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Seed Saving

December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

Gardeners love to recycle and save a buck or two in the bargain. Saving seeds is the original recycling, extending this year�s life into next. Spending a dollar on a pack of seeds may not seem like much, but it can add up quickly in the spring.

Most home seed savers focus on annual plants. Novices should start with seeds from non-hybrid annuals that self-pollinate. Unless you�re a gambler, avoid collecting hybrid seeds. Most hybrids will not reproduce true to type. Recessive traits not visible in the parent plant are likely to reappear, making for disappointing results.

Seed saving begins months before the harvest. At the height of the growing season, examine the parent plants for vigor, color, size or other desirable qualities. Select those that best fit the characteristics you want to duplicate in coming generations. Keep them well watered and fertilized to ensure they have the nutrients needed to create healthy seeds.

Most flower and herb seeds should be picked just as the stalk or flower turns brown. Place them in a dry place for one or two weeks to finish curing. During this time seeds may lose as much as three fourths of their weight in water. Do not use heat to accelerate the drying process. Even in their dormant state, seeds are living beings that cannot survive high temperatures. Using even the lowest setting of your kitchen oven will overheat the seeds and roast them.

After the drying period, remove the husks, petals, or chaff before storage. There are three basic ways to do this: swirling, sifting, or winnowing.

For small seeds place the mixture in a bowl and swirl the contents with your fingers while shaking it periodically. The chaff should rise to the top where you can scoop it out with your fingers.

Sifting can be done using colanders, kitchen sifters, or any screening. If possible, use two size meshes. The top one should be larger than the seeds to allow them to sift through while trapping the large particles. The other should be smaller than the seeds to separate them from finer debris.

Winnowing works best with large, heavy seeds. Place the mixture in a shallow tray and gently toss it in the air, allowing the wind or a fan to drive away the chaff. Before you get too enthusiastic with this method, practice on a small amount. If the chaff and the seeds are similar in size and weight you could be blowing away as much seed as chaff.