by Expat Chef
A couple weeks ago we went to pick up our CSA bag. Part of the week's harvest included an small melon with a light green rind. It smelled crisp and citrus. I can't even remember the name of it. As we placed it in the car, the farmer said, "Hey, be sure to save the seeds on this for me. They cost me a dollar each."
He gave my husband instructions on how to save the seeds. When my husband cut into the melon, the texture and flavor were just like the smell. It was a very interesting fruit. He did as the farmer asked, and saved the seeds. When he counted them, he said, "You know, there's like $150 in here." The next week we returned the seeds to our farmer, keeping a few to try and plant ourselves.
While we are spending this month talking about preserving the harvest by canning and freezing, seed saving is one of the easiest things you can do to preserve heirloom varieties. Even if you return the seeds to your farmer instead of planting them yourself, he will likely thank you all the more. The practice of seed saving predates the glossy seed catalog by hundreds of years. With many heirloom varieties, were it not for seed saving, they would have become extinct. Seed saving is one way to preserve the harvest, for the next season, and for generations to come.
- Make sure that the seeds are ripe. If you are saving seeds from a purchased fruit or vegetable, let the fruit or vegetable come to full ripeness on the counter. The cool refrigerator will delay the maturing of the fruits. As a general rule, the best point for harvesting seeds is just after the optimal ripeness for eating. Makes sense that the best time for seed is nearly the same as for eating.
- If you are harvesting seed from your own garden, the best time to harvest for seeds is in the height of afternoon on a sunny day, once the dew has evaporated. Look for the best of your plants, ones that are not stressed from disease, pests or drought.
- Extract the seed. For peas and beans this means giving up some of your harvest to save for planting the next year. For tomatoes, melon and other seeds that are in a gelatinous coating, rinse the seeds thoroughly in a sieve and rub the seeds gently to remove the gel. Lettuces offer up their seeds after the plant has bolted. Put a bag over the flowering head and gently shake to gather the seed. Sort out any part of the plant that is not seed and remove it. This is true for all seeds because often the plant substance surrounding the seeds contains a chemical that prevents the seeds from germinating. Thus, the seeds don't try to sprout while still inside the vegetable or fruit.
- Dry the seeds in a well-ventilated place in thin layers on newspaper, paper towels, or screens. This may take a couple weeks.
- Prepare airtight containers that are clearly marked for the variety of plant.
- Store seed jars in a cool, dry place. You can even freeze them. Mother nature does the same thing over winter.
You can find detailed instructions for different plants and learn more about the art of seed saving at these sites:
International Seed Saving Institute
Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving and sharing heirloom seeds