I have a friend who harvests and plants the seeds from every fruit or vegetable she eats. She now has an amazing garden and sells her produce to others. The amazing thing is that she has a small lot, not a farm, and plants grow everywhere, including her front porch.
By following a few guidelines, this kind of garden is productive and sustainable. For most fruits and vegetables, seeds are easily harvested from ripe, mature fruits.
You want to make sure that the fruit you are harvesting from is an heirloom variety, if possible, so that the seeds are true and viable. Most heirloom seeds need only be dried, labeled, and properly stored in an envelope or sealed container placed in a cool, dark place for the next year. Some plants have a few extra steps, so read on for those details below.
Tomato seeds need a little extra care to remove the pulp before storing. Start with a fully ripe tomato and scoop out the seeds, placing them in a clean jar. Fill the jar with water, cover with a lid, and allow the seeds to ferment. Stir the seeds several times a day until the seeds fall to the bottom of the jar and the pulp rises to the top. This takes 5 to 10 days.
Skim off the pulp and strain the seeds through a strainer or cheesecloth. Place the seeds on paper towels in a single layer in a well-ventilated area to dry. In approximately two weeks the seeds will be dry and ready to store.
When harvesting cucumber seeds, select cucumbers from the best open-pollinated heirloom plant. Leave the cucumber on the vine to ripen. It will turn yellow and become soft. Slice the cucumber down the long center and scoop out the seeds as soon as you pick it.
If you purchased the cucumber, leave it on the counter to ripen and turn yellow like it would on the plant, then scoop the seeds for fermenting and saving.
Ferment the seeds in a glass jar or bowl covered with warm water. The seeds will initially float but sink later. Fermenting removes the gel sac surrounding the seeds and helps kill off any diseases that might affect the seeds. Soak the seeds for three to four days, away from direct sunlight.
The seeds that sink to the bottom of the jar are ready for harvesting. Discard any seeds and pulp that is floating on the top of the water. Strain the seeds through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth and rinse away any remaining gel sac. Spread the seeds on a piece of paper towel and set aside for a few days to dry.
Keep them out of the sun until they are thoroughly dry, usually four or five days, then store them in a seed envelope or a small glass jar. Label the jar and place it in the freezer for a few days, if possible, to kill any pests or diseases that survived fermentation. Store the seeds, labeled, in a cool, dry, dark place.
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Most potatoes are grown from seed potatoes, but it is possible to grow them from seed. Potatoes don’t always produce seeds but may when the weather is cool and there is sufficient pollination from bees.
The plant will produce a small fruit or berry that looks similar to a small tomato. The ripe fruits are green or sometimes purple. They are somewhat toxic and not edible, but each berry can contain several hundred potato seeds.
If your potato plant produces berries, also called “seed balls”, you can harvest the seeds by leaving the berries on the plant until they are completely ripe and very soft. Squeeze the seeds out of the berries and wash them with a mild detergent to remove substances that inhibit germination. Dry the seeds for storage and, when ready, plant them like you would a tomato seed, starting them early indoors.
#4. Onion and Garlic
Most gardeners pull their onions long before the plant begins to bloom. But if you leave it, you can eventually harvest seeds for later planting.
The first consideration of harvesting onion seeds is choosing a non-hybrid or heirloom variety of onion. Another consideration is that onions are biennials, meaning that they produce flowers and seeds during the second year.
If the ground freezes in the winter in your area, you will need to dig up the onion bulbs and store them in a cool place over the winter. Then replant them in the spring. When the leaves have regrown, the plant will send up a flowering stalk.
Once the flowering heads turn brown, it’s time to harvest the seeds. Remove the flowering head by clipping with shears a few inches below the head. Place them in a paper bag and let them dry in a cool, dry place for several weeks. When the flowering heads are dried, shake the seeds free. Store them, labeled, in a cool dry place.
Garlic seeds are harvested in the same way, by allowing the scapes to bloom and produce seeds.
Carrots flower in their second year, so if you wish to harvest carrot seeds, leave the best carrots in the ground at the end of the first year and thin them to 3 inches apart. In the spring of the second year, remove dead and damaged leaves, but avoid using insecticides. The flowers are pollinated by bees and flies which can be harmed by insecticides.
After the flowers appear and are pollinated, watch the plant closely for seed production. The seeds are mature and ready to harvest when they turn brown and loosen from the umbels. They stay on the plant because of little hooks that keep them in place. When about 80% of the seeds are mature, cut the seed stalk and place them upside down in a paper bag. Hang them to dry for several days.
When the stems are dry, shake them to release the seeds into the bag. Store the seeds in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator.
If you have both male and female asparagus plants in your garden, you may notice asparagus seeds in the fall. The seeds grow in small berries that turn dark red when mature. Although asparagus is usually grown from crowns, these seeds are fertile and can be germinated in your garden when collected correctly.
When the berries turn bright red and the tops begin to fall over, cut off the leafy tops of the plant. Hang the tops upside down over a bowl or tray in a warm, dry room for a week or so until the berries begin to dry on the surface. The bowl will catch any berries that fall off.
When the berry surfaces have begun to dry, pluck the berries off the plant stems. Place them in a bowl of lukewarm tap water and soak them for one to two hours. Break the berries open with your fingers and remove the seeds. Place the seeds in a mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. Rinse under cool water to remove any berry pulp that might remain.
Pat the seeds dry with a paper towel and spread them out on wax paper or parchment paper to dry. Dry the seeds for a week or so, turning them once a day, until completely dry. Store the dried seeds in a sealed jar with silica gel to absorb excess moisture. Label the jar and store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator until planting.
Broccoli is usually harvested before it seeds because the plant becomes bitter once the flowering stalk appears. However, if you leave it alone and let it flower, the plant will produce a large number of seed pods.
When the majority of the seed pods have dried and turned brown, cut the branches off the plant and allow them to dry further in a paper bag. Once the pods open, remove the pod pieces and store the seeds in a cool dry place.
The zucchini seeds on your supermarket fruit are immature, but leave the zucchini on the plant for a couple more weeks and you will have viable seed for next years planting. I suggest you leave a few squash on your most prolific plants at the end of the season. The squash will grow large and the skin hardens. When it is ready, you’ll be able to dent the skin with your fingernail.
Cut the zucchini lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Rinse the seeds in warm water to remove extra pulp and spread them out on wax paper or parchment paper to dry. Put them in a well-ventilated area for a week or so, stirring them daily so they dry evenly. Store the dried seeds, labeled, in an airtight container and place them in a cool, dark place until ready for planting the next spring.
If you follow the steps I have outlined here, you should have a steady supply of seeds for your garden. For best results, start with heirloom fruit and plant them away from other varieties that might cross pollinate them. You want true seeds that will grow healthy productive plants.
If you don’t have heirloom fruit, plant what you have and grow the healthiest plants you can. Plant more than you think you’ll need because hybrid seeds are not true to the mother plant and may not produce well.
Learn about growing a garden and saving seeds now while seeds are plentiful, and you will be ready, should they become scarce. Enjoy your garden, preserve your produce, and prepare for the unexpected.
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