Mark gave a great presentation on seed saving at the General Meeting. Anyone can be a seed saver and maybe everyone should! Not only can you save money but over time you might develop a vegetable variety ideally suited to local conditions.
Mark classifies seeds into two categories: Wet Seeds and Dry Seeds
Wet seeds come from fruits like tomatoes where the seed is surrounded by little gel packs. These seeds need to be fermented to be fully viable.
Wait for the tomato to become fully ripe — maybe even a little over ripe. Scoop out the seeds along with the gel and put into a jar. Cover with a little water. Distilled water is ideal but tap water will probably work. Swirl the jar twice a day. After a few days the seeds will begin to ferment. They are ready when a layer of mould forms on the water surface and the seeds sink to the bottom of the jar. At that time discard the water and any floaters, rinse clean and spread out onto paper towels to dry for about a week before storing.
Most but not all tomatoes are self pollinated but seeds from named hybrid tomatoes like ‘Early Girl’ are unlikely to come true. If repeating the characteristics of the parent plant is important take a cutting of the plant to overwinter. In the fall, snip off a 4-6 inch tip of the plant, remove the lower leaves and stick into moist soil or a jar of water until roots form.
Most of our garden seeds belong to the dry category. These are easy to process: simply harvest, thresh and winnow. Those old-timey words basically mean thoroughly separate the seeds from the rest of the plant bits. A screen is handy for smaller seeds like cilantro or dill. Larger seeds like peas and beans can be left on the vine to dry out. When the pods are crunchy and brown open them up and remove the seeds. Spread out to dry for a week or so and then store in the fridge.
Open Pollinated Seeds
Melons, cucumbers and squash have male and female flowers pollinated by insects. If another plant of their kind exists within a mile the parent will probably create hybrid seeds. It is unlikely that collected seeds will share the parent plant’s characteristics. You can decide for yourself if that is a pro or a con.
Mark uses coin packages to store his seeds. They can be labelled with the name of the seed as well as the date collected. Avoid using plastic bags as they can trap moisture and cause the seed to rot. I put my seed packages into a little metal lunch pail that lives in the fridge. Seed stored in cool dry places can last a long time; gene banks can keep seeds viable for up to 50 years. There are plenty of stories of people growing plants from seeds found in tombs. But for most of us after a year in storage quality may deteriorate. If your seeds are a couple of years old (or more) you may have to plant a few extra in case some have died. When keeping seeds in a fridge it is important to keep them from being exposed to apples or the gases associated with food decomposition as they may trigger seeds to attempt germination.