Last Round of Seed Saving

The heirloom tomato seeds are cleaned, dried, and put away.  Now, for (presumably) the last of the season, I cleaned and dried these jalapeño and cucumber seeds..I’m very curious about the cukes.  They’re from two different sources/growers, and one set is nearly translucent with much smaller seeds visible inside the larger “shell,” while the others look pretty much like they do coming out of a fresh cucumber.  My guess is one set will grow, while the others was harvested too soon.  Has anyone else witnessed this before?

20111015-024440.jpgI treated the jalapeno and cucumber seeds the same way I did the tomato seeds, though I’m not sure that was technically the right way to do it.  The jalapenos were rather messy, and it was probably unnecessary to go through the whole rigamarole of doing it this way versus just pulling them out of the peppers and setting them out to dry for a couple days.  As for the cucumbers, it did seem like the right way to handle them, since they have a lot of pulp, like the tomatoes, and it would have been difficult to just pick them from the flesh and expect them to dry without washing away all the pulp first.

This was my first summer harvesting seeds and, now that I’ve done it, I understand why some online seed exchanges limit  participants to those who are in their second year of seed saving or more.  Although it’s not hard, per se, it does take a little practice, and I can see that there are lots of ways that a person might mislabel the seeds.

As I mentioned in a previous post, unless you’re only harvesting one type of seed at a time (which is unlikely unless you’re a very serious grower since most of us small time home growers pride ourselves on variety over quantity of a single varietal).  As for me, there were times when I was in the garden and was so excited about seeing a big, juicy, bright red (or orange, or yellow, etc.) tomato that I would reach out my hand like a kid grabbing candy and plop it in the skirt of my apron, sure I would be able to remember which it was once I was inside.  Sometimes I would even tell myself that I would make a separate trip outside, one for Brandywines, one for Cosmonauts, one for Oregon Springs, and one for Peach Blows.  That never happened.  First of all, there weren’t enough tomatoes (this season anyway, as I’ve heard from other gardeners too) to justify individual trips the 12 feet or so in and out of the house.  Secondly, I was just too damned excited each time I saw a ripe one I wanted to replicate with seed saving.  In the back of my mind I was sure that if I took the time to take the other one in my apron inside and set it on the counter with a nice little label, by the time I came back for the others, the forces of evil would have swept the next one clean off the vine and whisked it to the cold dark ground where it would be consumed in seconds by the unseen predators just waiting to pounce.  In truth I know it was just that one of my favorite parts of gardening is plucking the juicy fruit and collecting a bunch in the skirt of my apron, where they have a little tomato party as I traipse them to their new house, my kitchen.  So, even for those times that I did have enough self-control to pick only Brandywines, or only Oregon Springs, or for the times that I only picked those that were sufficiently different to recognize (Peach Blows and Brandywines, for example, but NOT Cosmonauts together with Oregon Springs which came out looking nearly like twins), or for the times that I kept one in my right hand and one in my left, and got back inside and set them down in separate spaces, I maybe didn’t get to labeling them right away and inevitably they would dance around each other and end up all confused.  Even if they made it accurately identified from the vine to the kitchen, making sure that each jar of pulp/water mixture got appropriately identified was yet another opportunity for failure.  Finally, they had to make it through the treacherous task of cleaning, drying and storing.

When you clean your seeds, you have to be meticulous about rinsing the strainer so well that there is no trace of the previously cleaned seeds.  If you’re using any utensil (and even if you’re not), you have to be extra careful that none of the wet seeds stick to the back of a spoon, for example, or that none get stuck in the folds of your gloves.  (I use the same thin plastic gloves one would use for regular housecleaning or handling kitchen chemicals, since a gaff I made once when cutting jalapenos).  Then, when you set them to dry, unless you’re using separate locations altogether (like if your kitchen can spare two or three different cutting boards for weeks at a time – mine can’t), you also have to make sure they don’t migrate to a separate coffee filter (I cut these up and lay them as blankets for my drying seeds).  Especially if you’re doing this int he summer, when you still might have a fan or two on in the house (or ceiling fans on), you also have to place the drying seeds strategically so they don’t accidentally get mixed up with the others, or worse, end on the floor and get swept up with the dust bunnies endemic to old Brooklyn houses.  As you can see, while it’s not rocket science, there are pitfalls to seed saving.  I’m sure I’ll relearn some of them again next year.  Hopefully, I’ll remember enough of my mistakes, however, to do right by my garden (and other gardens who receive seeds from my own).  As for those people I have already exchanged seeds with, rest assured, I gave you guys the good stuff.  I have plenty of packets in my basement that look a little something like the picture above.

A couple days ago, I ran into an old friend of mine on my way from and his way to Occupy Wall Street.  He took up carpentry not too long ago and, though we’ve been a little out of touch due to the way life goes, I’ve happily kept up with him on Facebook, and have reveled in seeing pictures of his beautiful compost bin and system, which he built himself.  I’ve also delighted in seeing the progress of his Brooklyn backyard clean up; he recently moved in to a house in Crown Heights I believe (may be getting the location wrong), and like many of us who reside in this borough of slogans and surprises, he discovered he’d inherited a backyard that was like an everything bagel.  He’s been sorting and tossing since he moved in and estimates about three years before the soil is inhabitable for plant life.  In the meantime, he’s been doing container planters, and reported dismal results of seed saving/exchanging of several surprising items (pits – they just won’t grow, he tells me).


QUESTION:  Okay, fellow revelers, now that the season is over or nearly over, what tips did you learn this year as you harvested seeds?  I want it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

Slow Harvested Seeds

Well, at least I know they’re dry. On my unending to do list has been to take these seeds I originally plucked from their fruit in late September, and – now that they’re cleaned and fully dried – put them in their packets for next year. This whole process really only rakes about a week: the first day to pick the fruit you want to replicate, dig your fingers in and draw out the pulp and seeds together, place that glob in a clear glass jar to which you add water (about equal to the pulp/seeds glob). Cover it with cheesecloth or, for those of us who aren’t pretentious or practical enough to keep that hand, paper towel with slits cut in the top. I rubberband the paper towel over a baby food jar, keeping the lid handy for later in the process. Let it sit for a day and collect a thin layer of scum in the top. That next day you spoon that layer off, and give the mixture a good stir. Next, let the whole thing sit (covered or not – doesn’t matter but I do cover mine to keep in the funk). Several days later you should be able to see a bunch of good seeds on the bottom of your jar. You can them just spoon or pour out the water and moldy stuff on top, and what remains at the bottom of the jar are your now sterilized seeds. Clean these well with water in a mesh strainer, set them on wax paper to dry. I check them the next day and roll them around to separate them and make sure all parts are getting dry. In a couple days (or, in my case, the next month), they will be nice and dry, with a little fuzzy protective layer, and ready to store in labeled packets (I use coin envelopes and put the name of the plant, the dates harvested, where I got the seeds originally, and my initials – if you will be exchanging them you should count them and include that as well). Since mine were in the basement, I didn’t worry too much about the fact that it took me awhile to get to them, since my basement is a clean, dry, usually dark area, and that’s just what dormant seeds like. But, finally, they are going to their winter homes today. Thanks, all of you, for joining them on the journey. They told me to tell you, too, to revel on, their fellow revelers!