Saving Vegetable Seeds

If you are an intense gardener, like me, you will see the benefits of saving seeds from your own garden to plant the next spring. 
- Its cheaper, of course, (seed packets get more and more expensive every year!), 
- There's no doubt what it will grow, as long as you kept the seed pure on varieties that easily cross pollinate, 
- You know it will grow in your climate, 
- If its heirloom seed, then its not GMO, 
- Its rewarding. Being self sufficient is always rewarding! 

Donating seed to a community seed library is a great idea too. Share those seeds with your community!

While there are differences in seed collecting, depending on the fruit/veggie from which you are collecting them, there are some seed collecting rules that are a constant for all seeds. 

Rule #1 - Keep the Seed Pure: If you are saving seed for next year or giving it to a seed bank or a friend, you will need to know that what you plant is what you get. Some seeds will cross, not affecting that same year's fruit, but will affect what grows from that seed planted the following spring. What grows from crossed seed will not be the same as the vegetable the seed came out of. Sometimes this is easy with things that self pollinate, like tomatoes and peppers. If you plant them touching, they will cross but it doesn't take much space to keep them from doing so. Squash-pumpkins, on the other hand, are pollinated by bees and will cross if planted within 500 meters of another one in the same family. 

Squash-pumpkins come in four families: maxima, moschata, pepo, mixta. Two squash plants from different families will not cross. If you plant two squash plants from the same family, you can bet they will cross pollinate unless you take steps to prevent it. You can see how to prevent squash/pumpkins from crossing in a post called "Hand Pollinating Squash". Maximas are the buttercup, turbin, kobocha, hubbard. Moschata is the butternut, mostly, also the Hopi black and the sweet-potato squash. Pepos are the pumpkins, zucchini, acorn, pepper squash, sweet dumpling squash, spaghetti squash and gourds. Mixtas are the cushaws, which don't grow up here due to the long season needed. If your squash is not mentioned here, you can usually look it up on the package or the internet and see what family it belongs to.

Please be aware: if you grow zucchini and pumpkins together on your small town lot, you cannot give your zucchini seeds to the seed bank, unless you have taken sure steps to keep the seed pure. What grows from that seed the following year will not be zucchini. Usually what grows from a squash-pumpkin cross is not very good for eating, either. Please don't give seed to a seed bank that will not grow true!

Corn is pollinated by the wind and will cross with a different corn across the highway from you. There's nothing you can do about that, but what will grow from that seed will still be edible corn, of a type. Popcorn is an exception. Crossed seed will not likely "pop". 

Beans will cross with other beans if they are very close together, especially if they are touching, as will peas. They are safe if grown in separate rows or sections. 

The brassicas will cross with each other if you grow them in close proximity. The brassica family consist of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnip, kale, mustard and collard greens and rutabaga. The result may possibly be edible, as in rutabagas, a cabbage-turnip cross or it may be something entire unusable. If you are going to let them flower and go to seed, separate them to different areas of the garden.That wild mustard with the yellow flowers that grows everywhere, will cross with brassicas you grow on purpose. Keep it out of the garden area! 

Rule #2 -  Collect Only Mature Seed: Wait until the fruit/veggie is fully ripe before picking and cutting it to save the seeds. Leave that veggie on the bush/vine until it rots or dries out hard. Immature seed will not germinate. If you are collecting flower seeds, you have to leave those finished, brown, dead flowers on the plant in the garden or they won't grow seed pods with seeds. Rose hips are seed pods. 

A good example of this is green bell pepper seeds. Green bell peppers are coloured peppers that are picked unripe and they won't often ripen off the plant. Seeds from a green bell pepper will not germinate. If you want to save bell pepper seeds, you have to save them from very ripe coloured peppers, any colour. Any coloured pepper seed will grow green peppers. They are all green on the bush before they ripen. You can buy a very ripe red pepper from the grocery store and grow green bell peppers. In our short season up here, even started early, we only get green peppers from the garden, since there is just not time for them to ripen,  unless they are in a heated greenhouse. I'm ok with that, as we like green bell peppers and eat a lot of them!

Another good example are green beans and peas. If you want the beans for seed, leave those pods on the plant until the pods are paper brown and the beans or peas inside are hard. I know its a hard thing to do when you could be eating them. You have to set aside a certain amount of your garden produce for collecting seed and not for eating. Plant enough seeds for both. 

