Condon’s Corner: Saving Seeds

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This is the time of year when gardeners might think about collecting seeds from this year’s plants to sow in next year’s garden. Vegetable as well as flower seeds can be saved, and this is especially useful if you have grown a type of plant that is not easy to find commercially.

Even if seeds are available commercially, saving your own saves you money. It does not save you time, however. You do need to check on the progress of seeds and to collect them when they are fully mature. But if you like to feel self-sufficient and confident that you will have certain plants in your garden next year, you might find seed gathering to be very fulfilling as well as fun.

There are some pointers to keep in mind if you decide to give this a try. If you know a plant is a hybrid, it is best not to collect its seeds because these seeds are unlikely to produce a replica of the parent plant with all of its favorable characteristics. Hybrid plants are the result of plants being interbred especially for particular qualities desired by gardeners.

Of course, if you are curious about what will be the result if you grow a plant from the seed of a hybrid, go ahead and experiment. You’ll be able to see for yourself what happens.

And after you have collected seeds, always be sure that they have completely dried and that they look clean and feel firm before you store them.

Vegetable seeds that can be saved (as long as they are not from hybrid varieties of plants) are tomatoes, peas, beans, and lettuce.

To save tomato seeds, pick a ripe tomato from a desired plant. Cut the fruit so you can squeeze the pulp—which contains the seeds—into a clean container, preferably a glass jar so you can see when the seeds have settled out at the bottom. Add about 2 Tbsp of water, stir, and then cover with a paper towel. Let the container sit for 2-4 days at room temperature.

Don’t worry about the mold that will grow on top of the “mash.” This is to be expected. However, you should place the jar in a somewhat out-of-the-way spot as this concoction will emit an unpleasant odor.

As soon as you can see the seeds sitting on the bottom of the jar, remove the mash and rinse off the seeds in a sieve. Drain. Spread the seeds on a paper towel to dry thoroughly, which may take a week or more. When the seeds are firm to the touch and exhibit no sign of moisture (they’ll slide easily across a plate), put them into a covered glass jar or an envelope and store in a cool, dry place.

If you use a bowl or some other kind of container rather than a glass jar so that the seeds are not visible when they’ve settled out, collect the seeds when the top of the mash is completely covered with mold or if you start to see bubbles rising to the top of the mash.

To save peas and beans, let the pods turn completely brown on the plant. Harvest the pods and lay them on a paper towel to dry some more for 1-2 weeks. Remove the peas and beans from the pods and store in a paper bag (lunch bags work well). Store in a cool, dry spot (a temperature somewhat below 50° F is ideal).

To harvest lettuce seeds, allow the plants to flower and set seed. If you let the seeds mature on the stalk, they will fall off and be lost in the soil. Therefore, cut off the seed stalks when they are still fluffy in appearance (this will be just before the seeds are completely dried). Lay the harvested seed stalks on a paper towel and let them dry further until you notice seeds beginning to fall off onto the paper. Shake the seeds off the stalk into a glass jar or envelope and store them in a cool, dry environment.

If you are an herb grower and wish to save herb seeds, allow the seeds to remain on the plants until they are almost completely dry. If you notice seeds are beginning to fall off, harvest the remaining seed heads when they look almost dry, keeping several inches of stem attached. Hang several stems upside down together in a warm dry place (I have used my cellar staircase railing) so they can continue drying. Loosely attach a paper bag over each group of stems to catch the falling seed. When all of the seeds are dry enough to fall into the bag (you may have to shake some of the seed heads), transfer the seeds to an envelope or small glass covered jar for storage in a cool, dry place.

Of course, some herb seeds, such as anise, celery, cumin, and dill, are ready to be used in cooking at this point, but you may want to set some aside for growing plants next year.

Remember to always mark the container clearly with the date and the kind of seed you are storing within it.

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Crozet naturalist Marlene A. Condon will give a free, 45-minute slide presentation at 7 p.m. Tuesday, October 13th in Charlottesville’s City Space overlooking the east end of the downtown mall at 100 5th Street. Condon will explain why it’s important and beneficial to gardeners to create nature-friendly landscapes around homes and businesses. Come meet the many kinds of local wildlife that can keep your yard functioning well and make you a contented gardener!

Registration is requested. To register, please call (434) 970-3182 or e-mail [email protected] and leave your name.

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Mac’s Pasta Salad

Many years ago, my sister shared her recipe with me for macaroni salad. I altered it to bring it more in line with my tastes. With my sister in mind, I call it “Mac’s Pasta Salad” because she and her children call me Mac, from my initials.

Cook 12 oz. of dry whole wheat pasta (macaroni, small shells, or rotini) as directed on the package in a 5-quart Dutch oven, using water without added salt. Drain the pasta in a colander, rinse it with cold water, and then drain it again. Place the pasta into a very large bowl or back into the Dutch oven.

Add 1½ cups low-fat mayonnaise, 6 Tbsp (1/4 plus 1/8 cup) Kraft’s Zesty Italian salad dressing, ¾ cup green onions, chopped (about 1 bunch, depending upon how much of the green tops are fresh enough to use), and 3 tsp celery seeds.

Mix the ingredients together well, cover the bowl or Dutch oven tightly with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid, and then refrigerate the salad for a few hours to bring it to refrigerator temperature and to let the flavors meld.