A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Harvesting Heirloom Seeds
Can you believe summer is already nearing its end?
Today’s Ready for Anything Report is for all you gardeners out there. First let me say that having your own garden is an important and valuable step in increasing your self-reliance.
If you’ve taking that a step further, as we’ve suggested, and begun using heirloom seeds in your garden, that’s even better. Now, as your first harvests are beginning to come in, is the time to begin saving seeds for the next season.
That’s one of the beautiful things about heirloom seeds. A single heirloom plant now can grow your garden for years—or even generations—to come.
Seed harvesting is easy … as long as you know what to do with each of your heirloom plants.
For the most part, seeds fall into three categories: wet, dry, and flowering. If you know how to harvest seeds from each category, you’ll be pretty well set to make the very most of your heirloom garden year over year.
Harvesting Heirloom Seeds: Step-by-Step
So, let’s get started.
First there are wet seeds. These come from some of the most popular plants like tomatoes and cucumbers. In these plants, the seeds grow inside the fruit or vegetable. Often, you eat the seeds (though not always). And when you remove the seeds, you get a lot of pulp with them.
To harvest wet seeds:
- Pick a healthy, ripe specimen of the fruit or vegetable.
- Slice it in half. (For tomatoes, slice in half at the equator.) Gently squeeze or scoop out the seeds. Leave as much of the heartiest part of the vegetable behind as possible.
- Put what you scoop out into a glass jar, and add water to cover the seeds.
- Cover the jar, but not with an airtight seal.
- Place the jar in a warm location. You want it to be between 60 and 70 degrees.
- Stir the contents once a day. You may notice a fungus growing in the jar. Don’t worry. This is a good thing. It helps make your seeds more disease resistant.
- Allow the seeds to sit for a while—three days for tomatoes, two days for eggplant and cumbers, a day and half for squash. Then, fill the jar with warm water and swirl it gently.
- Allow it to rest for a moment. Viable seeds will sink to the bottom.
- Carefully pour off the water, pulp bits and seeds that have floated to the top.
- Rinse the viable seeds so they are clean. Place them on a paper towel and allow them to dry completely.
- Store the seeds in a plastic bag for the next year. (Don’t forget to label it!)
This process works for tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, most melons, and many types of squash.
Many other types of plants produce dry seeds. These seeds are often within pods, like peas and beans. But for other plants, the seeds grow within the vegetable–the ifference from wet seeds is that they are easy to separate from the plant without getting a bunch of pulp in the process.
To harvest dry seeds if they grow in pods:
- Allow several pods to continue growing on the plants until they dry out and become husks … usually about six weeks after the actual harvest is complete.
- Pick the dried pods.
- Gently crumble the husks from the seeds.
- Store the seeds in labeled, plastic bags.
To harvest dry seeds from vegetables like peppers:
- Select a healthy, mature specimen.
- Cut it open and gently remove the seeds.
- Put the seeds into a bowl of water.
- Skim off the seeds that float and discard—they are bad seeds.
- Gently pour away the water. Save the seeds that sank to the bottom.
- Allow the saved seeds to dry completely on paper towels.
- Store them in labeled, plastic bags for the following season.
Some plants, like lettuce don’t produce seeds within the edible parts of the plants. Instead, these plants have to flower and go to seed. This is true for lettuces, carrots, and radishes, just to name a few.
To harvest seeds from flowers:
- Select two or three plants to save for seed harvesting rather than eating.
- Allow those plants to bolt and flower. The flowers will form a seed head.
- Cut the seed head from the plant, preserving as much stem as possible.
- Hang seed heads to dry upside down over a container to catch seeds as they drop.
- Allow the seed heads to dry for two or three weeks
- Gently shake any remaining seeds from dried heads into containers.
- Place the seeds in plastic bags, label, and store for the coming season.
Harvesting your own seeds is a rewarding and smart way to ensure that you have some insulation from our fragile food supply system. Seeds you save will actually remain viable for up to eight years when stored in a cool, dark place.
Seed saving is also a great way to add healthy, nutritious and tasty food to you diet for years and years to come!
P.S. Our food supply system is just one disaster away from collapse. It could be a massive solar storm (we had a near miss just two years ago), a large-scale terrorist attack, or an outbreak of deadly disease. In any case, you’ll be caught flat-footed if you don’t have a well-stocked food reserve. I have the perfect suggestion for getting started. Find my recommendations here…