I like to be as self sustainable as possible and at the end of every season I let a few of my crops flower and go to seed, or I save the seed from the fruit, eg, tomatoes and cucumbers. This is how our ancestors have always grown, and it is only during this last century that packets of seeds have been on sale to the general public. I do still buy one or two packets of heirloom seeds every year, to add different varieties to my crops, but most of the other things I’ve grown from saved seeds, or from fruit or vegetables that I have bought and eaten. I don’t save seeds from the fruit and vegetables that I bought as they are are probably grown from F1 seeds and so might not grow properly the following year. F1 seeds have been modified by humans and are not as nature intended and this means that they can be tasteless or revert to a parent crop. Saving seeds saves me lots of money every growing season, it means that I can grow my favourite varieties again, and it helps the plants adapt to my garden as the seeds are saved from successful plants. It also gives me food security as my own personal seed bank of saved seeds means that if SHTF, and there are no seeds in the shops, I can still grow my own food. The image on the top of the post is saved rocket and Pak choi seeds.
When collecting seeds I have to be careful that the plants have not cross pollinated. Some crops are more prone to cross pollinating as they need the pollen from another plant to be fertilised, and so if you have different varieties of the same kind of vegetable it is more likely. My squash have cross pollinated a few years ago and I ended with some funny elongated butternut squash. The easiest plants to save seeds from are lettuce, tomatoes, peas, peppers and beans as they are self pollinating and will always produce plants the same as the parent plant that you saved them from. The image below is of my butternut squash that cross pollinated. Luckily they tasted fine, but attract lots of funny comments.
Here are some tips for saving seeds
- Collect seeds from healthy plants that have produced the fruit that you want. Getting seeds from the best specimens will produce healthy plants.
- If saving seeds from inside fruit or vegetables, make sure that the fruit is fully ripe, or even over rips, so that the seeds are mature.
- Make sure that you have saved enough seeds for your needs, as they all might not germinate the following year. Some plants I do multiple sowings eg peas and so I have to save a lot more than I think that I will need.
- Remove any flesh that is on the seeds and then fully dry them before storing. Tomatoes and cucumbers, for instance have a gel like substance around them to stop them germinating. I put them in a jam jar and add water and give them a shake. The seeds fall to the bottom of the jar and the gel and pulp come to the top. I do this a couple of times until the water is clear and then I drain the water out using a sieve and I spread them out to dry on kitchen paper or a silicone mat. Some seeds from plants like beans and peas I let dry on the vine in their pods in the sunshine. They rattle when they are dry enough to pick.
- Before storing, make sure that the seeds are fully dry or else they will go mouldy over the winter.
- Store them in a packet that is labelled with the variety of the vegetable, planting instructions and the date. I do usually recognise seeds but I have been caught out by not labelling some times, especially with squash.
- Store the seeds in a cool, dry, dark place where they can not get damp.
Some times I take my seeds to a seed swap so that I can get new varieties. If I have lots I often give some away as presents to gardener friends too. Most seeds are viable for between 1 and 3 years, though I have had cucumber seeds germinate 5 years later. Onion and lettuce seeds rarely last over a year. Below are some chilli seeds, peas and beans that I saved last year and grew my crops from this year, but have some left to sow with newly saved seeds next year.