Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Few Notes on Seed Saving

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

While everyone is poring over their seed catalogs and dreaming of warmer weather, (at least us here in the Northern Hemisphere) planning for seed saving needs to be part of the scheme too.


I always say the work of gardening and farming is half observation. And this is especially important if you're going to save seeds. Paying attention all year round from seed storage during the off season, how the plant behaves during the growing season, and finally at harvest time all have a bearing on the success or failure of your endeavor.


Good seedling vigor is important, and can be an indicator of your seed selection from the year before. Or a big one, seed storage. No matter how good your seed was, if you don't take care of it during the off-season you risk poor germination. Dark, cool, and dry are the best and easiest to pull off for the home gardener. If you have room in your freezer (I don't) that would be the ideal situation. I store my seeds in a cabinet in a cool room in our house, and I don't have any trouble with the viability of my seeds.


Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita pepo

While you're planning your garden layout, plan for seed saving too. Some plants freely cross, so you have to do your homework for isolation, and how plants are pollinated. Wind, insect, self? Do I need only one plant or do I need a large number to insure the plant variety doesn't run down? Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth are good books on the subject.

I save seeds from winter squash and naked seed pumpkins, who will not cross, so they can be planted near each other. Summer squash will cross with my naked seed pumpkins so I have to plant my zucchini in a different garden.

I have found that growing the Naked Seed pumpkins are a good fill-in in my food pantry for nuts. They are delicious in pesto, and take the place of more exotic and expensive nuts. There is no competition from squirrels for these seeds, and they are ready within one growing season. Planting nut trees is always a good idea, but these pumpkins can help you weather the gap between nut tree planting and bearing age.

They are easy to harvest, and will keep in storage for a few months while other pressing garden and preserving duties take place.

It's been nice to peck away at this job. I store these in the barn, so I can throw open the doors on a sunny day and get to work. My limitations on harvesting these seeds are getting it done before they rot, since C. pepo's aren't know for keeping, and being able to dry these properly for storage without any molding.

Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin.


My method is pretty simple, I just cut or break open the pumpkins, pull out the seeds with my fingers until I have a colander full of seeds. That is about the quantity that I can dry in my kitchen without taking up too much space. Mileage may vary. While I'm doing this, I am observing or asking questions. Do larger pumpkins have more seeds? Do I see any variation in seeds in correlation to size of pumpkins? Do some have less stringy flesh? Are some rotten and others not? Any evidence of cross pollination? Do they taste good or bitter? All these questions get answered and go along with any observations I have made during the growing season, and are important if I am to save the seeds best acclimated to my garden.

After harvesting the seeds, I wash the seeds in the colander and pick out the remaining bits of flesh. The water seems to break the bond between the two and makes it much easier to separate the seeds. After washing, spread the seeds on screens if you have them or baking sheets, no more than a layer deep. Air circulation is the key to proper drying. For seed saving I only air dry, but for the pantry, I may occasionally put a tray in the warming oven of the cookstove, or in the electric stove oven after baking something. Note to self: Check oven for seeds before turning on to bake again. Don't ask how I know that...

The flesh is pretty stringy compared to my winter squash, so I feed the pumpkin leftovers to our cattle or chickens. They get a treat, and I can get rid of the mess. And if you're cramped for space in your garden, I think these would be perfectly edible.

I like to think that observing the plant through all the stages, makes gardening that much more interesting. The joy of gardening is not just the eating.