Summer’s Over! Let’s get a start on next year’s garden now with little to no effort
Happy first day of Autumn.
With the exception of the pumpkins and some stragglers in the beans and tomatoes, my summer garden is pretty much done. But before I clear out the beds to make room for fall and winter stuff, I like to go through and collect seed from my favorites and stash it away for next spring and to exchange with others.
Collecting seeds isn’t rocket science, so I’m not going to explain how to pick seed sources. I just use over-ripe fruit or post-bloom flower heads, both pretty common in my garden at the end of the season, to ensure you get the highest number of mature seeds capable of germination.
Equally important to having good seed stock is drying and storing so they can germinate months (or even years) down the road. Some people have elaborate methods for seed prep. I’m not one of them. I’m lazy, so I’ve come up with ways of keeping pretty much any type of seed in good condition with little time or effort.
Preparing seeds for storage
For the purposes of saving and storing, all seeds are one of the following: large/dry, large/wet, small/dry and small/wet. I consider a seed to be “large” if I can easily pick up an individual seed with my fingers and “small” if I can’t. “Dry” means the seed is loose and doesn’t stick to a dry surface, “wet” means it clumps with other seeds and sticks to a dry surface. Here’s how I prep and store each type:
Large/Dry seeds – ex: beans, corn, peas, and chili peppers
How to prepare: air dry in the pod/shell/husk. I toss them on a square plant tray and put them in a dry place out of direct sunlight (usually my garden shed). Every few days move them around so they dry evenly. In a couple of weeks the husk/pod/shell will dry and crack. At that point you can shell the seeds. Let them sit out for a day and dry any leftover moisture.
Tip: chili peppers have thinner skins than their sweet cousins so they can be dried and stored whole, no muss, no fuss. When it comes time to plant, crack the skin on a few peppers and you’ll have all the seeds you need.
Large/Wet – ex: squash, cucumbers, melons and bell peppers
How to prepare: Lay down a paper towel and carve the seeds out of the seed wall on to half of the paper towel. Spread the seeds out (squishy goo and all) so they’re in a single layer on that half. Then fold the other half of the paper towel over on top of the seeds, press down to make the squishy stuff stick, and then fold the paper towel in half the other way so the seeds can’t slip out the end. Put the paper towel somewhere dry with good air circulation (I clothespin mine to a string like photos in a darkroom). Once the towel is completely dry, unfold it, remove the seeds and store according to the instructions below.
Tip: if you’re storing seeds that are small-ish and really slippery like cucumbers or melons, you can use the “small/wet” method below which has some advantages at planting time.
Small/Wet seeds – ex: eggplant, tomatoes, tomatillos
How to prepare: Lay down a paper towel. If it’s a 2-ply, separate the two layers and peel the top layer back to the middle of the towel. Squish out your seeds onto half of the paper towel (the lower half if you’re doing 2-ply). Spread the seeds and goo into a single layer and fold the other half of the paper towel on top of it. Fold it the other way so seeds can’t escape and put it somewhere dry with good air circulation. Once the towel is completely dry, store it (paper towel and all) according to the instructions below.
Tip: If you went the split 2-ply route, when planting time comes, don’t bother separating the seed from the towel. Just tear off a strip of the towel with seeds in between and plant that. The single layers hold water near the seed so it germinates more quickly but doesn’t hold back growth when it starts to put out roots.
Small/Dry seeds ex: herbs, onions, broccoli, flowers
How to prepare: These seeds are released from the flower stalk as it dries, so we want to capture them just before they drop. Cut the stalk about four inches below flower head when nearly all (but not all) the stalk is brown. Place the cut stalks flower head down in a paper sandwich bag and tie off the top of the bag with some string. Then place the bag somewhere dry, cool and out of direct light. In a few weeks the flower heads will dry and drop their seeds into the bottom of the bag. (You can encourage this by shaking the bag every so often.) Once all the seeds have dropped, pull the flower heads out and pour the seeds in the bottom of the paper bag into a storage container and store per below.
Tip: These types of seeds, particularly those in the onion family, have a very short shelf life. Plan on using them next planting season if you want a good germination rate.
Storing your seeds
Basically, you just want to keep seeds dry, out of the light and away from temperature extremes.
I’m a guy with a fondness for curiously strong mints, so my container of choice is the Altoid tin. When I’m short on tins or I plan on exchanging the seeds, I opt for the plain manila coin envelope, which is about the size of a seed packet. You can pick them up at pretty much any office supply, mega or online store. Since they’re not airtight like a tin is, add a pinch of cornstarch to the envelope before adding the seeds to catch any moisture that may slip in during storage.
Happy seed saving!