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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!

7 responses to “Last Round of Seed Saving

  1. Ralph ⋅

    Most of my seeds for this year have been collected. There were too few tomatoes and they were too small to bother with their seeds, plus I have no idea what variety they are. Next year, thanks to the seed exchange I will know what varieties I have. Recently I heard a good podcast about composting and troubleshooting problems with it. If anyone is composting check out the program which is 3 podcasts long starting at

    Another show on sheet composting can be found at

    One more podcast about fall gardening and garden journals can be found at

    I haven’t checked out the garden journals mentioned yet. I printed one from a website which isn’t too bad, but maybe the ones from the show will be better- or I can combine parts of each.

    I’ve run into similar problems keeping seeds identified after picking. I have a method but it wouldn’t help to tell different varieties of tomatoes apart. I always keep 2 or 3 seeds in each seed package or jar as a reference. That way I can tell most of my seeds apart if (when) I get them mixed up. Size, shape, and color usually identify the mysterious seeds. It’s not fool proof but it usually works for me.

    After collecting seeds from some things in the ground I left the rest to fall. With a little luck I should have lots of basil scattered around (a good companion plant), catnip spreading in my wild area which may help bring some cats around ( I haven’t forgotten about the birds :), and borage- another good companion plant which attracts bees. The chick weed which appeared in my mint container seems to have spread to neighboring containers. If I can catch some seed pods in time I will try to get some growing in the ground next year. I tasted chick weed (a corn like flavor) for the first time on the Wildman tour and hope to get enough to add into salads next year.

    For the most part I’ve given up on what’s growing in the ground for this year. Once all the tree leaves fall I am going to mow the whole yard down and level some dirt for next year. My containers are still chugging along giving a few string beans every few days or so, a slow but steady supply of small strawberries, daily stalks of scallion, and the ‘green leafy stuff’ I put into daily salads. Not too bad for such a horrible growing season.

    • Revel

      That’s not too bad, indeed! I really don’t have much that is working its way onto my table these days. Of course, I constantly use the herbs (still a little parsley, plenty of thyme, some rosemary, and now some baby basil). There are some carrots that I’ve been letting sit for quite awhile, and do plan to pull them up one of these days but I’m waiting till the bitter end (which is exactly what I might get or, more likely, carrots too small to even bother with). I never have had luck (or perhaps talent/a penchant) for growing carrots or beets. Both seem to have been rather unsuccessful again this year. I do have a handful of jalapenos now in the freezer since I wasn’t ready to use them right away, as well as a few more still growing on the plant.

      I really like your idea of keeping sample seeds on hand for identification purposes. To some extent, it would work with the tomatoes as well since I did notice minor differences among the seeds. As for the ones that I wasn’t able to identify before storing (which all have a question mark next to their more generic identification as tomatoes), I’m thinking about setting them in a separate little plot out back, letting them grow, and if I’m unable to identify them, maybe make a trip back to the farmers market in Saratoga Springs where I got the starter plants, seeing if I can track down my tomato farmers and having them help me with the identification process. As I mentioned, the Oregon Springs and Cosmonauts look very similar but the Brandywines and Peach Blows are distinct enough that I’ll recognize them. Fortunately, I was able to carefully harvest enough seeds from each plant that I (as well as those at the Seed Exchange) will definitely have some correctly identified heirloom tomatoes growing in our gardens next summer.

  2. I’ve never grown anything, but I do have a packet of yellow bean seeds, golden wax. The instructions say to grow them in late spring. I bought them over two years ago. I was wondering how the tomatos or any other vegetables taste when grown in an urban setting?
    Also, can anything be grown outside in the month of November? And do you plan on growing tomatos or something indoors this winter?

    • Revel

      I would say go for it with regard to the yellow bean seeds. I kept some crocus bulbs from a forester friend of mine in Iowa for many years, intending to put them in the ground but ended up just keeping them in the attractive container they came in on top of my refrigerator. I wish I would have put them in the ground. Eventually, instead, I ended up guessing too much time had passed and I threw them out. I think seeds are pretty sturdy and it might not matter if they’re a little old. I think generally I’ve heard you shouldn’t keep them on hand for too many years (more than three) but the worse that will happen is they just won’t grow anything. I don’t think you’re going to end up with Benjamin Button wax beans or some such.

      I’m not growing much now and through November. Like Ralph, I’m going to be mowing down/mulching the yard some time in November when the leaves have fallen. I will bring the pepper plants indoors but my experience from last year is that they didn’t grow; they just sat dormant through the winter and started up again in the late spring/early summer when I set them back outside. I likely will keep some herbs growing in the kitchen windowsill to use throughout the year. I wish I’d had enough tomatoes to can them but I pretty quickly ate up whatever I plucked from the garden.

  3. Ralph ⋅

    Steven, I never tried yellow beans. You may find some helpful information at these links:

    The second link says night soil temperatures should be above 55 degrees. I still have some green beans (pole type, not bush) growing outside in a container. Production is slowing down and leaves are starting to turn yellow, so it’s probably a little late to start your beans outside. If you have enough seeds you may want to try planting some inside and keep them in a sunny window to see what happens. Seed company web sites usually have information on planting their seeds, try:

    If you want to try getting a few plants going now I agree with Revel, check out some herbs. Mint and sage are pretty good with cold, but keep them in a container since they also grow back after being outside all winter, and can spread like weeds. I’ve kept basil indoors all winter with good luck, but keep in mind if they get down to around 50 degrees they will die. On cold nights I take my basil off the window sill and put them back when the sun is up. So far my Oregano (true Greek) is doing well outside. This is my first year with Oregano so I am not sure how it does in cold- it too can spread a lot if not kept in a container. A recent trip to Trader Joe’s showed a number of nice flowers, and pots with a variety of mixed herbs. Aside from needing water they looked pretty nice. If you don’t want to bother with all the seeds just yet, look around for plants. It’s the end of the season and there are usually some good buys out there.

    I’ve used seeds that were a few years old. They always grew, but probably less germinated than if they were new seeds. No matter, just plant a couple extras.

    • Revel

      Good advice! I agree, missed doing oregano this year (usually a staple) but expect to grow it again next year. (And may start it inside – it’s such a useful one to have!)

  4. Ralph ⋅

    I never researched it myself, but I’ve heard a few programs about herbs where oil of oregano was mentioned as having a lot of beneficial properties. I’ve been adding a couple of small oregano leaves into my salad just to help the remaining leaves get larger. I’ve only grown Greek oregano and it produces a lot of leaves, and at least so far seems to be enjoying the cooler weather. I’ll have to look into it more.

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