As the gardening season approaches and you pick your last harvest, you may want to start some plants and harvest them for planting next year.
Saving seed can be really fun and is a great way to learn about plants, said Weston Miller, horticulturist with Oregon State University Extension Service. If you choose the right varieties of vegetables, you may keep them going year after year without having to buy them again.
The key to saving seed is selecting open-pollinated or heirloom plants, which produce offspring with the same attributes. Hybrids are bred from two distinct varieties for traits like disease resistance or greater yield, but will not be true to type in the next generation. Check seed packets or catalog information so you'll know which ones to buy.
The simplest crops for saving seed are annual plants that self-pollinate, such as lettuce, beans, peas, peppers/herbeds (including pepper, eggplant, and tomatoes).
Collect seed from the best growing conditions and allow them to dry. Harvest lettuce seed when the seed coat is hard and dark in color. When the pod has dried on the plant, peas and beans are ready for harvest. Pepper seeds are ready when the fruit is fully mature and begins to wrinkle.
Seeds from annual herbs like cilantro (coriander), arugula, and calendulum are also easy to save. In fact, these annual plants will often self-seed, so if you allow the seeds to mature on the plants and fall to the ground, new plants may begin next year.
Tomatoes are a smidgen more complicated. Allow the fruit to completely ripen before placing the seeds and the gel that surrounds them in a jar of water. Allow this mixture to ferment for up to five days until the seeds sink to the bottom. Then dry seeds on a paper towel.
Many broccoli family crops (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, collardsseeds kale, mustard greens) are all part of the same species and are pollinated by insects. Though it is fairly easy to save seeds from these biennial crops, they tend to cross pollinate easily and you may develop new (and sometimes delicious) traits.
It is often more difficult to conserve seed from other crops, particularly in a garden setting, as it is more expensive to obtain seed than it would be to save seed. Beets and Swiss chard, for example, are pollinated by wind and cross with each other. To avoid cross pollination, these plants require at least 3,200 feet of isolation. In the same vein, corn is pollinated by wind, making it difficult to isolate without a special screening.
Carrots are insect pollinated and cross Queen Annes lace, a common weed. Summer and winter squash flowers are also insect-pollinated and require isolation to maintain true varieties. According to Miller, the fruit derived from cross-pollinated squash seeds is often bitter.
Store seeds in tightly sealed glass containers in a cool and dark place. Make sure to label seeds with the seed type and the date. A silica desiccant or powdered milk packet in the jar may assist remove moisture and keep the seeds dry. The refrigerator or freezer is also a good place to store seeds that you collect and seeds you buy. Put tiny seeds in envelopes and label them. Place the envelopes in sealable freezer bags.
Information on starting seeds can be found in the Extension publication Propagating Plants from Seed.
Kym Pokorny, email@example.com Kyn Pocorno, Kymy.Pocorrony@ oreganstate-ed.utm