Collecting seeds from flowers

Tips for Saving Seeds

Saving seeds has long been the primary way to pass plants down from generation to generation. Continue the tradition of sharing the best of nature’s gifts by saving seeds in your garden.

The best plants for saving seeds are heirlooms, old-fashioned varieties, and open-pollinated plants. This is because the seeds usually grow into plants that look like their parents. Seeds saved from hybrids will not usually grow into the same plants as their parents.

Tips for Saving Perennial Seeds

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Save your precious perennial seeds for next year! You can plant most perennial seeds in the garden starting in fall. Start them in a protected spot in loose, well-drained soil. Water them well after planting, and give them a covering of mulch. They’ll readily sprout in spring.

Plants like polka-dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya) are tropical perennials and can easily be moved to indoor pots for the winter. Even false sunflowers will fight the advancing seasons and bring a spot of gold to the living room. These perennial garden seeds will last all through winter until you are ready to plant.

Some of the easiest perennial flowers to collect seeds from include:

  • Blackberry lily
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Coneflower
  • False sunflower
  • Meadow rue
  • Obedient plant
  • Perennial sunflower
  • Perennial sweet pea
  • Veronica

Ready for harvest when: Flower is ripe.

Perennial seed-saving supplies:

  • Scissors or knife
  • Waxed paper
  • Envelope
  • Airtight container

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Cut flower head with scisscors or knife.
  2. Collect the ripe seeds from flower head and place on waxed paper.
  3. Allow the seeds to dry for about a week.
  4. Clean the seeds by removing any husks or pods.
  5. Place seeds in envelople and seal. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry location.
  6. Sow the seeds in spring. You can plant them directly in the garden, or get a jump on the season and start them early indoors.

Tips for Saving Annual Seeds

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The flowers of poppy, pansy, and snapdragon may be gone, but the marvelous seedpods are still there. Fall also brings out the glorious colors of flowering kales and cabbages, plants that need the nip of frost not only to grow but also for their colored leaves to shine.

Some annuals, such as bedding begonias or ageratums, can be dug up and placed in small pots, where they will continue to produce flowers until the very short days of December. Pansies will bloom all winter long in areas of the country where winters are mild, but they’ll even persist in northern gardens until almost the end of the year, or until snows get too deep for casual walks to the garden. Sweet alyssum, too, will keep flowering far into fall.

Just like perennials, these annual seeds are easy to save. Some of the easiest annual flowers to collect seeds from include:

  • Cleome
  • Datura
  • Larkspur
  • Marigold
  • Morning Glory
  • Nasturtium
  • Poppy
  • Snapdragon

Ready for harvest when: Flower is ripe.

Annual seed-saving supplies:

  • Scissors or knife
  • Waxed paper
  • Envelope
  • Airtight container

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Cut flower head with scisscors or knife.
  2. Collect the ripe seeds from flower head and place on waxed paper.
  3. Clean the annual seeds by removing any husks or pods and allow to dry completely.
  4. Place seeds in envelope and seal. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry location.
  5. Sow the seeds in spring. You can plant them directly in the garden, or get a jump on the season and start them early indoors.

Tips for Saving Fruit and Vegetable Seeds

The easiest seeds to save from your garden are cucumbers, beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, and watermelons and melons. These fruit and vegetable seeds self-pollinate and are low-maintenance when it comes to the storing process.

When saving seeds, make sure to choose open-pollinated seeds instead of hybrid seeds. Open-pollinated seeds that self-pollinate or cross-pollinate will produce plants similar to their parent plant, unlike hybrids.

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Beans

Ready for harvest when: The seeds dry, are turning brown, and the pods start to open.

Bean seed-saving supplies:

  • Waxed paper
  • Envelope
  • Airtight container

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Remove pods from bean.
  2. Place pods on waxed paper and allow seeds to dry for two weeks before shelling.
  3. Place dry seeds into envelope and seal. Place the envelope in an airtight container until you are ready to plant.

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Cucumbers

Ready for harvest when: Fruit is ripe.