Let the cabbage or broccoli or kohlrabi flower and go to seed. Let the lettuce and spinach bolt, flower and go to seed. I have left spinach too long and had baby spinach volunteers all over the garden.  I have had baby green onions and cilantro seedlings all over the garden too! I like garden volunteers! Leave those plants alone in the garden. Let them flower and they will reward you with seed.

Corn has to be left on the stalk until its hard. Far too hard to eat, if you want it for seed. 

Most root vegetables won't go to seed the same season they are planted. They usually have to be left in the ground until the next season, when they will flower and go to seed. 

Rule #3 -  Seed Drying: Once you have collected the seed, make sure it is thoroughly dry before storing it. I like to keep large screens to use as shelves for drying seeds and herbs, either indoors with a little ventilation or outdoors in an enclosed porch. If the seeds are too fine for screens, use curtain sheers on the screens for drying. (NOTE:  Solid curtain sheers also make good row covers.) 
If you just have a few seeds, you can spread them out on paper towels to dry. You can dry larger seed with a paper towel before putting on a screen to dry, if they are very wet. 

Once you think those seeds are very dry, store them in paper envelopes, not plastic. Write the seed info on the envelope and put it away in storage with your other paper envelopes of saved and dried seed. Write all the information you have for that seed on the envelope, i.e. name, variety, where you got the seeds, year grown and saved, date started and date harvested, etc. I couldn't possibly remember that information when planting time comes around again. I put them in alphabetical order so I can find them easily next year. At one point I had an entire eight drawer dresser devoted to nothing but seed storage, drawers full of envelopes in alphabetical order, labelled on the outside of the drawer. I had an online seed store that was busy in the spring, so I had an excuse. 

Rule #4: Keep Your Seed Cool and Dry in Storage. This means you cannot keep them over the fridge or in the freezer or outside where it freezes in the winter. Some seeds will be fine frozen and others will have a lower germination rate if you freeze them. Dark is good too. The basement or a bathroom/kitchen is too humid. The top of a bedroom closet where its cool is a good place or a hall linen closet. Store them in a cardboard box in envelopes. They don't need to be stored in plastic if kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. That way you know they will not mold or rot. After a few months it will be safe to put them in plastic or glass for long term, safe storage. Keep in mind that seeds are a good meal for a mouse. Keep them out of rodent reach. A good thing to keep in mind when drying them too. I have lost good seed to mice, squirrels and chipmunks before! 

How to Save Seed: 

Saving seeds from tomatoes and cucumbers: Pick only very ripe fruits from the vine for seed
saving. Honestly, wait until the tomato is soft and over ripe. Wait until the cucumbers have gone from green to yellow to red. Cucumbers are orange or red when fully ripe. We just usually pick them before they get there. Cut and remove the seeds into a container with the juice and maybe a bit of water. Leave it at room temp to ferment and mold. (I put mine outside. It stinks and attract fruit flies.) After a week, go through this stinky, disgusting mess and remove the seeds, usually on the bottom under the mold. Wash them with cold water in a fine sieve, like a tea strainer. Spread out to dry. NOTE: I have read that you can remove this need to ferment by washing the seeds with Comet cleanser in a tea strainer. I do both: ferment for a week or two, then wash gently with Comet cleanser in a tea strainer before drying, just to make sure. My tomato seeds always grow. :)

Saving seeds from berries: Remove the seeds from the berries, wash by rubbing gently in cold water and spread out on a paper towel to dry. Its important to wash them first, as some berries have a substance on the seeds that will prevent the seeds from germinating until it ferments. These can also benefit by washing with Comet cleanser in a tea strainer. 

Saving seeds from squash-pumpkins is easy! Wait until it is fully ripe to pick if you want to save the seeds for planting. Sometimes a squash will ripen even more over the next few months after it is picked, which will make for more mature seed. When its ready, cut it open and remove the seeds. Give them a quick rinse in cold water, dry them off with paper towels immediately and spread out on dry paper towels or screen. Do not leave them wet very long. I label the paper towels they are drying on with the variety. Squash-pumpkin seeds all look very similar. These seeds can be roasted and eaten for a snack, if you have more saved than you will need for next year's garden. 

