What is the best way to keep some of my garlic and seeds from the sunflowers to plant next year? How do I store them? Do black eyed peas and green beans save well for next year? Seeds from bell peppers? I’ve never saved seeds before, so this is all new to me. – Anne-Marie
You know you’re a real gardener when you start thinking about saving seeds for next year. Congratulations! In most cases, seed-saving is ridiculously easy. Here are some guidelines:
For garlic, if you’ve harvested and cured the bulbs properly, all you need to do is set some aside to plant this fall. Keep a few heads of garlic in a dry, cool place, and when the time comes (late September to mid-October is a good time to shoot for), break them apart and plant individual cloves in a prepared bed. They’ll get a good start in the ground this fall, and be ready to harvest early next
Sunflowers are also easy to harvest. When the back of the flower’s head turns yellow, cover it with a paper bag. This will keep the birds and squirrels from harvesting before you do, and as the seeds fall naturally, they will drop into the bag. You can also cut the flower off with about a foot of stem and hang the flower head upside-down in a paper bag in a warm, dry place. Shake the flower head every now and then to let the seeds fall into the bag. The important thing here is to keep things dry so the seeds don’t get moldy, and a paper bag allows the air to circulate. After they are completely dry, a canning jar makes a good seed-storage container.
Peas and beans can be left on the plant until they are dry, then harvested. Make sure they are
absolutely dry (I’ve dried them on a window screen “shelf” in the attic), then open them by hand and store the seeds in a jar. If frost threatens before you harvest, pull up the whole plant by the roots and hang it upside down in a dry place until the pods are dry.
For peppers, cut the bottom off a fully mature pepper and strip the seeds out of the center. Spread them to dry on a paper towel and allow them to dry in a cool location until the seeds are dry enough to break when folded.
You didn’t ask about saving seeds of tomatoes, but a lot of people do, so I’ll include it here. This is one of the more labor intensive processes. Select a tomato that is completely ripe. Cut it in half crosswise, and squeeze out the jelly-like substance the holds the seeds. Place this into a small jar and add a little water, cover the jar loosely and place it in a warm location for about three days, stirring it once a day.
You’ll notice that a layer of fungus begins to form on the top of the mixture after a couple of days. This is a good sign, because the fungus eats away the gelatinous coat and produces substances that help control some diseases. After three days, fill the jar with warm water and let the contents settle, then begin pouring out the water, tomato pulp and immature seeds, which will have floated to the top (the good, viable seeds will settle at the bottom of the jar). Repeat the process until the water is almost clear and the bottom of the jar is lined with clean seeds, then strain the water off these seeds and spread them out onto paper towels or newspaper. Allow the seeds to dry completely before you store them.
After you’ve harvested, dried and packaged the seeds, be sure to label them carefully so you’ll know next year what you have.
The International Seed-Saving Institute (where I found most of this information) has a straightforward, non-flashy but excellent Web site that walks you through the process of saving seeds of the most common vegetables. Check it out at www.seedsave.org.
Click over to Turning Toward the Sun: A Garden Journal for an update on the rabbit situation.