, melons and squash and the seeds of tomatoes have a lot of pulp surrounding the seeds. To harvest seeds from these plants, pick the fruit when it is perfectly ripe. Scrape the pulp and seeds out of the fruit and place it into a large bowl of water.
The seeds are easily removed from the pulp after an hour or so of soaking. Place the seeds on a screen or cloth and put them in a warm place for at least one week to dry.
I love to introduce children to gardening so after having them help me collect seeds, we make seed envelopes that they can color and write the seed information on. I place the envelopes into a wide-mouth canning jar with a small muslin bag of silica powder, then place it in the refrigerator.
For details on saving seeds, storage information, and germination tests go to http://go.osu.edu/savingseed
Baytos is an Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Mahoning County.