Saving seeds from brassicas (cabbage family): Cabbages have to be left in the ground until they bolt, flower and then they go to seed. Broccoli florets have to be left to bloom and then go to seed. Turnips/rutabagas have to be left in the ground until they flower and go to seed. (Rutabagas are a cabbage/turnip cross.) Kohlrabi has to grow until it flowers and goes to seed. These are easy if you have the time in the season for them to flower and produce mature seed. 

Saving seeds from peppers: Let the peppers get completely, fully ripe on the plant before you pick them. Cut open and remove seeds. Dry seeds on screen or paper towel. Place into envelope. Easy! 

Not if they are hot peppers! I have grown peppers so hot I had to wear a veil over my entire face, safety glasses and gloves to keep my skin and eyes from burning. I don't grow hot peppers anymore. We don't eat them. They were just for the seed store. Bell peppers are the only peppers we grow now. 

Saving seed from root vegetables: Most root vegetables, i.e. carrots, beets, turnips, onions, garlic, have to be left in the ground over the winter before they will flower and go to seed. This usually happens in their second season of growth, or they can be replanted in the spring. Try planting an onion from the store in the spring. It will grow, flower and make seeds. It will take another two seasons for those onion seeds to make harvest size onions. They will make the little baby onions, like the "sets" you can buy, the first year. Dig those up, dry and replant in spring for the big onions. You can try leaving them in the ground over the winter. I don't know if they will survive and return for their second year of growth up here. 

If you grow carrots for seed, keep in mind that Queen's Annes Lace is wild carrot and will cross with the carrots you grow for seed. Keep it pulled near the garden. 

Regrowing Celery

Did you know that you can grow another complete celery stalk from the bottom piece that you cut off and throw away? This is new to me too but I have been doing it this year. I use a lot of celery when cooking and I hope to save quite a bit by regrowing it through out the spring and summer.

When I bring the celery home now, I cut the end off first then put the rest into the refrigerator.

Take an ordinary bunch of celery from the grocery store or cut from your garden, much like the one in the picture at the top. Using a large knife, cut the bottom off the stalk. Simple!

I usually set the bottom piece on a saucer of warm water overnight to get it started. Also because I am usually busy cooking and working in the kitchen when I do this and don't have time to plant it right away. I think this gives it a head start.

When I have time, I will take that piece and plant it just like it is, in the vegetable garden with the stalk side up. Just dig a small hole, fill it with water and set the end in the hole, then cover it up with an inch or so of soil and water thoroughly.
This is one planted about three days ago.

This one was planted about 10 days ago.

It will grow a brand new top to be cut and used, then you can plant the bottom again for more new growth at the top.

I plan to start planting my cut off celery bottoms in small pots or trays late next winter so that I have a few doz to plant out into the vegetable garden in May. I wonder if I can grow it in a sunny window all winter!

Once you have it growing, you can probably cut it off on an "as needed" basis and just keep it re-growing in the garden or pot.

I may never need to buy celery again!

Rose Petal Beads

Rose petal beads can be made from any rose petals, but the red shades will have a better colour when they are finished, sort of a deep mahogany. Cooking them in a cast iron pot will also deepen the colour. You don't need a very large amount of petals to make beads. They don't seem to lose much material in the cooking.

Start with collected rose petals. Some say to cut off the white bottom, but I do not have the time or ambition to do that and they come out just fine. Crush the petals or grind them up with a mortor and pestle and put them in a pot with a little water to cover. Heat very gently, without boiling, until the petals are a mush. This takes several hours. Keep the heat very low so that they never boil, just stay very hot. Add a little water if needed, to keep them moist. Do not let the water evaporate.After 5-6 hours the petals should be ready. Press them into a fine sieve, getting out as much water as you can. If needed you can then wrap them in a towel and squeeze out even more water. Form the remaining paste into balls. They will shrink by 50%, so make them twice as big as you want the beads to be. Squeeze them into tight balls. Put a piece of wire or a coat hanger through the middle to make the hole for the string. Form the bead around the wire. You can shape them on the wire making them oblong or square, or you can make them round. You can make several different shapes and sizes. Make tiny little ones to put on earrings.

Before you are shaping them and they are fairly cool, you can add a drop or two of rose fragrance oil if you want them to have a stronger rose scent. Only a drop is needed as it goes a long way.

As they dry you will need to move them a little on the wire or they will be stuck to it and you will not be able to get the wire out of the bead when it is dry.

