Seed Saving 101

SEED SAVING 101

Seed saving is easy and fun. There are many reasons to save seeds.

  • Any saved seeds from your own garden will have proved to be adaptable to the growing conditions of where you live and garden.

  • It’s a great way to ensure you have enough seeds for next year’s needs.

  • It’s a pretty special feeling to know that you have harvested the seed from your own garden that you will use to create the next year’s garden.

  • You have seeds to share and/or trade with friends.

  • You can become involved in long-term preservation projects, seed banking, and/or conservation efforts. This is so important as more and more seeds are subjected-intentionally or unintentionally-  to GMO modifiers.. 

  • The money you save on seeds can be put towards rich compost or a new tool..

Some things to know:

  1. Growing a plant to save its seeds is different from growing a plant to eat.  Usually, a plant is in the dying back process before it produces seeds that are ready to harvest.  That means you usually don’t get to eat the plant and save the seed; it’s either one or the other. The good news is that a single plant produces many seeds. So remember, in order to seed save, you usually need to grow a few extra plants for seed-saving purposes. 

  2. Save seeds from your strongest, healthiest plants.  To save seed is to participate in the process of natural selection. If you save seed only from the biggest tomato of the bunch and replant them year after year, you’ll eventually end up with seeds that produce plants on which all the tomatoes are bigger. The same holds true for almost any other trait; early growing, disease-resistance, etc. 

  3. If you’re new to this, know that the easiest seeds to save are legumes; beans and peas. Other pretty simple ones are tomatoes, peppers, and cauliflower, because these seeds are self-pollinators. This basically means that you don’t need special botanical knowledge to ensure that the seeds grow out true-to-type. 

  4. Seeds aren’t viable until fully ripe.  Just like picking the perfect tomato, you have to wait until seed is fully ripe before you harvest it – if picked from the plant too soon, the seed will not germinate. As explained above, optimal seed maturity is usually later than optimal crop maturity. Bean and pea seeds are not ready until the pod is brown, dry, and beginning to split open. This is true of any seed that grows in a pod, which includes most greens. Corn seed should be allowed to dry on the cob in the field. Some vegetables, including cucumbers and eggplant, should not be picked for seed until they are overripe and beginning to shrivel up and rot.

  5. Well dried seeds are viable seeds.  In order to preserve seed for future plantings, it must be thoroughly dry. Drying out is essentially the final stage of ripening, and ensures that the seed does not become moldy while you’re waiting to plant it next year. Wet seed, once it has been extracted from its fermented goo, must be spread out to dry on screens in a warm location, ideally with a light breeze from a fan to hasten the process. Most other types of seed may be dried while still on the plant, but if the weather turns wet and cool before that can occur, you’ll need to bring them indoors to finish the process. To determine if seed is sufficiently dry, push a fingernail into it – if it gives, it’s not yet ready.

  6. Proper storage is critical.  Seeds last best when stored in a cool dark place and in airtight containers. There are a few options: 1) store in envelopes, inside a larger mason jar; 2) store in airtight glass containers; 3) store in tins with a piece of dried terra cotta. Don’t forget to label your seeds with the crop type, variety name, and any useful notes about your seed source, when you harvested the seeds, and how many plants you harvested from.

THE WAY WE SAVE SEEDS AT HANA TROPICALS

Seed saving has always been a building block of Hana Tropicals’ garden growth plan plus it helps perpetuate our goals towards more sustainability in all that we do. Steps are pretty simple and meditative when done with the right frame of mind.

HARVEST

Before anything, step on the land, STOP, state your intentions and ask permission of the land and the plants. LISTEN to what they say to you because the land and every plant and bug has something to say.

See points above for what constitutes seeds that are ready for harvest.

CLEAN

A little dirt never hurt anyone or any seed, but remove the wet, stringy gunge from seeds especially squash and tomato. That stuff can rot your seeds.

DRY

In the past, we have spread seeds for saving out on the bed of the solar dehydrator. I honestly don’t know how long to leave them, but at least 48 hours. Check periodically. As the above points, if your nail goes through a seed, it’s not ready.

STORE

Seeds need to be stored in a dry, dark, cool place. In the tropics, we have found that, due to the prevailing humidity,  seeds have a tendency to rot. We found an old, traditional way of storing that works in Hana.

  • There are ‘tins’ in my office that were used for other things. Use as many as you need and always return the unused ones to my office.

    • Dust out the tins.

  • Find a terracotta pot in the nursery that has seen better days and probably won’t be used again.

    • Scrub it with soap, vinegar and water; then rinse.

    • Smash it into approx 1 ½” pieces.

    • Put these pieces on a baking tray, set the oven to 200° and put the tray in the oven for 2 hours. This will pull the water out of the terracotta. These pieces become your natural desiccant and will keep any remaining water from rotting your seeds. 

    • IMMEDIATELY, put a piece in each tin and close the lid. If you leave the pottery out in the air until you have your seed in place, the terracotta will immediately pull water from the air and you have defeated its purpose.

    • Fill each tin with seeds of a similar kind and immediately slap that lid on tight. If you have enough seeds to fill to the top, do so. 

    • Label your seeds with the Date, crop type, variety name, and any useful notes about your seed source, when you harvested the seeds, and how many plants you harvested from.

    • Store in a dark place. Perhaps the Moringa storage room is the best place for now. 

SEEDS THAT ARE EASY TO SAVE IN HANA

  • Beans, snow peas, ALL peppers, chayote, kabocha squash, loofah, tomato, basi, papaya. There are alot of seeds we’ve never tried to save, so please do so. You are encouraged to add more to this list as you experience success..

DON’T

  1. Don’t bother to save the seeds of hybrid varieties. These are marked as F1 on the packet. If you were to save seed from this hybrid offspring and plant it, each seed would grow into a plant with a random combination of the traits found in the gene pool of the original parents, which rarely produces something you’d want to eat. Additionally, we in Hana are seeking to keep GMO plants out of Hana. Please be respectful of this goal and support it with your actions.

  2. Don’t start avocado plants from seed. In Hana, in order to produce fruit, the avocado plant must be grafted onto another base stock. 

That’s it for now. Enjoy making this a part of your new life.