Mad About Science: Seed Saving

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist

It’s been a long, crazy, hot summer, and we’re hoping your garden survived it.

Whether this is your first year, your 15th or your 50th, I know you’ve been looking forward to this month since you started this strange journey.

Today we’re going to focus on seed saving in preparation for next year and years beyond.

Plants are pretty cool. After at least a billion years of propagation, plants have learned that a flak cannon hits more things than a 30-06. That is, plants make a lot of seeds, because increasing the chance that you will reproduce by 100 percent is smart, but increasing it by 1,337 percent is way smarter. Your average tomato has between 20 and 60 seeds per fruit. That adds up when you have several fruit on a plant.

Plants are smart.

But their existence is an incredibly fragile thing. We, as humans, aren’t doing a very good job as a whole to protect their well-being, either.

The vast majority of seeds being used by humans are patented by seed companies, meaning through much of the world it’s illegal to store the seeds and save them or share them with neighbors. These are many of the seeds you get from department stores, or in seed packets popping up through the spring months. Most of these share nearly identical genetic traits: great for reliable harvests, but that comes loaded with a pretty specific danger.

If a disease pops up that targets beefsteak tomatoes, specifically the branded beefsteak tomatoes you can buy from a store, it’s possible for that disease to become a pandemic that sweeps across the country and wrecks that breed. What would your cheese burger look like without sliced tomatoes?

What if that happened to corn? Or even worse, wheat?

Your cheeseburger would be just that: meat and cheese, and without corn, you wouldn’t even have a soda to go wash it down.

Heirlooms are our safety net. Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been handed down through generations, through networks of amateur and professional farmers alike to preserve specific traits and qualities of a plant for future generations.

Best part is, “the Man” doesn’t have a patent on these bad boys, because Mother Nature’s fingerprints are all over them. They’re safe to store, save and share!

Wanting to save, but not sure how?

Here are some plant-specific tips on starting your seed-saving journey.

Tomatoes: The seeds are ooey-gooey and slippery. How are you supposed to gather them?

Squeeze them into a jar, so that the seeds and pulp splat right in. Let them ferment for a couple of days. Once you notice a mold starting to form, pour some water in. You can pour out the mold, pulp, and any floating seeds. The ones that sink are the little gold nuggets you’re looking for. Clean any debris and let them dry on a paper plate for a few days, then toss them in a ziplock bag. Store them in a cool, dark space free of humidity and they can keep for up to four years. I wouldn’t recommend freezing them.

Peppers are even easier to save. Just cut it open, carve out the seeds onto a piece of paper, let them dry and they’re ready to store.

Peas are similar. You want them to sit on the vine until they start to dry out and you can hear the peas rattling inside of their shell. Take them off the vine and let them dry in the house for about two weeks. Shell them, or don’t shell them and just store them like the others.

Lettuce is a little trickier, since its flowers don’t like to pop all at the same time. Once at least half the flowers of the plant have gone to seed, you can chop the head of the plant off and place it upside-down in a paper bag and let it dry.

You can also use a small bag and your hands to jar loose and collect seeds without decapitating the poor thing, though this method is more laborious.

What to do once you’ve saved a small granary of seeds?

Well, first, I can’t stress enough that you want to label them!

Save plenty for yourself for next year. Share them with your friends and family, or share them with the Seed Library.

The Seed Library is currently in hibernation, but it still needs your help. The Seed Library will accept donations of non-hybrid, open pollinated seed stock from your own garden, and it needs seeds more than ever. As long as we can gather enough donations, the Seed Library will be able to return once the construction has died down, and we can all enjoy the fruits of our community’s labors together.

How to tell if your plant’s seeds are good to donate to the Seed library?

Since we don’t take hybrids, any hybrids you grew this year will have to have been isolated from the stock you want to harvest from. Hybrids are unpredictable, and they’re labeled at most nurseries and department stores as being hybrids.

Did you know that ours was the first Seed Library in Idaho? All of your hard work started something incredible, and with just a bit more we can continue to maintain this great local resource.

Please help us stock it up for spring!

Looking for a little more info? Check the library’s website, we’ve got what you need!

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