I learned about saving seeds from The Manual of Seed Saving by Andrea Heistinger. Determining the best time to get the seeds is the trickiest part. It is the trickiest part because it is different for every plant. Weather, amount of water, temperature, location of the garden as well as crop variety will impact when the seed is ready to harvest. Because of all these limiting factors, the best advice when to harvest the seed is when the fruit is ripe. For tomatoes, when they from green to yellow, red or orange is when the seeds are ready to be harvested. The rule of thumb is to harvest the seeds when the vegetable changes color. For peas, beans and other legumes, harvest the seeds when pods are dry and brittle. But in some bean varieties, the pod turns tough. Make sure that you do your research and know what type of bean that you have before you harvest them to make sure not to harvest the seeds too early.
There are two types of ways to save the seeds. If it is a vegetable fruit, you would use wet processing with fermentation. If the seeds that you are trying to save is any other plant besides a vegetable fruit, you would use dry processing. Wet processing can be done with or without fermentation. The fermentation helps break down the sac that surrounds the seed. This method is especially useful for tomatoes and cucumbers.
There are six steps in wet processing with fermentation:
- To start, pick the best fruit from the amount of plants that you are trying to save. You do not have to save the seeds from every tomato from a single plant!
- Cut the tomato or cucumber in half. This makes it easier to get the seeds.
- Spoon the seeds into a glass with enough water to cover the seeds. The seeds from rotten fruits will not save. The use of a glass jar is optimal because you can see the seeds on the bottom of the glass.
- After the seeds are covered in the water, cover the jar loosely. If the cover is placed too tightly, an explosion and a big mess could happen as a result of the pressure when the fermentation process takes place. Monitor the seeds closely.
- Once you feel the seed is no longer slimy, the growth inhibiting sac is removed from the seed. If a gray-ish mold forms on the surface, do not stir the liquid. It could cause the seeds to get moldy! This helps constant fermentation all through the solution. The seeds aren’t completely fermented until the seeds are separate from the sac-pulp layer.
- Take the seeds from out of the liquid and dry then on a dry paper towel for a few days. The drying time needs to be longer if you live in a humid climate.
The other wet processing method is without fermentation. This method is used for large seeds that can be separated from the flesh of the produce by the force of tap water.
- Place the flesh/seed parts into a sieve and run the faucet on full blast. This removes the seed from the flesh.
- Then to finish the drying process, lay the seeds on a dry paper towel and let dry for a few days.
The other way is dry processing. There are three steps to dry processing.
- Drying. Either you can dry the whole plant and the seeds will fall off, but you also have to make sure that bits of the pod or stalk don’t get mixed into the seeds. In some pepper plants, you can start to dry them while the seeds are still on the fruit. Make sure that the seeds don’t start to germinate inside the fruit while you are trying to dry the seeds. If you do decide to dry the seeds indoors, make sure to bag the roots so that the dirt doesn’t get mixed into the seed collection.
- Threshing. Threshing is the active removal of the seed from its husk. If the seeds are in fragile seed pods, place the entire stalk in an old pillowcase and beat it against the wall. The seeds will come out of the shells and collect at the bottom of the pillowcase. If the seeds are in tough seed pods, again, place in an old pillowcase and stomp on the close pillowcase with your feet. This helps remove the pod from the seed, but you have to sort the seed fragments from the seed when you are done.
- Winnowing. This is the cleaning of the seeds to make sure that they are disease free. Use your hand to do a primary cleaning. Make sure that your hands are clean. Put the seeds in a porcelain plate and use a hair dryer with the heat turned off. This helps small impurities in the seed be blown away. This is the final step of dry processing to ready your seeds for saving.
After your seeds are dry and clean, they need to be store in a dry, cool, and dark place. The seeds need to be in airtight containers. The less air that can get to the seed, means the closer to the original condition they will be in. Keep the seed in temperatures between 32-50* F. The temperature needs to be constant because it could destroy the seed or cause the seed to possibly start germinating if the temperature gets too high and there is moisture still in the seed. Because we have yet to actually start plating seeds and there will be an entire summer to wait for the seeds, I have not totally implemented the process of seed saving yet. I would like to have a working seed bank in our library. That will happen when our garden is fully up and running.