Cucumber seed-saving supplies:

  • Knife
  • Container
  • Waxed paper
  • Envelope
  • Jar with airtight lid

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Cut cucumber with knife and squeeze out pulp seeds. Place seeds in a container.
  2. Add a small amount of water to container. Let the pulp ferment for two to four days at room temperature, making sure to stir occasionally. After a couple of days, the dead seeds will float to the top.
  3. When the good seeds sink to the bottom, pour out the pulp. Rinse seeds with water and place seeds on waxed paper. Leave to dry for a week.
  4. Place dry seeds in envelope and seal closed. Then place the envelope in an airtight container until ready to plant.

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Peas

Ready for harvest when: The seeds dry, are turning brown, and the pods start to open.

Pea seed-saving supplies:

  • Waxed paper
  • Airtight container

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Remove pods from pea.
  2. Place pods on waxed paper and allow to dry for two weeks before shelling.
  3. Place dry seeds in envelope and seal. Place the envelope in an airtight container until ready to plant.

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Peppers

Ready for harvest when: Fruit is thoroughly ripe (most varieties will turn red and begin to shrivel).

Pepper seed-saving supplies:

  • Waxed paper
  • Envelope
  • Airtight container

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Remove seeds from pepper.
  2. Place on waxed paper and allow seeds to dry in a warm, dry spot of your home. Leave for two to four days until completely dry.
  3. Place dry seeds in envelope and seal. Place envelope in an airtight container until ready to plant.

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Tomatoes

Ready for harvest when: Fruit is ripe.

Tomato seed-saving supplies:

  • Knife
  • Container
  • Waxed paper
  • Envelope
  • Airtight container

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Cut tomato with knife and squeeze out pulp seeds. Place in a container.
  2. Add a small amount of water to container. Let the pulp ferment for two to four days at room temperature, making sure to stir occasionally. After a couple of days, the dead seeds will float to the top.
  3. When the good seeds sink to the bottom, pour out the pulp. Rinse seeds with water and place seeds on waxed paper. Leave to dry for a week.
  4. Place dry seeds in envelope and seal closed. Then place the envelope in an airtight container until ready to plant.

Learn how to grow heirloom varieties.

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Watermelon & Melon

Ready for harvest when: Fruit is ripe.

Melon seed-saving supplies:

  • Knife
  • Strainer
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Waxed paper
  • Envelope
  • Jar with airtight lid

Directions for saving seeds:

  1. Cut melon with knife and scoop seeds. Place seeds in strainer.
  2. Rinse seeds and remove the pulp. Add one drop of dish soap to clean the seeds.
  3. Spread the seeds on waxed paper and dry for about a week. Turn them once a day until they become completely dry.
  4. Place dry seeds in envelope and seal closed. Then place the envelope in an airtight container until ready to plant.

  • By Megan McConnell Hughes

© MrBrownThumb

Summer is prime seed saving season for me. I collect seeds from my own garden, but I also responsibly collect seeds from gardens around me. Even if I don’t want to grow a particular plant I’ll collect and save the seeds because I may come across a gardener that is looking for that seed. Through seed saving I’m able to communicate with gardeners who I may never have interacted with otherwise.

To me, seeds grow more than just flowers. Seeds build community with very little effort, and almost no cost.

The following 11 videos are videos I’ve recorded and uploaded to YouTube to demonstrate how easy it is to save seeds from some of the most commonly found flowers in gardens. I’ve listed them alphabetically to help you find the one you’re most interested in.

1. Allium Seeds

2. Bachelor’s Button Seeds

3.Candy Lily

4. Calendula Seeds

5. Columbine Flower Seeds

6. Cleome Seeds

7. Four O’ Clock Seeds

8.Marigold Seeds

9. Morning Glory Seeds

10. Nasturtium Seeds

11. Poppy Seeds

You can see these and other garden videos on my YouTube channel which I invite you to subscribe to if you‘re interested in saving seeds. I hope to focus on videos on saving edible this summer, but I’ll continue to add more flower seeds, and if you have a request for a seed collecting how-to feel free to mention it and I’ll see if I can fulfill it.

What’s the easiest flower to save seeds from in your garden? Do you save and share seeds from plants you grow?

