Steps you can take now to save seeds for next season
Tomatoes have been very late to ripen this season, but they are just beginning to color up—either red, orange, yellow, pink, multi-colored, or the so-called “black” You have already made sure that you are growing open-pollinated varieties, now you want to choose the best fruits from each plant. Think about what qualities you are selecting for. Great flavor? Disease resistance? Choose the fruits you save seed from accordingly.
Tomatoes seeds are easy to save, but they benefit from fermenting, a process which mimics what happens in nature when ripe tomatoes plop to the ground and rot. The gel surrounding seeds in a mature fruit contains compounds that inhibit germination. Fermentation breaks these down and kills any seed-borne diseases.
Squeeze or scrape the seeds and their gel into a shallow dish. Deli containers are perfect.You should have no more than about 1/4 inch of seeds in each container. Don’t add water unless there is not enough moisture to keep the seeds wet during fermentation. Place the container in a well-ventillated spot, out of direct sunlight, for a couple of days until a layer of mold forms on the surface. Now tip the seeds into a strainer and rinse under running water. The gel will have dissolved, making cleaning the seeds very easy. Dry the container—which you have carefully labeled with the name of the variety!—and tip the seeds back in, separating any clumps so they dry quickly. Put them back into a well-ventillated spot until dry. Peas are coming to the end of their season now. To save pea seeds simply leave them on the vines until the pods are crisp and dry. Best to harvest after a day or so of bright sunshine. If rain is forecast, pick pods early to prevent mildewing. Dry them down thoroughly, thresh, removing any seeds that contain weevils.
Bush bean seeds will not be ready until later in the season, but now is a good time to select plants from which you will save seed. For snap beans, simply stop harvesting fresh beans and allow the pods to fill out and dry down. For dry beans all you have to do is wait until the beans are at the eating stage and reserve some of them for next year’s planting.
Remember to always label seed carefully with the variety name and year of harvest, then enjoy anticipating planting your own seed next year!
Sylvia Davatz has been saving seed for 20 years. She helped start the ‘Upper Valley Seed Savers Group’ and has served on the steering committee of the recently founded Grassroots Seed Network for the exchange of open-pollinated seed. You can reach her at email@example.com.