When it comes to prepping the garden for next year, the process can start with your existing vegetables. Obtaining seeds from your current crops saves you time and money when it comes to sourcing seeds for the future. Plus, it allows you to know where your seeds came from.
Step 1 - Use Non-Hybrid or Heirloom Seeds
One tip that will contribute to the success of your seeds is in the initial seed selection. Hybrid plants offer less-consistent results and can be frustrating to propagate. Instead, select non-hybrid or heirloom seeds for your initial grow.
Step 2 - Pay Attention to Placement
The plants in your garden can inadvertently become hybrid if they cross pollinate with other varieties in your garden, or that of a nearby neighbor. To keep cross-pollination out of the equation, only plant one variety of each crop and create a separation between your garden and that of the one next door.
Step 3 - Harvest
Look for the best examples of your crop when selecting vegetables or fruits for seed collection. This will help ensure your seeds come from strong stock and will perform well in the future. For pods, like peas and beans, allow the vegetable to dry as much as possible on the plant. This means leaving it attached long after you’ve harvested the edible produce. You’ll know they are ready when you can hear the seeds rattle inside the pod. Corn can also mostly dry on the vine so leave it in place until the kernels shrivel and dent.
For other vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, allow the vegetables to remain on the plant until they are past ripeness for consumption. Shriveling, color change, and thickness of skin can all be indicators of readiness for harvest.
Note that seeds from biennial crops such as carrots or beets are harder to save since the plants need two growing seasons to set seed.
Step 4 - Dry
Beans and peas will need about two weeks of additional dry time after you pluck them off the plant. Simply lay them out and leave them be. For vegetables with seed inside, cut them open and scoop out the seeds. Then rinse them until only the seed remains. Lay the seeds out on a paper towel or similar material until completely dry. For seeds surrounded in a gel-like substance, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, get to the seed by placing in a jar with an equivalent amount of water. Place in a warm windowsill for about five days until the globs move to the top and the seeds settle at the bottom. Then remove and rinse the seeds before laying out to dry. All types of seeds are sufficiently dry when they are brittle rather than pliable.
Step 5 - Package
Once your seeds are dry, package them with what you have around the house. Small envelopes work great as long as you seal them properly. Larger seeds can be stored in glass jars where you can easily see the contents.
Step 6 - Label
Don’t assume you will remember what is in the envelope or jar. Instead, carefully label each container with the type and variety of the vegetable, where the original seed came from, and when the seed was harvested.
Step 7 - Store
Seeds should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place, almost without exception. Make sure they are stored above ground level to reduce moisture and protect them from curious and hungry rodents. There is a wide variation in the length of time seeds remain good for replanting, ranging from two to ten years. It’s best to use them within two to three years after drying.
Step 8 - Test
To find out if your seeds are still viable when the planting season comes around, perform a science experiment. Place ten of the dried seeds on a moistened piece of cotton inside a sealable container. Cover the container with a lid and allow it to germinate for a week or two. When you notice the first sprout, give the others a few more days and take an inventory. If none or only a few of your seeds sprout, you may have a batch of seeds that won’t provide a harvest. On the other hand if you have eight or nine that germinate, your crop should look good for the season.