Saving Seeds from Biennial Plants

Saving Seeds from Biennial Plants

This month we asked two experienced staff members at Seed Savers Exchange to share their knowledge about saving seeds from biennials. Our Field Manager, Bryan Stuart, and one of our Field Technicians, Trevor Madsen, took the time to answer a few questions about biennial plants. Read on for their detailed responses or click through the slideshow for some quick biennial seed saving steps.

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Healthy Seeds are Happy Seeds

Healthy Seeds are Happy Seeds

Part of the responsibility that comes with maintaining a seed collection containing over 20,000 rare garden varieties includes testing for and eradicating viruses and diseases. This week the staff in our Preservation Department were busy performing ELISA tests (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay tests) to identify any squash specimens infected with the squash mosaic virus (SMV). Roughly 1,000 seedlings were tested from 28 varieties.

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Seed Savers Exchange Showcase: Container Gardening!

Seed Savers Exchange Showcase: Container Gardening!

Are you an apartment dweller with a green thumb? Or a novice who's daunted by the thought of a full-blown garden? Well, don’t fear because we’re here with a list of lovely varieties that thrive in containers. And we’re here to tell you that you don’t need a yard to be a seed saver.

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How to Get Ahead

How to Get Ahead

Some people mistakenly believe that farmers have a “down season.” Without the twelve hour days harvesting and weeding, a winter spent reviewing crop spreadsheets and lounging by a wood stove might feel like vacation. Winter: that mythical space between the last harvest and first plantings, where all wrinkles get ironed out and new vortexes of time are uncovered. Day trips? Sleeping in? Hanging out with friends? Everything seems possible now, within this precious window. Winter slows everyone's roll, it’s true, but farmers are often working throughout the seemingly dormant season.

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Seed Saving Collection for First-Timers

In our grandparents' day seed saving was just part of gardening. 

Store-bought seed, like store-bought anything, was a luxury for my Grandma. She could only afford to order what she couldn’t easily save- for instance, the seeds of biennial vegetables like carrot, cabbage, beets and kohlrabi.  The whole community saved their garden seed back then. It was as natural to gardening as planting and harvesting crops.  I helped my Grandfather pluck the seeds off his morning glories each fall and never thought I was doing anything out of the ordinary.  The seed—along with the skills on how to save the seed—was passed down from generation to generation.

Over the years, this seed saving component of the garden has vanished and garden seed has become something you simply purchase each year from your favorite catalog or garden center.  It is understandable, then, why new gardeners would not be aware of how their seeds were produced in the first place, and so the process is often perceived as somewhat mysterious.

Today, planning your garden for seed saving is really not that much different or any more difficult than it was back in the days of my grandparents.  Some of my garden favorites like tomatoes, beans, peas and lettuce are self-pollinating crops that don’t readily cross, so they’re easy to save.  Of course you must have non-hybrid varieties so the seed your harvest and plant will produce the same variety as the parent plant (read more about open-pollinated, hybrid, and heirloom seeds here).

Seed Saving Collection

This past year I was pleased to be involved in creating a new Seed Saving Collection for the Seed Savers Exchange catalog.  This starter kit includes some of our popular varieties that could be grown side by side in one garden, plus step-by-step seed saving instructions for each crop type.  I’m excited to offer a solution for all those gardeners who thought seed saving was somehow difficult. It’s easy to become a seed saver!

Click here to buy this collection-->

 

Save almost 20% by purchasing these 6 seed packets as the Seed Saving Collection!

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Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization located in Decorah, Iowa, with a mission to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

Chewin' on Seeds (Assessing Seed Maturity)

Eggplant

Eggplant

Now that fall has arrived, folks are often curious about when to harvest seeds that they’re saving from their garden. Although seed maturity can often be evaluated by simply touching or viewing the fruit or vegetable, SSE’s Farm Manager Bryan Stuart has a more unique approach for some seeds - he chews on them.

While harvesting eggplant for seeds from one of the many Heritage Farm gardens last week, Bryan would frequently pull an eggplant fruit from the plant, tear it open, and pop a handful of the seeds into his mouth. As he chewed on them, he took note of their hardness and listened for any audible ‘crunch’ to indicate that the seeds were mature and the fruits were ready to harvest for seed.