After you have the beads strung on the wire, hang them in a warm place to dry. They should be dry to the touch overnight and will continue to dry and shink for another week or two. After about two weeks, they are ready to make into jewelry. You can put a gloss varnish on them or leave them natural. I think they look best strung with other beads that will bring out the mahagany hues.

I don't have any completed beads to show you, unfortunately. I no longer have the ones I made years ago and, well, I burned the ones I was making yesterday in the pictures above. Its very easy to burn them. They smelled like roses, for awhile anyway until they began to smell burned. Its mid October and I don't think I am going to get any more rose petals this year. If I do, I will heat them on the wood stove instead of a burner. I often do not know exactly how I am going to design a piece of jewelry until I have everything in front of me, including all of the beads I have to use in those colours. Sometimes I will re-do a strand many times before I am happy with it but that is the nature of designing. I like to look at other jewelry designs on the internet to get ideas for new and unusual things to do with the beads. Most jewelry designers are just stinging the beads together and focusing more on their usual beads. It is rare to find a different way of putting the beads together.

Jewelry making is fun! Once you get started it is hard to stop. Handmade jewelry made with your own rose petal beads will make a great Christmas present too!

Hand Pollinating Squash

Its that time again. The squash plants are blooming! Time to get out the tape and bright ribbon and start pollinating by hand! I love growing squash! I am obsessed with squash like other gardeners are obsessed with tomatoes! Since bees are the only insect that pollinate squash, I started doing the job myself in recent years. It has made a big difference in the number of squash produced. If you usually get a lot of flowers and very few fruits, you may have a pollination problem. Hand pollinating is so easy and its fun! (I think its fun anyway. You may look at it as a lot of work.)

Squash/pumpkin plants, unlike a lot of other vegetables and ornamentals, have both male and female blossoms. The male and female blossoms are very easy to tell apart.

The female blossoms have a receptacle to receive the pollen. This is a female squash/pumpkin blossom:

The male blossom has a small stick covered with pollen. This is a male squash/pumpkin blossom:

The male blossoms grow on a tall stalk, usually towards the center of the plant. These are usually blooming before the female blossoms. The female blossoms don't usually grow until the weather is warm enough. 

As you can probably guess, the object here is to get the pollen from the male blossom into the receptacle of the female blossom. Easy!

At first I used a paintbrush or a finger to capture the pollen and transport it, but shortly discarded that method. Its not necessary. There are usually several male flowers open for every female, so I just pick a male flower, remove the petals and rub the pollen against the female receptacle. You can use one male flower to pollinate 2-3 female flowers, if necessary.

Occasionally there will be a few female flowers open early without any male open to pollinate them. This can be frustrating! That happened to me this year. There were two female ambercup squash flowers open early and no males yet. I pollinated these with male blossoms from a buttercup squash plant nearby. They are both maxima so I know they will cross pollinate. Most of the squash I grow are maxima.

I do want pure seed to save for next year but I knew there would be a lot more squash blossoms coming later. More than enough to ensure pure seed for next year.

It is important, when pollinating for pure seed, to pollinate the blossoms as soon as they open, very early in the morning of their first day before they are likely to be pollinated by a bee. I went out at dawn a few days later, my usual time, and found several female flowers just opening. Perfect!

I pollinated these with pollen from a just opening male flower of the same type and taped the blossom shut with masking tape. You can see the little bulb at the base of the female blossom.

This is a buttercup female blossom just opened this morning, pollinated and taped shut to prevent further contamination from bees with pollen from other maxima squash growing nearby. Cross pollinating squash plants won’t affect this year’s produce at all, but it will mix up what you get from the seeds the following year.

I occasionally go out in the early evening and tape shut any female and male blossoms that I think will open for the first time the following morning. This will prevent any pollination before I get to them.

I marked the hand pollinated ones with a bright pink ribbon so that I will know it is a “seed” squash when it is harvested. Anything that will last through the summer and into the fall and still be recognizable will do. It doesn’t have to be pink! Trail marker ribbon works great! When fall comes I will leave these ones on the vine as long as possible to ensure ripeness. The squash grown for seed will need to be very ripe to get the best developed and driest seed. These will sit in the field in the sun long after the vines have died from frost. Then they will be brought inside and put in the basement to age at least another month before being cut open and used.

