How to Save Your Own Seeds

How to Save Your Own Seeds

Part of Ep. 701 The Heirloom Garden Pt. 1

Save your heirloom seeds and self-perpetuate your garden. Kent Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange demonstrates how.

Premiere date: Mar 06, 1999

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
One of the added benefits of growing heirloom varieties of vegetables is that you can save your own seed and self-perpetuate your own garden. I'm back again with Kent Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange. And Kent, for a beginner, what would you advise for easy seeds to learn how to save?

Kent:
Well, Shelley, certainly the two easiest crops to save seeds from are beans and tomatoes. For instance, here's a variety of beans that is ready to save seed on. As you can see, the pods have dried. And we'll go through and pick this into a shopping bag and put it up in the loft of the barn so it can finish drying. And then we'll break the pods and winnow them in the wind.

Shelley:
So, that's all I have to do to have them ready to plant next spring?

Kent:
Yes, and dry them on down.

Shelley:
Okay, do we have to worry-- there are hybrid plants, there's an open pollinating issue with this kind of seed saving.

Kent:
All of the varieties here at Heritage Farm are open pollinated, or standard varieties of vegetables that will come true from seed every year.

Shelley:
Okay.

Kent:
The hybrids are actually the cross of two different varieties. They'll start reverting to one of the parents if you try to save seeds from them, so it just simply doesn't work.

Shelley:
So, if I'm buying seeds for my garden, if I want to save seeds, I have to buy the right kind?

Kent:
Certainly. The hybrids will either say "hybrid" or "F-1" in the catalog, so you can tell them easily.

Shelley:
Well, you've got one seed saving technique here that I'm not familiar with. Why do you have all your green peppers in cages?

Kent:
Well, studies have shown that peppers will cross 80 percent of the time. What actually does it are tiny little sweat bees that work the little blossoms. And so, what we do to keep the seed absolutely pure is to grow them under these types of cages. And home gardeners, for instance, could separate two varieties at least by the length of their garden.

Shelley:
So, I don't need a cage.

Kent:
No, not really.

Shelley:
Okay. You mentioned tomatoes as one of the easiest ones to start with, and that's a popular vegetable. Can we look at the process for saving them?

Kent:
There are some that we're saving down by the barn.

Shelley:
Okay. Now, these tomatoes look perfectly ripe and ready to eat. But that's not really what we're going to do with them, is it, Kent?

Kent:
No, Shelley. As you know, we're keeping about 4,000 different varieties of tomatoes here at Heritage Farm. And we grow out about 500 of them every summer for seed. We'll grow eight plants of each, and then we'll wait until there are ripe tomatoes on each of the plants. And then, we take the fruits and we cut a small "X" in the blossom end of the fruit and then we squeeze the seeds and the gel...

Shelley:
You just squish them out.

Kent:
...out into a container. We'll do this until we actually have the container completely full of seeds.

Shelley:
I don't need to do that as a home gardener.

Kent:
No, you wouldn't need as much seed as we're dealing with here. But then, you set them aside and let them ferment for two or three days.

Shelley:
You've got some here that have been fermenting. These are cucumbers seeds, it looks like.

Kent:
Yes, those are cucumbers. And the technique for fermenting the seeds is the same for any fruit that has the seeds encased in a sack of gel.

Shelley:
So, you mean like the gel we see right here?

Kent:
Yes. As you know, with a tomato seed, there's a little sack of gel around every seed. And there's a growth inhibitor inside of that gel. That's what keeps the seed from sprouting in the wet tomato.

Shelley:
So, we have to get rid of it.

Kent:
You do. And also, when you ferment the seed like this, it destroys all the seed-born diseases that we're liable to have problems with as gardeners. So, it breaks down the flesh. And then, we actually let them go for a couple of days. But now, you have to be careful, because since that growth inhibiting chemical is gone, the seeds will sprout in this wet mixture. So, you wait for just a couple of days. We actually pour this into a sieve under a stream of water. And we kind of rub it with our fingers to wash the flesh on through the sieve.

Shelley:
You're just getting the gel washed away.

Kent:
Then, we take a container-- and we have printed the name with an indelible marker on the container--

Shelley:
So we don't get our seeds mixed up.

Kent:
Yes. And then, we take these seeds and we just plop them out onto a coffee filter. And then, we take this and put this into the container. We let this just dry in here. The filter just kind of wicks away the moisture from the seeds and they dry on down just fine. Seeds like cucumber are ready to store when they will break instead of bending. Then you put them into a airtight container-- something like a peanut butter jar with a good amount of rubber under the lid-- Then put that in a cool, dry place.

Shelley:
Then they're ready next spring.

Kent:
Yes.

Shelley:
One thing I have to ask you real quick. These cucumbers look far past prime. I assume this is when we want to save the seeds?

Kent:
Yes. For tomatoes, just when they're ripe is fine. But with cucumbers, we actually let them go past maturity, actually, to the point where they're getting a little bit soft.

Shelley:
So, they're squishy, okay. Well, thank you very much, Kent.

Kent:
It's quite all right.

Shelley:
For more information on saving all kinds of garden varieties of seeds, this is a great book. It's published by Seed Savers Exchange.

EPISODE SEGMENTS+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.