Monday, October 22, 2012

Saving Seed

Fall has finally arrived, bringing with it shorter days and cooler temperatures. Parts of the garden have gotten a light frost, but the plants are hanging on as long as possible.

Various native seeds
 Now is a great time to get into the garden and collect seeds for next year. Heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable seeds can be harvested. In my own garden, the Black Cherry, Mortgage Lifter, and Yellow Pear tomatoes are all good candidates for seed saving. The Jupiter peppers and some of the peas are good to harvest now as well.
In the perennial garden, many of the daisy-shaped flowers, like cone-flowers and black-eyed Susans have gone to seed. I’ll harvest some, but leave plenty of seed heads for the birds. They will do some direct-sowing for me.  In the annual garden, zinnias, marigolds, cosmos and calendula are easy flowers to grow from seed.

To collect the seed, look for mature plants. Clip the seed heads and pods and place into paper bags. Open up any pods and remove any chaff, stems and leaves from around the seed.  If you’ve kept the plant labels, staple them onto individual envelopes or include them in airtight jars. Several seed-savers exchanges can be found nationwide. I was luck enough to visit the Native Seeds Search in Tucson, Arizona, earlier this month.
Native Seeds Search is located in Tucson, Arizona
They are a great resource for vegetable seed used by Native Americans in that region. Corn, squash and pumpkin seeds are very prevalent. Store seeds in a cool, dry area or a refrigerator.
One of the many native corn varieties collected through Native Seed Search
 We save our Trinidad hot pepper seed year to year. Imagine our grower, John, in a face mask, goggles over his eyes, a long sleeved shirt and gloves. He waits until the fruits are fully ripe, and harvests the seeds from the center of the pepper. He removes the seeds, allows them to dry for several days and then puts them in jars or envelopes. They will be sown in February, and be sent from our farm greenhouses to our store in mid-April.

Trinidad pepper seed

In early November, seeds are collected from the giant pumpkins that have been on display at Valley View Farms for over a month. Each seed is cleaned and spread out into a single layer on a cookie sheet or window screen. EVERY seed is then packaged and sent back to the pumpkin grower so that he or she has a great chance of successfully growing another scale-busting pumpkin next year.
Seed saving is a wonderful way to keep the diversity of plants available for generations to come. For more information, visit the National Gardening Association site  online. Click on the Mid-Atlantic Regional report by Charlotte Kidd. Also, visit Seedsavers Exchange to find out more about seed exchanges in the gardening community.