Seed saving is an old practice. In days gone by, farmers and gardeners saved their prized heirloom seeds and valued them as treasures worth holding onto every year to year. As the gardening season comes to a close and fall approaches, consider saving some of those phenomenal seeds from your vegetable garden and flowering perennials and annual beds.
If you want to save seeds, remember the two basic forms of seeds: hybrid and non-hybrid (or open pollinated) seed. Hybrid seeds are created by crossing select varieties of plants through pollination and what you get is believed to be the most desirable characteristics of both parent plants. Non-hybrid or open pollinated seeds are produced by a plant pollinated by a plant of the same variety.
It is important to save and store only non-hybrid, self-pollinated or heirloom seeds. Seeds saved and stored by a non-hybrid will grow into almost the identical plant as the one produced this year. It will have the same qualities and characteristics you desire. You also do not have to purchase new seeds next year.
If you save and store hybrid seeds, you may come up with a mutant offspring with no characteristics of the original plant.
When you buy original seeds or an existing plant, know if it is a hybrid or non-hybrid. Most commercial seed companies sell hybrids, but some dealers carry non-hybrids, too.
With all that said, let us focus on saving and storing.
To collect seeds from your garden, decide which plants you want to replant. If you grew some tasty tomatoes, squash or cucumbers, leave a few on the vine, allowing them to ripen and dry out. These will be the seeds to keep and store.
Crop plants will have the seeds inside them. Scoop out the seeds from the mature vegetables into a glass jar or bowl. Allow the seeds to sit for 2 to 3 days in their own liquid. Then pour them into a strainer and rinse the seeds. Dry them on paper towels.
Next, place them in labeled envelopes or jars in the freezer for two days to kill off the pests. Then store the envelope or container in a cool, dry area until the next growing season.
Try to save and store twice as many as you will need in case some are not viable seeds.
Perennial and annual seeds can be saved and stored as well as vegetables. Many sunflowers, coneflowers, zinnia and black-eyed Susan seeds can be saved as well.
Self-pollinated plants are the easiest to save. Heirloom flower seeds from plants such as cleome, foxgloves and sweet pea still grow true from seeds.
When the seed heads or pod is dark and turning dry, carefully remove and distribute them into a paper bag. Store them in a dry, cool place. These seeds can be successfully stored for long-term use. Stored seeds are best used the following year.
Seed saving can become a hobby. It is fun to share seeds with friends and family. Seeds saved can quickly become a valuable heirloom and adapted into your garden.
Look for a continuation article for getting your saved seeds started indoors later in the winter season.
Wanda Cannon serves as master gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. Contact her at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.