This year (2014) I have growing: 12 hills of ambercup and 10 hills of turban buttercup with 3-4 plants per hill of each, 3 pink banana squash plants, 1 spaghetti squash plant, 1 “upper ground sweet potato” squash plant, 2 “sweet mama” squash plants, 3 Hopi black squash plants, approx 4 Hopi gray squash plants and 2 acorn squash plants. Most of the ones I grew this year, except the acorn, are maxima, so cross pollinating would be a problem if done naturally.

I saved a bag full of good dry seed from the giant blue hubbard I grew last year but decided not to grow it again. Its not as sweet as the ambercup, which is delicious, but it is, nevertheless, a tasty dry squash. The hubbards are also more work to process and have to be cut with the axe, or a very sturdy knife and a hammer. I didn’t need another variety this year, so I left it out.

I planted the Hopi squash mainly for seed, although I have read that the gray is one of the best keepers out there. These Hopi squash were the original ones used for the “three sisters” system originating with the Hopi Indians. When I looked into growing them a few years ago the seed was almost impossible to find. I did manage to find one lady who sent me some in a trade and I have kept them until this year. I had my doubts that they would germinate after three years, but they did! They were slow to germinate and I am not sure they will have time to produce mature fruit this year, but I have high hopes! I do so want those seed to preserve and sell next year! We are losing so many good heritage varieties of all our vegetables!

I like to putter in the garden. I often just walk around and look and putter when I am relaxing. This is when I do the pollinating of squash blossoms, tying up and de-suckering the tomatoes, lifting up the stray cucumber vines and so forth – the little things. I keep everything I need in a little basket with a handle and take it out with me on all of my walks. I don’t take the hoe!

Every part of the squash plant can be eaten, including the leaves and tender shoots.

I plan to cut off the side shoots when it gets too late for the plant to grow squash that will ripen in time. These tender shoots are going into soups and stews. I want to try them chopped in omelets this year. The young leaves can be picked now and used as wraps around some meaty concoction, much like a grape leaf can. We have lots of wild grapes too. I think I’ll experiment this summer with leaf wraps!

I have collected a selection of squash recipes that we have found to be delicious and have made many times. Winter squash and sweet pumpkin are interchangeable in any recipe, since they are the same thing. No canned pumpkin will ever taste as good as the home grown vegetable.

*Note: All spices are dried and ground. If you wish to use fresh, you will need to research the amount.

Squash Pie

1 1/2 cup squash, cooked, mashed and unseasoned
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs
2 teaspoon all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk

Mix all dry ingredients together. Add squash. Beat eggs in another bowl and add milk to eggs, then add to squash mixture. Pour into an unbaked pastry lined pan. Bake at 350F until firm in center, about 1 hour.

Squash Loaf

3 cups sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2/3 cup water
3 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon allspice or 1/2 tsp mace
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 1/2 cup squash, cooked, mashed and unseasoned
2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat oven to 350F, grease 3 loaf pans. Mix sugar, oil and eggs. Add squash. Sift together all dry ingredients and add to squash mixture. Add water and pour into pans. Bake 1 hour.


Squash Soup

2 pounds uncooked squash
1.5 pints of stock, chicken or vegetable (can be made with bouillon)
1 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Cream to add before serving, amount is optional
Salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon, optional

In a large saucepan, slice and saute the garlic and onion in oil or butter until tender. Add squash, stock, nutmeg or cinnamon, salt and pepper. Boil and cook for 25 minutes until squash is tender. Puree mixture with a blender until smooth and return to saucepan. Before serving, add cream and gently heat. Do not boil.

*Stock amount can be changed, depending on how thick or thin you want your soup.

**Add thick applesauce for a special taste treat.

Squash Muffins

1 cup squash, cooked and mashed
1/3 cup oil
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon mace

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease muffin tin or use papers. Mix together squash, eggs, oil and corn syrup in large bowl. Stir until well mixed. Stir all other dry ingredients together in smaller bowl. Add dry ingredients to squash mixture. Fill greased tins to the top. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly brown on top.

* Very good with raisins added, add raisins to batter if desired.

Squash Dessert Squares

1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups squash, cooked, mashed and unseasoned
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease square pan. Beat together shortening, brown sugar and white sugar until light. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Beat in squash. Combine dry ingredients and gradually stir into beaten mixture. Spread in greased pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool in pan. Spread with orange icing (optional). Cut into bars.