While it isn’t necessary to chew on all of your seeds to assess their maturity, Bryan’s technique demonstrates a certain quality of mature seeds - they are often very hard. Below are a few notes regarding seed maturity for several common, annual plant types:

Beans & Peas: Pods should be brown, dry and brittle before harvest, and the seeds inside should be hard as rocks. If it is a particularly wet fall or you’re expecting an early frost, you may pull up entire plants and move them to a garage or basement to finish maturing and drying.

Corn: Husks should be brown, dry and brittle, the silks should be dark and dry, and the kernels should be extremely hard.

Eggplant

Cucumbers: Fruits must be left on the vine until they begin to turn yellow and their skin becomes tough. Seeds inside should be plump and firm.

Eggplant: Fruits should be left on the plant until they begin to turn yellow and their skin becomes tough. Seeds inside should be plump and hard (or crunchy if you’re chewing on them).

Lettuce: Two to three weeks after the lettuce flowers have opened, the seeds should be mature. Look for feathery parachute-like structures (think dandelions) before harvesting.

Melons and Watermelons: Harvest fruits as you would for eating and simply reserve some of the seeds or leave the fruits on the vine until they soften slightly (this may improve seed quality, but you won’t want to eat the melons at this point). Seeds inside should be plump and firm.

Okra: Pods should be brown and dry, and they will begin to split open when seeds are ready for harvest. The seeds should be very hard.

Okra pod, splitting

Peppers: Seeds are ready when the pepper fruit has matured to its final color.

Radishes: Pods should be brown, dry and brittle before harvest, and the seeds inside should be extremely hard.

Squash: Fruits should be left to mature on the vine until the skin has become extremely hard. Harvest fruits before first frost and store up to two months in cool conditions (50-60 degrees) to allow the seeds to mature further. Seeds should be plump and firm.

Tomatoes: Seeds are ready when the tomato is ready to be eaten.

Remember to allow your seeds to dry completely before storage, because any moisture in and around the seeds will cause problems with germination. Then when you are ready to store your seeds, check out this blog for some seed storage tips!

Find more seed saving resources here.

Squash

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

Fresh from the Garden

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden When I grab a basket and go to my garden to gather fresh vegetables and herbs, it's like going to my own little market.  I look at gardening as a good workout and a chance to listen to the sounds of nature.

My favorite summertime recipes are those that require one trip to the garden to gather most of the ingredients, such as the following.

This recipe, as seen in the 2009 Seed Savers Exchange calendar, was a prize winner in the 2002 Food for Thought Recipe Contest in Madison, Wisconsin and printed in From Asparagus to Zucchini, a cookbook sponsored by the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition.

I used the 'Amish Paste' tomato in this recipe. The healthy vines are producing blemish-free, flavorful red fruit that is excellent for fresh eating as well as preserving. Our growing season started out very wet and cool, and despite the dry weather since then, these plants continue to produce beautiful, tasty fruit.

The green beans I used were 'Ideal Market' and 'Purple Podded Pole' which are both very productive varieties. The Ideal Market produces colorful blossoms, and of course the Purple Podded Pole plant is decorative in all stages.

Prizewinner Green Beans with Tomatoes and Herbs

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 clove garlic, minced ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes ½ cup sliced onions 2 teaspoons dried ground thyme ¼ cup water 1 pound green beans, ends clipped, cut in half 1 sprig rosemary, leaves torn off the stem 2 medium tomatoes cut into wedges Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant. Add onions, sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes. Add water, thyme, and green beans. Stir. Cover, and steam-cook beans until nearly done, 10-15 minutes. Stir in rosemary and tomatoes. Cook briefly, until tomatoes are warmed through. Season as necessary. Serves 4.

Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and promoting America’s culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants.

This isn't about nylon stockings... Seed Storage and You

This isn't about nylon stockings... Seed Storage and You

Did you know that nylon stockings make the ultimate, multipurpose tool?  They keep legs warm and physical imperfections under wraps; they are maggot barriers for emerging apples; and, in a pinch, they're nice material for that last minute bungee cord. But we at Seed Savers have been privy to a very unsung use for the common pantyhose: they make a darned safe way to mail your prized heirloom seeds.

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