seeds – and how to save them

Imagine this sentence is an apple magnet with a chunk bitten out of it, scrawled jauntily with a hilarious pun like ‘wish you were here, but isle save you a bite!’ (Don’t judge me… I just woke up). 

Yes, you guessed it, we are in Tasmania! It is beautiful and lovely and even the weather is warm but today I am not going to talk about Tasmania, I am going to talk about seeds. And it is kind of appropriate that I am talking about seeds, specifically saving seeds, from Hobart because this is an island that draws in all the hippies, as my magnet up there would draw in all the touring Nannas. 

About a week ago Will and I went to a seed-freedom festival and learnt some things. One of those things was how to harvest, clean and store seeds from plants you have grown so they can be planted the following season. Quite useful to know not only because buying seeds and seedlings can get quite expensive but also because it is so freaking satisfying to see little shoots popping up out of the ground from seeds you saved, stored and waited patiently to plant. It really is amazing how much more exciting it is. People who have no interest in gardening will get incredibly sick of you ranting about those tiny green shoots you care so much about. Want to learn how?

HARVESTING

First up, you need seeds to save. That means you are going to have to let a couple of your plants go to seed. Try to leave the healthiest, most productive plants to gather seeds from, for obvious reasons. The seeds will be ready to harvest when the plant has dried out quite a bit, is brittle and is a light brown colour- like a wheat field. This doesn’t apply to ‘wet’ produce, like tomatoes or melons or cucumbers. More for beans, broccoli/cauliflower, lettuce- things that ‘go to seed’ rather than things that grow seeds inside them. 

So your healthy plants are brittle and wheat-coloured, the seeds are ready! Collect them on a dry day and, if you can, at around midday as this is probably when the seeds are at their driest. Moisture is an enemy of the seed, keep them apart at all times. 

For things like pumpkin and capsicum and corn, it is really very simple. Just eat the fruit- not all of it with corn because the fruit is the seed- and then spread the seeds out to dry on a porous surface. When they are dry, continue with the storing, as seen below. 

(For tomatoes it is a little more involved- there is soaking of the seeds involved to get rid of any bacteria… I suggest googling it to avoid any confusion.)

CLEANING AND SORTING

There are special flat baskets you can get to clean seeds- I don’t remember what they are called. You put the seeds in them and use a motion similar to what you do when you flip a pancake using only the frypan (i.e. pancake like a boss) and this flicks away all of the extra not-seed bits, leaving only the seed goodness for sorting. If you only have a small amount of seeds and you take a bit of time when harvesting from the plant, you can probably just clean them by hand. 

Once you have separated the seeds and not-seeds, you need to choose the best seeds for next season’s planting. Choose the biggest, least deformed, least damaged ones. Again, quite obvious. Any seeds you don’t want to save for sowing, you can probably save for eating (depending, of course, on the plant and on how great your appetite for seeds is). 

STORING

This is probably the biggest thing Will and learnt from the seed saving guru lady, and it is of quite some importance. We were storing our seeds in an open tin in the greenhouse- because I had made an awesome hanging basket shelf that was not quite sturdy enough to hold any plants but was perfect for holding seeds. Alas! Seeds need coolth, darkness, and a dry, air-tight environment… Errrrr, oops? So we raced home and I spent some time providing a good home for our seeds. 

This is what you want: they need to be stored somewhere with as little air as possible because this will kind of force them into suspended animation- seeds are alive, but if there is no air for them to ‘breathe’ then they kind of halt, or really slow down, the ageing process and therefore, remain useful for longer- some seeds can even be used after 10 years if correctly stored. So fit as many seed packets as you can into a jar with an airtight lid- they like this. 

DON’T let them get wet. Make sure they are completely dry before packing them, and put them in a cool, dark, dry room. Moisture will make them rot. Sunlight and warmth will make them deteriorate. 

And don’t forget to label…

It’s not really that hard, right? Just give it a go anyway. Will saved a little corn cob from our meagre harvest (I say harvest… I think we had five cobs?) last year, we hung it inside all year to dry it out and wait for corn planting season to roll around again, planted some kernels expecting nothing to happen, and then! Corn grew! The excitement guys, the true excitement. 

BONUS ROUND

If you like the idea of growing from seeds, but like the idea of the instant satisfaction of seedlings more, then do I have a trick for you. Cuttings! Which you can take from your own plants, friend’s plants, plants at Bunnings (you need some cunning and quick hands for this though)… anywhere you are bold enough to go really. 

All you have to do is pick a little stem- try to pick a stronger, thicker stem if you can- not always possible when you are liberating cuttings from hardware shops, remove the top bud or leaves and most of the leaves from the top down. Then if there are leaves right at the bottom of the stem, remove those also. Basically what you want is a stem with only two or three leaves left on around its middle and definitely no flowers or buds- this gives the cutting enough leaves to stay alive but not so many that its energy will be used up on growing them, rather than on making new roots. 

When you have your cutting you are, I learnt, supposed to let it begin its new life in river sand, as this is a sterile environment. I have never done this before and the plants usually grow, but if you live near a river…

So there you go friends. Go forth and garden. I am going to eat donuts and look at weird art in Hobart. 

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