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How to Save Heirloom Seeds

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How to Save Heirloom Seeds

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Overview

Heirloom plants produce open pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds. They grow into plants with the same general characteristics and production (true-to-type). The seeds of hybrid plants may be sterile or have an unpredictable appearance, completely unlike the parent plant. Heirloom seeds yield plants with more aromatic flowers and unusual, flavorful produce in striking colors. Heirlooms also have a excellent pest resistance. Heirloom seed saving encourages a versatile seed stock and guarantees a wide range of plant types. Their use is important to promote and sustain biodiversity. Use of only a few, highly specialized seed strains leaves food crops open to large-scale threat from pests and disease.

Saving

Step 1

For heirloom plants that produce seeds on a stalk, including lettuce and herb seeds, allow seed heads to dry on the stalk. Collect them in the fall before birds consume them. Wrap them in paper and store them in the freezer until spring.

Step 2

For heirloom flowers, leave blossoms to fade on the stem. Deadhead flowers, pulling the whole dried bloom from the plant. The seeds are usually hidden inside. Store the head in a cool, dry place until spring or pull apart the dead vegetation and extract the small seeds inside.

Step 3

For wet seeds, such as tomatoes, dry them on a paper towel or coffee filter. Pull the seeds from the paper and roll them between your fingertips to remove the paper. Store the seeds in an envelope in the freezer. Allow seed to dry for one week, then try to bend a seed between your fingers. If it bends, leave the seeds to dry for a few more days. If the seed breaks, the others are ready for storage. This rule works for both tomato and pepper seed.

Step 4

For corn and beans, you can leave the seeds to dry on the plant. Remove the ear and store it whole or shuck the kernels. Store the whole bean pod or shell out the seeds.

Step 5

For seeds from peppers, you can save these as you prepare dinner. Simply set aside the seeds from inside the core and allow them to dry before storage in the freezer.

Selecting

Step 1

Select seed from the best items produced by your best plants. This will bring those good genes to your plants next year.

Step 2

Choose plants with the appearance you want to maintain or plants with the characteristics you wish to preserve. One or two plants should be able to provide enough fruit or vegetables from which to save seed for the next year. Corn, beans and peas may require you to call upon a few more plants to save sufficient seed.

Step 3

Save your own seeds and save money. Invest in an initial batch of seed and harvest your own seed from subsequent plantings. This helps mitigate the cost of heirlooms, which is often higher than the price of hybrid seeds. Heirloom seed is usually high-quality seed, sometimes sold in greater quantities per pack than hybrids. Heirlooms are often from organic gardens and come untreated by pesticide or fungicide.

Tips and Warnings

  • Tomato seed must be fermented before saving to fight canker disease. Canker is a bacterial disease that causes stunted plants and lesions. To ferment the seed, add the gel and seeds from inside the tomato to a glass jar. Add 1 or 2 cups of water. Stir twice a day. After about five days, the seeds will sink. Empty the liquid, rinse off the seeds and spread them out to dry on paper towels.

Things You'll Need

  • Heirloom vegetables and fruit
  • Paper
  • Envelopes
  • Paper towels
  • Knife

References

  • Backwoods Home Magazine: Non-Hybrid Seeds
  • Oregon State University Extension: How to Save Seeds
  • Green Diva Mom: Heirloom Seeds for Biodiversity

Who Can Help

  • Seed Savers Exchange
  • Victory Seed Co. Online Garden Resources
Keywords: open pollinated, heirloom seeds, hybrid seeds

About this Author

Alice Moon has been a freelance writer for one year, writing on the Internet for over 10 years. Moon holds a B.S. in political science (Asian studies minor). She was chosen as a Smithsonian Institute intern, working for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. She traveled through Asia as part of a delegation from her university to its sister universities overseas.

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