The time of year to save seeds for next year’s garden has begun. If you have plants that have done well in our cooler-than-usual summer, you may want to check and see if their seeds are ready to save. Any plant that is open pollinated will grow into the same plant as the parent unless you are growing more than one variety. Hybridized seeds may produce a plant that is not the same as a parent. If you plan ahead and want to save seeds, you may want to buy heirloom seeds (open pollinated) and stick with one variety of each plant unless you have plenty of space to separate the varieties.
There are organizations dedicated to saving and exchanging seeds. Seed Savers Exchange “saves and shares the heirloom seeds, forming a living legacy that can be passed down through generations. When people grow and save seeds, they join an ancient tradition as stewards, nurturing our diverse, fragile, genetic and cultural heritage”. To find out more about local seed exchanges, contact Seattle Tilth. If you ask around, there may be gardener-to-gardener exchanges. On a recent walk with my brother, one of his neighbors offered seeds from a yellow romano bean that had done very well this summer.
This is my sister-in-law, Michelle’s method of saving seed from plants that form seeds in pods. First, choose the plants that are productive, have the best flavor and are disease resistant. Cut stalks of seed pods from plants when they are completely dry and have just begun to open and disperse seeds on their own. Place the stalks in a paper bag upside down in a warm dry place. The pods will continue to open and seeds drop into the bag. When the seeds have dropped, transfer to an envelope, label and store in an airtight container like a canning jar.
If you have tomatoes this year, you can save the seed once the fruit is fully ripe. As you may have noticed, tomato seeds have a gelatinous coating that keep them from sprouting inside the fruit. Squeeze seeds into a bowl (if you can bear to give up the most perfectly ripe tomato you have). Add some water and let the mixture stand in a warm room for 3-4 days. Stir a few times a day to prevent mold from forming. The good seeds will sink to the bottom and can be spread to dry. For other vegetables containing seeds like squash and peppers, seeds can be scooped out and dried. Make sure that all seeds are completely dry or they may rot or mold during storage.
Most consumers get to taste less than 1% of the vegetable varieties that were grown in our country just a century ago. By saving seeds to use or to pass on to others, you are helping protect our plant diversity. A global seed vault in Norway has been created so food production can continue in the event seed resources are depleted due to a disaster. When we are thinking about what we will have to pass on to future generations, we should consider seeds as an important part of our legacy.