Monday, November 14, 2011

Heirloom Seed-Saving

This past gardening season, I ordered my seeds from Uprising Seeds in Acme (Bellingham), WA.  I went with them because they sell organic, heirloom varieties, and sell seeds from plants that are accustomed to our cooler, shorter summers.  This also guaranteed that they were not GMO's and that seed saving would be a possibility. 

Saving seeds from GMO or hybrid varieties generally results in weaker offspring.  GMO seeds are created to have the highest yield for the first year but have weak genes.  Heirloom varieties are old breeds that have been bred year after year, for many generations, and are open-pollinated, thus resulting in "true" seeds.  The bottom line is seeds saved from heirloom plants are likely to be successful year after year.

Anyway, saving seeds is generally pretty easy.  You just have to think about how a plant would reproduce in nature.  Think to yourself, what would this plant do if I just went away and left it alone?  The plant will flower and be pollinated by bees, then a fruit will be produced that will either be eaten by something, or fully mature and fall off the plant or dry out.  That's when the seeds are ready.  That's when you should collect them to save for next year.

With beans and plants that produce an actual pod (like broccoli) this is easy.  You just wait for the pod to dry.  These are the broccoli pods I harvested.  I'll just collect a bunch of these and put them in a little paper pouch and store them in a cool, dry place until spring.

(The only concern I have with these seeds is whether they will be "true" or not.  They were next to some other brassica plants that were also flowering so I hope they don't become hybrids.)

Green beans, peas, and broccoli: food potential for next year.
With tomatoes it gets a little more complicated.  Ever looked at a seed inside a tomato?  It's covered in a slimy goo.  This goo protects the seed, but unless it goes through a specific process, will also stay on the seed and suffocate it.  In nature, a tomato will get ripe, then fall off the plant to mold on the ground.  This fermentation is key to getting the seeds ready.  Allowing that to happen outside would result a pain-in-the-ass task of looking for seeds that are likely buried in the soil.  And who wants to pick through a moldy tomato?

Though there is still some picking through mold necessary, this task is made much easier and less disgusting when done inside.

First you pick some really good, healthy tomatoes.  Cut them open and squeeze out the seeds into a small container.  Add a 1/4-1/2 cup of water and cover with something that will allow the container to breathe.  Put the container on a windowsill somewhere, where it won't be disturbed and can be watched, and wait.

Day 1

Day 4

Day 8

I would say that's fermented.
Now that it's gotten nice and moldy, the seeds should be ready.  First you carefully remove the nastyness at the top and chuck it.  (It peels off quite nicely in one piece.) Now gently pour off the liquid on top.  The seeds that are floating are no good so those can go too, it's the seeds that are sunk to the bottom that you want.  Rinse out the seeds by either using a colander or by swishing them around in the container with a couple rounds of fresh water.  I found that they needed to be agitated and kneaded a bit to get their skins off.

Now the seeds need to dry.  This can be done by dumping them out on a paper towel or coffee filter.  They need to be super duper dry before you store them or else they'll mold again.

Once dry, they need to be peeled off the paper towel, (mine stuck pretty good and some seeds have some paper towel bits stuck to them but I think they'll be fine.

I think they're pretty.
So there you go.  This is my first time really saving seeds so we'll see how it goes next spring!

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