Want more garden goodness? Follow the MrBrownThumb urban gardening blog, also on G+, Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

Collecting seeds from your garden

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There are many awesome reasons for collecting seeds from your garden. Besides an obvious sense of satisfaction, it’s also an easy way to shave some serious dollars off your gardening budget and preserve the tomatoes or nasturtiums your great-grandmother grew in her garden. As well, annually selecting your earliest, best-tasting, most productive, and disease resistant veggies will result in plants that are specifically adapted for your area. Flower gardeners can also play with breeding by saving seed from those plants that offer improved traits like larger flowers or unique bloom colour.

Novice seed starters may want to begin collecting and saving the seed from self-pollinating crops like these purple podded pole beans.

Which seeds can be saved?

Before you head to the garden to start gathering seed, remember that not all seed can or should be saved. Aim to save seed from open-pollinated and heirloom plants rather than from hybrids. Hybrids are the result of a cross between two different parent plants and the seed saved from this type of plant does not typically come true to type. Not sure if your varieties are hybrid, open-pollinated, or heirlooms? Most seed catalogs make it easy for seed savers to tell the difference by listing ‘F1’ (hybrid), ‘OP’ (open-pollinated) or ‘heirloom’ beside each variety.

It’s also important to remember that plants can be pollinated in different ways. Certain plants are self-pollinating, while others are cross-pollinated by insects or wind. For beginners, the seeds of self-pollinated plants like peas, beans, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes are the easiest to save. This is because you can be fairly sure that your seed will produce plants that look like their parents.

Sometimes cross pollination is a good thing and can lead to unusual flower colours when pollen is moved from one plant to another. Instead of yellow flowering nasturtiums, you may end up with salmon or deep red blooms. But, if you have a cross-pollinating plant and wish to save the seeds, you’ll need to grow just that one variety (only that yellow nasturtium, for example), or isolate related crops from each other with a barrier or plenty of space.

Want more information? There are a lot of fantastic books on seed saving like The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds and the classic Seed to Seed. And, I’m also a huge fan of the excellent book Plant Breeding for the Home Gardener by Joseph Tychonievich. It’s a comprehensive, yet easily understandable guide for anyone interested in experimenting in their veggie and flower gardens.

Related Post: How Long Do Seeds Last?

There are many benefits of collecting seeds from your garden. Take this strain of Armenian cucumber, for example. It’s a family heirloom and I always let a few fruits mature for seed saving so that I can continue to grow and share the seeds for this delicious vegetable.

For me, seed collecting often begins long before the seedpods or fruits have matured. Of course, you can gather the seed from nasturtiums, marigolds, poppies, cosmos, beans, peas, and tomatoes by collecting it when the seed is ready. But, savvy seed savers who want to improve their existing plants or cultivate something new, keep their eyes open for exceptional plants throughout the growing season.

What’s an exceptional plant? With flowers, I look for unusual or better bloom colour, larger (or maybe smaller) flowers, improved disease resistance, or plants that are more robust than usual. For vegetables, I want plants that crop earlier, don’t bolt in summer, have cold tolerance, larger yields, disease resistance, or better tasting fruits. Any plants that have potential are marked with plastic bread tags, labelled twist ties, or colored yarn so that I remember which ones have been selected for seed saving.

When a plant, like these annual poppies, shows potential for interesting improvements, I mark it with a labelled bread tag. That way when it’s time to collect the seed, I’ll remember why I was intrigued.

When the fruits have reached the proper stage of maturity it’s time to start collecting seeds. Seeds are collected ‘wet’ or ‘dry’. The seeds from cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, and melons are gathered when they are wet and the fruit is over-ripe. Depending on the species, they will need a quick water rinse or a brief fermenting before the seeds can be dried and stored. Dry seeds, on the other hand, come from plants that form seedpods. These plants include poppies, beans, peas, calendula, marigolds, dill, and coriander.

Dry seeds:

Gather dry seeds when the weather is sunny and dry. If there has been rain, wait a few days for the seedpods to dry before collecting seeds from your garden. Get started by grabbing a sharp pair of garden pruners, a waterproof marker, and a pile of paper bags. Use the pruners to clip dried seedpods or capsules from the plant, dropping them in labeled paper bags.

