The garden is all planted and in maintenance mode. You are harvesting delicious summer veggies, and enjoying watching all the pollinators buzzing around the abundant flowers. While you’re spending so much time in the garden, keeping up with the weeding and watering, this is a great time to be thinking about saving seeds for next year.
Saving your own seeds brings you closer to the life cycle of your garden – you will find you watch the plants more closely and understand better how they grow. Home seed savers help build biodiversity in our communities and can help to keep delightful heirloom vegetables around for future generations to enjoy. It’s also a great way to save money and build resilience!
Many plants require a little bit of planning ahead for successful seed saving, but some can be successfully saved almost as an afterthought. Read on for some ideas about saving seeds from garden plants you’ve already got growing.
If you’ve attended any of our seed saving talks, you’ve been introduced to the concepts of isolation distance, population size, and self vs insect pollination. Corn is wind-pollinated, for example, and will easily cross-pollinate if you have multiple varieties growing near to each other. If you want to save your corn seed from year to year, for example, you will need to plan out your garden so that you have only one variety growing each year – or, perhaps, stagger your plantings so that only one variety is blooming at a time. It takes a little work and planning, but it isn’t hard and it can be done! (And if you haven’t attended any of our talks or workshops, keep an eye on this blog for future happenings.)
But even if you weren’t planning and planting with seed saving in mind, you can probably still save some of the seeds from this year’s garden!
You will have to make sure the plants you want to save seeds from are open-pollinated (not hybrid). Check the seed packet if you still have it, or if you know the variety name that you planted, you can probably do an internet search to find that out. If your variety says “heirloom” or “open-pollinated”, you are good to go! Avoid trying to save seeds from anything that says it’s “hybrid” or “F1” – any seeds you save from those plants will probably not grow out like the original plant.
Let’s talk first about some of the easiest seeds to save: beans and peas.
Beans and Peas
These plants are mostly self-pollinated, which means that they don’t rely on insects or wind to produce the beans and peas. Ideally, you would want to plant different varieties of beans at least 10 feet apart to avoid cross-pollination – and the same with different varieties of peas. But even if you don’t have quite that much space between differing varieties, give it a try and just plan on planting them a little further apart next year.
Saving seeds from beans and peas is as easy as just leaving some of the pods on the vine (or bush) until they are dry and the seeds rattle inside the pods. The longer you can leave them on the plant, the better developed and more viable the seeds are likely to be, but you’ll probably want to remove them before the first frost. When they are completely dry, split open the pods and voila! You’ve got seeds for next year! Make sure they are completely dry, label them, and then save them in a cool dry place until spring.
Some terrific bean varieties we offer at the Charlotte Seed Library are Rattlesnake, Jacob’s Cattle, and Dragon Langerie.
It’s also very easy to save seeds from tomatoes, and they’re also mostly self-pollinated – so if you’ve got 10 feet or so between different varieties, you can try saving some of your seeds for next year. (again, you will probably have success even if you have planted different varieties a little closer together than 10 feet)
Many of the tomato varieties folks commonly grow are hybrids, like Sungold or Early Girl, and these are not suitable for saving seeds. But if you are growing heirloom varieties like Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Amish Paste, or Aunt Ruby’s German Green Tomato (all of which we offer through the seed library), you can definitely save some seeds for next year!
To save tomato seeds, leave fruit on the vine until it’s fully ripe (or just a little over-ripe). Squeeze the pulpy seeds into a bowl or jar and ferment for a few days to remove the pulp – here’s a link to more detailed instructions. Again, make sure the seeds are completely dry before you label them and store them away until next spring.
Another candidate for easy seed saving is lettuce. You may have some lettuce plants in your garden right now that got away from you and bolted – consider saving those seeds! Lettuce is self-pollinated like beans, peas, and tomatoes, and also needs only about 10 feet of isolation distance to keep from cross-pollinating.
To save the seeds, just leave a few heads of lettuce in the garden to bolt, flower, and go to seed. Be sure to collect at least some of those mature seeds before they start spreading in the wind! And watch next spring for some volunteer lettuce plants started by the seeds that got away from you.
Some of our favorite varieties offered through the seed library are Freckles, a red-spotted romaine, and Gold Rush, a looseleaf green lettuce, but there are many heirloom lettuces out there that you can grow and save seeds from.
Keep an eye on this blog for more seed saving information and activities. Have a great summer, and I hope that you will try saving some seeds for yourself and to share with others in the community.