Once you have planted your heirloom garden, or even if you just want to experiment with a plant or two, you need to be prepared to collect and store the seeds. Proper storage can make your seeds last for years – helpful, since you won’t necessarily need to use all of this year’s seeds in one planting. If you have extra or you are looking for new varieties, check out SeedSavers.org for seed trading.
Remember the most important thing about seed saving is to label them every step of the way. Otherwise, you might lose track of which plants are which, and you’ll almost certainly lose track of varieties within a species.
Depending on your plant, seeds can be collected in one of two ways: dry processing or wet processing. Dry processing is the simplest: simply let the seeds dry right on the plant and then shake them into your storage containers. This can happen on the plant while it is still in the ground – beans, for example, will often dry right inside the pod while hanging on the vine at the end of the season. Or, you can cut the flower head off and hang it upside down to dry, like I often do with sunflowers. Shake the seeds free and separate out any debris.
Wet processing is a bit more involved but is necessary for seeds that otherwise would have fallen to the ground inside the fruit. In fact, you can let it do just that. Once the fruit has fallen, it will have rotted and fermented enough that you can just wash the seeds and dry them on a plate or paper towel for a few days.
Or, you can scoop or squish the seeds and pulp from a fresh fruit into a jar. Add a bit of water to loosen it all up, and let it sit out. When mold covers the top, add more water and pour off the mold and pulp and unviable seeds. The rest can be dried for storage.
Most seeds need to be dried for storage, without moisture retained or introduced. There is an exception for a few kinds of tree seeds, but the average gardener’s collected seeds will need to be dried. This is very important before storage, but keeping them dry is important, as well. Humidity is another factor to control. Keep them in a cool climate with low humidity – the refrigerator works well. To keep them try, a silica gel packet is helpful.
Weevils might be hiding in the seeds, and they can ruin the whole batch. They are hardly detectable, so your best bet is to take preventative measures just in case. Fortunately, diatomaceous earth will take care of whatever critters might have snuck in, and it won’t harm your seeds at all. Just a little bit to lightly coat the seeds should be enough.
Creative Storage Tips
Seeds can be tiny, and you need a place to keep them for nearly a year without mixing them up or losing them. While this can be as simple as envelopes inside plastic food storage baggies, it never hurts to get a little bit creative.
Try tackle box inserts or craft supply organizers. These usually have a bunch of small partitions, and you can put a label in each compartment for the seeds you are storing.
Baby food jars are easy to come by – even if you don’t have your own, there is a mom somewhere who has plenty of empty ones laying around. Just make sure they are completely dry before putting your seeds in.
My favorite idea, one I read from a fellow blogger and included in Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) is to dry the seeds on a paper towel, then roll up the paper towel and label and date it. When it’s time to plant, pull the piece of paper towel with that seed off and plant it all together. The paper towel will dissolve in the soil and the seed will grow as normal.