Hang the bags in a cool, airy location to let the seedpods finish drying. Or, spread the seeds on screens to dry. When you are ready to remove the seed from the fruits, gently open the pods and pour or shake the seeds onto a piece of white paper. Bits of the dried plant, known as chaff will likely mix in with the seed. Chaff can be removed by hand or with the use of a sieve. However, as long as it’s dry and mold-free chaff shouldn’t pose a problem.

Plastic film canisters make excellent storage containers for seeds.

Once the seeds are ready to store, place them in small envelopes or plastic film canisters. You can find a variety of small envelopes online, some specifically for seed storing, others just plain envelopes. Seal well, label with the species, variety, and collection date and place in an airtight container such as a large glass jar or plastic storage container. Store seeds in a cool, dry place.

Wet seeds:

‘Wet’ seeds, like those from tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and eggplants are collected from ripe fruits. For certain vegetables like squash and eggplants, the seed can be simply scooped into a bowl, rinsed clean with water, and spread to dry. But other crops, like tomatoes and cucumbers, benefit from a short period of fermentation.

To ferment seeds, place the pulp and seeds in a plastic or glass container and add water to cover. Top with a piece of plastic wrap or a plastic cover and leave for 3-4 days. Once the mixture becomes moldy, pour off the mold, rinse well with clean water, and drain and spread the seeds on newspapers or plates for 7 to 10 days or until completely dry.

Tomato seeds need to be gathered from ripe fruits and allowed to ferment in water for a few days. Then, dry them completely and store in air-tight containers.

Once the ‘wet’ seeds have been collected, cleaned and dried, store them the same way as dry-collected seeds; in envelopes, film canisters, jars, or plastic containers. You can also add packets of silica gel or a few spoonfuls of uncooked rice into the containers where you store your seed envelopes. These will absorb moisture and prolong storage and germination life.

Will you be collecting seeds from your garden this summer and autumn?

I want to start collecting and saving seeds from my garden. I’m looking for information about how to collect seeds from flowers. Do all flowering plants produce seeds for collecting?

Seed gathering is a fun gardening activity with a time-honored past. Before seed companies and nurseries made it more convenient to buy packets of seeds and flats of ready grown plants, farmers and gardeners relied on collecting and saving their own seeds for the following year’s crops. I recall my parents and grandparents collecting seeds from their flowers and vegetables, not only to be frugal but to make sure they had seeds for the varieties that they liked to grow.

Since those early times, plant breeders have created all kinds of new hybrid varieties, which makes modern day seed saving a little more challenging for the home gardener. Here’s why. Hybrid plants often produce seeds that either won’t germinate or the resulting plants don’t have the same characteristics as their parents. So when you purchase seeds to get your garden started, be sure they are from plants that are an open pollinated variety. How do you know? There are several seed companies that sell open-pollinated flowers. Also, many companies have varieties they categorize as heritage or an old-fashioned favorite. Those flowers are usually a safe bet.

Seed Producing Flower Choices

Bachelor’s Button
Calendula
Corn Poppy
Cosmos
Globe Amaranth
Hyacinth Bean Vine
Larkspur
Marigold
Moonflower
Morning Glory
Nicotiana
Poppy
Zinnia

Selecting and Collecting

Gather them from the best plants. Tie a piece of bright yarn on the plants that have the height, color, bloom size or disease resistance qualities you prefer. The string will help remind you not to remove the fading blooms.

Blooms need to fade and dry on the plant so the seeds can develop and mature. Let the seed heads or pods dry out as much as possible on the plant before collecting them. Keep an eye on them. If the seed pods start to break open or a heavy rain is predicted, go ahead and harvest them.

