How To Save Seeds
- Part 2 -
by Judy Gaunt
The squash and melon family is a large and
varied group of plants. As with legumes, crossing can only take place between different varieties in the
same family, not between members of different families.
Different varieties of cucumbers will cross with each other.
However, Armenian cucumbers, West Indian gherkins and serpent gourds belong to
other families and will not cross. Separate varieties by one half mile or else just grow one variety. Otherwise hand
pollination is necessary. Space does not allow a description of this, perhaps in another article.
To save cucumber seeds, the fruits must be allowed to mature
far past the stage they're usually eaten until they're ripe and have turned orange or
yellow. Remove the seeds and let them ferment in a pail for three days the same as tomato seeds to remove the gel around
them. Then they can be cleaned by repeatedly filling the pail with water and pouring off
the top layer. The good seeds will remain on the bottom while the debris will float and can be poured off. Dry
the seeds thoroughly before storing.
The rest of the cucurbits are easier to do as the seeds don't
have the gel coating and don't need fermenting.
All melons will cross with each other so must be either grown
in isolation or hand pollinated. The seeds are easily removed and dried. Remember that
hybrid melons may not come true.
These will only cross with other watermelons or citrons. Once
again, the seeds are easily processed.
These are rather complicated in that there are four different
families of squash commonly grown here. As usual, the families don't cross but members of the same family will
and it's necessary to know which family a particular variety is in. One member of each family can be grown together without
crossing, which is the method I use. Otherwise, hand pollination is necessary.
Examples of the most common members of each family are:
Cucurbita maxima: Atlantic Giant, Banana, Buttercup, Golden Delicious, Hubbards,
Cucurbita mixta: Crooknecks, Cushaws, Tennessee
Sweet Potato squash.
Cucurbita moschata: Butterbush, Butternut.
Cucurbita pepo: Acorn, Crookneck,
Delicata, Pumpkins, Scallops, Spaghetti squash, Zucchini.
Let the fruits mature fully before harvesting for seeds, even
those usually eaten when immature such as zucchini. The seeds are easily removed although you may need an ax to
chop the squash open.
Germination is better if fruits are allowed to age for at least three weeks after harvesting before
removing seeds. As usual, let seeds dry thoroughly before storing.
Corn is difficult for the seed saver as in many areas, acres
of field corn are grown that can be crossed with your open-pollinated corn by the wind.
Most corn grown these days is hybrid so the seeds will
not come pure if grown. An open-pollinated variety must be either hand pollinated or grown in isolation to maintain
Now that you know all about saving the seeds of many annual
vegetables, it's time to learn about another group, the biennials. These plants have
seeds which are more complicated to produce although it's not necessarily more difficult.
The biennials consist of all the root vegetables, from
onions to turnips as well as some members of the cabbage family.
Onions, carrots, beets, parsnips, salsify, turnips
and rutabagas are all treated in much the same way. They're harvested in the fall, stored over the
winter and replanted in the spring. The second year they flower and produce seeds.
For winter storage, I'm lucky to have an unheated basement,
which keeps the root crops cool enough. I store them in large plastic pails with lids.
You could also use a root cellar, either indoor or out, or
maybe even store them where they grew in the ground if you covered them with enough bags of leaves or other insulating
material. Those growers in the milder areas can leave these plants outside to winter over.
The only plant you would not want to store this way is onions,
which require a drier storage area. We keep onions in an unheated room in the house.
In early spring the roots are planted out. Again, remember
to keep everything labelled, both while being stored and once planted. It's amazing how easy it is to forget vital
information after a few months, even if you told yourself you'd remember.
Some people worry about carrots crossing with the wild carrots
so prevalent in many areas, but I have found that my carrots bloom earlier than the wild carrots and it doesn't
seem to be a problem. As with the other vegetables, if you plant more than one variety you may have some crossing.
The plants will grow quite tall, taller than they were the
first year and eventually seeds will form. I usually cut the seed heads and hang them up to dry or keep in a paper
bag until they're dry enough to remove the seeds.
The other biennials
are in the cabbage family. This is a rather complicated family as there are a few annuals in it and
there are many members which will cross pollinate with each other.
Chinese cabbage, mustards and some radishes are the
annual family members and saving seeds from them is easy. Just let them flower and go to seed
and then collect the seed when dry.
One group "Brassica oleracea" contains broccoli, Brussels
sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi. These will all cross so it's best to only try to save
seeds from one member or else separate them by a half mile.
"Brassica rapa" consists of turnip, Chinese cabbage, and Chinese mustard so only grow seed from one of these.
Rutabaga (Brassica napus) "the large winter turnips" don't cross with the small summer turnip (B. rapa) but will cross
with Siberian kale and rape.
Since these plants are insect pollinated and not self-fertile,
caging them is difficult. Another thing to remember is that it's necessary to grow several plants for seed to maintain
vigor in the variety. Six plants is the bare minimum but more would be better.
The whole plant including the roots has to be dug up and brought
in for the winter, if in a cold winter area. If planted several to a pail, (turnips don't have to be planted)
they usually survive the winter although they look quite pale and yellowish by spring. Then
plant them outside and hope they have the vigor to survive and begin growing. If they do, they'll produce lots
of yellow flowers, which the bees love, and then lots of seeds.
Brassicas produce an abundance of long seed pods which can
be harvested after drying out. Dry them further under shelter and then beat them in a plastic bag or
feed sack or on a sheet of plastic until the seeds fly out.
Again, make sure the seeds are thoroughly dry before storing.
Cleaning and Storing Tips
Now I'd like to tell you of some ways I've found suitable for
cleaning and storing the many kinds of seeds it's possible to save.
Freeing them from their seed pods or whatever other covering
nature provided them is the first step.
Small quantities of seed can be simply rubbed between the hands.
Some tougher types of seed pods can be rubbed against a piece of screening with the sole
of a running shoe to separate the seeds from their stems or pods.
Grains are one kind I do this way. I've already mentioned beating
dry, brittle seed pods with a stick over a sheet of plastic. And I find it rather relaxing to shell some seeds
such as beans or peas by hand while watching TV in the evening.
Then you have to clean all the chaff from them. I have a series
of six screens, each a different size which are helpful in sifting some kinds of seeds.
An ancient method I use a lot is to pour the seeds back and
forth between two large bowls outside on a breezy day, which will blow away most of the
chaff. Just be sure that you don't also let many of the seeds blow away!
Another method is to pour the seeds onto a sheet spread in
front of a fan. The heavier, best quality seeds will fall onto one area of the sheet.
Remember to keep the seeds dry and exposed to the air at all
times until they're ready to store. Mould will quickly kill them. The top of the refrigerator is a warm, dry place
in most homes. I use baskets – of which I have a large collection – for many of them.
Baskets enable air to circulate all around the seeds. Small plates or bowls are useful
for the small seeds that are not suitable for baskets.
When the seeds are thoroughly dry they can be stored. Larger
seeds are ready when they will break rather than bend. I sometimes use the bite test for beans and peas. When they
are too hard to be bitten they're ready.
For storage, airtight containers are best. Glass jars are ideal
and can be used in all sizes, from baby food jars to gallon bottles.
During storage, it's important to keep the seeds as dry and
cool as possible. A collection of seeds in paper envelopes could be placed in a gallon bottle. The freezer is
good for long time storage if the seeds are in an air-tight container.
I hope these articles will have given you the encouragement
and help you need in order to begin saving seeds. Maybe I should warn you that once you begin working with nature
in this way, it may become a compulsion as it did with me and you'll find yourself with the same large hoards of seeds.
Good luck with it anyway!
more, see part 2