Tips and resources for farmers and gardeners
It makes a difference whether your plants are...
In addition to spinach, beets, broccoli, cabbage, radish and several other vegetables cross-pollinate. You can be sure of getting seeds of plants that will be fairly true to type only if you isolate your insect pollinated crops by 200 yards and your wind-pollinated crops by a mile.
The vine crops, eggplant, peppers and celery are partially cross-pollinated, depending upon the environment. Isolate them from others of their kind, just to be sure.
Saving seeds from annuals is easy, but the seeds of biennials are produced in the second season, following a cold period. Let your plants overwinter and collect seeds the following year.
Root crops, like carrots and beets, are tricky, since the roots must be harvested to judge their quality, prior to selecting for seed-saving. Carefully dig the plants in the fall, select those with the best characteristics and replant them right away after removing their tops. Snow cover will naturally protect them over winter. If you live where snow cover is light or unpredictable, mulch the plants with a few inches of straw after the ground has frozen. Winter mulch protects roots, the the roots will produce new tops and a flower next spring. In the second year, the root will be inedible. Let the seeds ripen and you're in business, two years after the first crop.
In American gardens, we plant seven species of "cucurbits" divided among three genera, which, in general, will not cross pollinate. Watermelon will not cross with cucumber, and neither will cross with zucchini. There are four species within the genus Cucurbita, some of which cross within the same species and others with other species. It can be confusing. To detail just a few: Jack O Lantern pumpkin and zucchini will cross. Butternut squash and Kentucky field pumpkin will cross. Buttercup squash, hubbard squash, and Big Max pumpkin cross. Cushaw pumpkins cross with some gourds. All of this only matters if you plan to save the seed. The fruit of this year's crop will be unaffected by the cross.
Beans, peas, and crucifers bear seeds in pods, which need to turn brown before you harvest them. Then dry them for another week or two in a warm place, shell them, and store the seeds in a paper bag in a dry room below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some seeds need to be soaked in 122 degrees F water to protect them from seed-borne diseases. Soak cabbage seeds for 25 minutes, and soak seeds of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts for 18 minutes. Then dry in a warm place. Again, store dried seeds in a paper bag or paper envelope.
Pepper, melon, pumpkin and squash seeds should be scraped onto a paper towel to dry, then stored in a paper envelope or bag, as you would other seeds.
Pick ripe tomatoes and cucumbers and squeeze the pulp, including the seeds, into a glass or plastic container. Add a little water and let the goo ferment for several days at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Viable seeds will settle, while dead seeds will float. Pour off the pulp, water and floaters and spread the viable seeds in a single layer on a paper towel to dry. Store all seeds in an envelope or paper bag in a cool, dry place.
No matter what kind of seeds you are saving, mark the envelope or paper bag with the cultivar, kind of plant, and date of harvest with permanent marker or pencil.
Seeds are living, and holding them in a paper bag or envelope in a cool (about 50 degrees F), dry place will slow their physiological processes, allowing for maximum storage life. When properly stored, seeds remain usually viable from one to five years.
Cheryl Moore-Gough Montana State University Extension Horticulturist