Seed collecting should be done on a sunny day after the morning dew has dried. How you harvest depends on the plant. Some seeds like nicotiana (flowering tobacco) will fall into your hand if you gently shake the stem. Others like zinnias and marigolds take some gentle pulling to extract the seeds from the flower head. Plants such as hyacinth bean vine have seeds that need to be manually removed from the pod. So depending on the type of seeds you are collecting, you can either shake them into a paper bag or envelope, or if you are gathering flower heads and seed pods, place a sheet or some newspapers on the ground in front of the flowers so you can prune and toss them on the sheet as you go. The important thing at this point is to label the seeds and keep the varieties separate from each other unless you plan on creating your own mixture of seeds.

Drying and Storing Seeds

Before you store your seeds, make sure they are completely dry. Scatter them out in a ventilated box or container and put it in a warm, dry spot. If you keep the box outside, make sure it is protected from the wind, rain, and birds. Try sandwiching the seeds between two old window screens to keep them in place. If you have the room, your best bet is to keep them indoors when it looks like it will take a few days to dry them completely.

Once dried, store your seeds in an airtight container such as a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, a plastic storage container or a zipper style plastic bag. Label each container with the plant’s name and the date and year it was collected. Then store your seeds in a cool, dark, dry place until you are ready to use them.

Some gardeners add a little packet of silica gel (such as those included in the package with new electronics or leather goods) to make doubly sure the seeds stay dry. If you don’t have those on hand, make your own using a spoonful of dry milk powder in a piece of paper towel secured with a rubber band.

Test Your Seeds Before Planting

When you are ready to plant the seeds, you can test them for germination to find out how many seeds you can expect to grow. Take a small sampling of the seeds, place them on a barely damp paper towel and fold it in half over the seeds. Slip the towel into a sealed plastic bag or enclose it in plastic wrap to keep the towel from drying out. Label the package with the seed’s name and date and set it in a relatively warm place (70 to 75 degrees) such as the top of your refrigerator or on a high shelf. Avoid putting it in direct sun as the seeds could overheat. Check the towel daily to see if the seeds absorb the water and swell. If the towel dries out, mist it lightly. A majority of the seeds usually sprout within a few days, however, some varieties take longer. When the germination stops and no more seeds have sprouted for a few days, that will give you an idea of the germination rate you can expect from that batch of seeds.

Learn more about seed saving by watching the video below!

Collecting Native Seed

For many native species, collecting wildland seed is the first step in a lengthy process of making plant materials available for restoration projects. Successful seed collection involves planning ahead and monitoring for maturity. Suitable donor populations must be located and seeds must be collected at the appropriate time once they are mature. The window for collection is highly variable among species, ranging from only a few days to several weeks or longer. If the window is missed, collection must wait until the next year or growing season, at a minimum.

Forest Service seed collections are made by volunteers, staff, and professional collectors under contract. Regardless of the method, supervisory controls are in place to ensure that collection sites are not located within off-limit areas, such as in Research Natural Areas, sensitive or federally listed plant sites, or other environmentally sensitive areas. Also avoided are collection sites occupied by invasive plant species.

Although hot and challenging at times, wildland seed collection is rewarding work.

Sites

For each target species, collection sites are located using guidelines that ensure a representative sample of genetic variation is obtained. The specific number and distribution of collection sites will vary according to size, density, continuity of populations, and biology of the species sampled, as well as the desired quantity of seed to be obtained. A general rule of thumb is to collect from a minimum of five collection sites at least 0.5-1.0 mile apart. A larger number of collection sites may be needed for inbreeding plant species to adequately sample genetic variation among populations. Within-population genetic variability is sampled by collecting from a large number of widely spaced or unrelated plant parents (30-50 or more plants is optimal).

Collection Methods

Seed collection methods will vary depending on the species. Grass seed is harvested by stripping or shaking it off the stem, or by clipping the stem with scissors or small scythes just below the spikelet. Shrub seed is picked or lightly beaten or shaken, using a tarp to catch the falling seed. For species that dehisce explosively, the entire inflorescence may be cut prior to maturity and allowed to dry in mesh or paper bags, or under netting. Ladders may be required for collecting seed from taller shrubs, or plants can be lightly pruned with telescoping pole pruners. For large-scale harvesting, specialty equipment and machines may be necessary. Whatever the method, collections should always be conducted in a manner that does not damage existing vegetation or other resources. Ideally, at least 50 percent of the seed crop at a given site is left intact to allow for natural recruitment and regeneration of the native population.

