Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
October, 2006
Regional Report

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I always save seeds from my heirloom yellow bell peppers and garden salsa peppers.

Save Your Seeds!

Since gardens are beginning to wind down, it's a good time to review the processes for saving seeds for next year's garden. You will have the best luck saving seed from self-pollinated plants and open-pollinated plants that reliably produce the same plants every generation. In self-pollinated plants (such as peas, snap beans, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers), the pollen from a flower joins with ovules on the same flower or another flower on same plant. Open pollinated plants are pollinated naturally by insects, wind, etc.

Soft Fruits
For soft fruits, such as tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, let the fruit ripen almost to overripe but not to the point of being rotten. Scrape out the seedy pulp and discard the rest of the fruit. Put tomato seeds and pulp in a covered jar with some water and let it sit a few days to ferment. Fermentation lets bacteria kill any seedborne diseases. Shake the jar a couple of times a day.

After a couple of days, the good seeds will have sunk to the bottom and the bad seeds and pulp will be floating. Pour off the water and pulp carefully, trying not to disturb the seeds on the bottom. Then dump the seeds into a fine strainer and rinse them well. Spread the damp seeds on a tray or screen to dry.

A screen will give you the fastest drying. Resist the urge to dry them on paper towels or newspaper because they are hard to remove without damage. Dry the seeds as quickly as possible to prevent molding or sprouting. Stir often to dry them quickly.

For peppers and eggplant, simply remove the seeds from the pulp and wash the seeds thoroughly. Spread the seeds to dry.

Seed crops like beans and peas can be left on the vine to dry, or harvested when fully ripe and spread on screens to dry. When the pods are dry, you can thresh or beat the pods to release their seeds or hand-split each pod.

After separating them from the pods, spread the seeds on paper towels, newspaper, a screen, or tray to dry completely. If using paper, change it a couple of times to make sure you don't get any mold where the seeds are sitting.

Plants that have dry seeds that are dispersed as soon as they are ripe are called shattering plants. Examples include lettuce, onions, vegetables in the mustard family, and many types of annual flowers. The seeds often ripen gradually so you must check them daily. A good way to collect the seed is to hold a paper bag tightly around the seed head and tap or shake it. You can label the bag and take it out to the garden on several days as the seeds ripen.

After collecting, shake the seed through a screen to remove the chaff. An alternative method is to pour the seeds into a bottle of water. The chaff and bad seeds will float and you can collect the good seeds after pouring off the water. If you use this method, be sure to dry the seeds immediately. Drying time will vary according to the size of the seed.

Storing Seeds
Once the seeds are dry, put them into an airtight container to prevent their reabsorbing moisture from the air, and label them immediately. The best place to store thoroughly dried seeds is in moisture-proof containers, such as canning jars. Store dry seed in the refrigerator, freezer, or a dark, cool spot.

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