Hand-stripping seed in California.

Clipping the seed heads from wild rye.

Close monitoring of seed maturation to determine the timing of seed collection.

Close monitoring is required to match the timing of seed collection activities to the distribution of seed maturation. Multiple trips to a site may be required for determining when the seed is mature, and also for collecting. Collecting at multiple times throughout the maturation period can help prevent inadvertent selection against either early or late maturing genotypes.

Storage

Seed must be collected and stored in such a way as to ensure its viability. Overheating can kill seeds, and excessive heat and temperature fluctuations should be avoided. High moisture content during storage can also cause seed damage and loss of viability due to molds. A good rule of thumb is the 100 rule of thumb, where the sum of temperature (degrees F) and relative humidity (%) does not exceed 100.

Documentation

Field collection forms and GIS are used to document collection area location, along with other important details such as collection dates and the number, distribution and health of parent plants. In some states, third party certification services are available for tracking seed source identity of wildland collections, as well as for ensuring genetic integrity during the field seed production cycle.

Seed viability is dependent on proper seed collection and storage.

Additional Resources and References

Second, if you plant two or more standard varieties of corn (squash, tomatoes or any flowering vegetables) you’re likely to have crosspollination by wind and/or insects. This results in an uncertainty of your seed quality (a rare result is a new hybrid of higher quality than the two varieties with which you started … but this is highly unlikely). You can minimize this cross-fertilization process by planting only one variety of corn (or squash, tomato, etc.) at a time and locating your plot as far as possible from your neighbor’s patch.

Third, keep in mind that many common vegetables (root crops, cabbages, parsley and brussels sprouts) are biennial. Biennial means the plants do not form seed pods until their second year. Here in Minnesota, such vegetables have to be mighty hardy to survive an entire winter in the ground (beets, for instance, are not that hardy and, as a result, I purchase new beet seeds each year). I always leave a few carrots in the garden over the winter months, however, since carrots are cold-resistant by nature. The following spring, they produce tops that grow up to two feet tall. Then they send out white flowers that resemble Queen Anne’s lace (the wild plant from which carrots were originally developed). Eventually, tiny seeds form that you can collect.

Seed Saving Techniques: When To Collect, How To Collect

For fleshy vegetables such as tomatoes, squash and melons, pick them when they are fully ripe. Scoop out their seeds and spread them to dry in a well-ventilated place. Beans and peas need to be left on the vine until the pods are dry and crackly. Corn should also be left to dry on the stalk until the kernels dent. Other types of seed may be gathered when the fruit or vegetables are fully formed, hard and “meaty.” Remember to collect seeds only from the most vigorous plants in you garden, and not just from the first few ripe specimens you happen to encounter. By selecting seeds from just the healthiest plants, you will – over time – select for and create a special sub-variety of these crops that are especially adapted to your backyard’s climate and soil.

Seed Storage

Also remember to label and store your free bonanza as soon as possible after harvesting. You may think you’ll be able to recall the name of each kin of seed, but believe me — it’s easy to get confused. Some (broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower seeds) resemble one another quite closely.

Envelopes make good containers for storing small quantities of most kinds of seed since they can be sealed and labeled conveniently. For larger quantities, I use glass jars (they take up more space than envelopes and are breakable, but you can see inside them).

I label my seed containers with the following: Each kind of vegetable, variety of vegetable, where and when I originally bought the seed, and the month and year of the harvest.

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Example: Bush snap beans — Blue-Lake Park (1970) — August 1976.

The Key To Successful Seed Storage

The key to successful long-term seed storage is keeping your cache cool and dry. If you store your seeds where the air is moist, they may sprout and/or become mildewed (Tip: You may want to put a small amount of powdered milk into each storage container to act as a desiccant). Mold growth occurs at a faster rate in warm air than it does in cool air.

Potato and onion sets may be stored in open boxes or hung in mesh bags in a place where the temperature is 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air is not overly dry. We store ours in a frost-free fruit cellar along with our canned goods and winter squash (my neighbor, on the other hand, has had good luck squirreling away his eatin’ spuds and seeds in a 4-foot-deep pit dug in a sandy, well-drained spot. When he unearths them in early May, the potatoes and seeds look just like they did the previous September, without a single sprout!).

Seed Longevity: How Long Will Your Seeds Keep?

Some seeds keep much longer than others. The following chart will give you an idea as to the minimum length of time properly stored seeds will remain viable.

TYPE OF SEED USEFUL LIFE (YEARS)

Asparagus 4
Beans, string 2
Broccoli 3
Cabbage 3
Carrots 4
Cucumber 5
Lettuce 5
Onion 2
Pea 2
Pumpkin 6
Radish 3
Spinach 5
Squash 4
Tomato 3
Turnip 3

Seed Longevity does fluxuate. Some of the above seeds may — depending on the particular variety and the storage conditions — remain usable for up to 10 years.

Germination Testing: Are My Seeds Still Alive?

Years ago, I helped carry out germination tests for a large store that bought seed in bulk and repacked it in small packets for resale. Since the manager carried his unsold stock over from year to year, it was important for us to know how many seeds in a particular batch would sprout when planted.

To test how many would sprout, first, we placed moistened cotton in a petri dish. Then we did the following:

  1. place exactly 100 seeds on top of the damp cotton,
  2. cover the dish,
  3. leave the dish it at room temperature for a week or a few days
  4. count the number of seeds that have begun to grow (if 90 out of 100 seeds have sprouted, the germination rate is 90 percent: This is considered a good rate).

I do essentially the same germination tests with my seeds now, except that I only use ten seeds per germination test, and I only test seeds that are more than a year old (if the seeds are less than two years old and look good, I assume that their germination rate will be high).

Any plastic or glass container that will hold a damp blotter, damp newspaper, or moistened cotton (along with the seeds) will work as well as a petri plate. Just remember to label your containers with the date of the test and the variety of seed being tested. Then – after a week or so – check on your sprouts. If eight out of 10 seeds in any given test sprout, you can assume the germination rate to be 80 percent (which is, of course, plenty good).

Seed Crafts, Seeds with High Quality Protein

Homegrown seeds have many uses, in addition to serving as the source of next year’s garden vegetables. Pumpkin and squash seeds, for instance, are extremely tasty and nutritious when roasted (my wife spent three years in Turkey and she tells me the people in that country eat squash seeds the way we gobble peanuts). Dried peas make good pigeon food, if you’re into raising squabs (although it does take rather a lot of peas to do the job). In addition, many seeds have attractive shapes and colors that make them fun to use in craft projects. Last year, my future zucchini patch end up as a wall plaque!

Why not give seed saving a try? You will gain a new source of high-quality protein (and/or craft materials for seed crafts), and save money on your yearly gardening outlay of cash. Most importantly, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you are a little bit less dependent on someone else for the food on your table. Seed saving is one more step toward food self-sufficiency. All the more reason to save vegetable seeds!

For more information on seed saving techniques and seed storage, read Clarice L. Moon’s How to Save Your Own Garden Seed, and Floyd and Linda Moore’s Home-Grown Garden Seeds.

How to Keep Dianthus Blooming

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There are approximately 300 species of dianthus to choose from, in biennial, annual and perennial varieties. They have colorful blooms in numerous shades of pink, white, red and purple. The blooms open in spring and will last until frost, if provided with the right growing conditions and care. Dianthus are not fussy plants and it takes very little to keep them happy. Plentiful sunlight, sufficient water and regular grooming help ensure that blooms adorn the plants all season long.

Plant dianthus in a site that receives full sun at least six hours every day.

Place 2 inches of mulch around the plants to keep moisture from evaporating too quickly.

Water dianthus when less than 1 inch of rain falls in a week.

Feed every month during the growing season with water-soluble fertilizer.

Clip the blooms off as they fade.

Broadcast a 1-inch layer of compost around the plants each spring if growing perennial or biennial dianthus.

Divide perennial dianthus clumps once every three or four years. This is best done in early spring.

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