Seed Saving and in turn seed storage, was possibly the first act of agriculture, without seed saving (or the storing for the next season) the first farmer would not have been able to plant a crop.
Unlike today’s Dictocrats that would want to regulate the saving of seed, that first act of seed saving led to the establishment of organised agriculture, and a rich tradition that we now take part of every time we save the seed of a variety that we have planted.
The first farmers probably did not have much in the way of information and storage mechanisms that we have at our disposal and possibly the lost seed to various pests and critters that ate into their saved stores. Today there is a wealth of information available for the seed saver in terms of books and references that will enable one to extend the lifespan of their saved seed.
This is intended as a simple primer for the average gardener to be able to save seed from year to year without the need to invest in expensive machinery to save their seed.
Typically a person will harvest a fruit and decide to save some seed for a friend of family member that was particularly enamoured with a dish consisting of that vegetable. Or knowing that getting more seed of the same variety could present problems the gardener decides to save some seed.
When we started with heirloom seed we never planted the variety of vegetables that we plant now, we cycled through our seed collection over a few years, first to ensure fresh seed and secondly to have a change in vegetables, flavours and variety. (OK the order may be mixed-up but your get the general idea) There is no need to plant everything that you have in your seed box every year, cycle through your seed collection and enjoy the variety.
The important thing is to save and store seed, without seed saving you will be reduced to becoming a normal vegetable gardener that has to return to the store every year to purchase fresh seed. Heirloom gardeners are not normal, we are a unique species and being tied down to corporate agri-business is not where we want to be. The simple act of seed saving is the start of your food rebellion, no longer will you be tied into corporate agri-business to provide you the makings of your garden….. You can do it yourself, for free… every year….. all you need to do is become a seed saver.
Below I will briefly cover some of the most common vegetables and how to go about storing the seed for more than a few years.
One of the most common heirloom seeds that are saved. Once the correct fermentation process has been followed and they have been dried out. They will keep in a common paper envelope for about 10 years without any special treatment. Working out when they are dry is a bit of an issue but suffice to say that a week on an open tray in dry conditions will do the trick.
Pumpkins are best harvested once the stalk has started to dry off. Then leave the pumpkin for a further 3 weeks, during this time the seeds will mature in the fruit and this period is critical for getting the best storage life out of a pumpkin. Scoop the seed out and rinse under running water to wash off any flesh. Spread them out on a tray and stir them every day to stop them from sticking to each-other. They are dry when they snap in half and don’t bend… 7-10 days typically. Store them in a paper envelope and keep them in the fridge for up to 7 years. Out of the fridge in a stable environment 3-5 years.
Allow the fruit to over-ripen on the vine and scoop the seeds out into a jar. Double the volume with water and ferment for 4-5 days. Dry seeds until they snap and store in an envelope in a dry place for up to 5 years.
Same as cucumbers, but there is no need to ferment them just rinse off with water and dry them.
Simple, let the pods dry off naturally on the plant. Shell the peas/beans, allow to dry for a further week or so and lightly tap with a hammer, if they mash… dry them some more. If they shatter, spot-on. Store in a jar or sealed container in the fridge/freezer for up to 10 years. The freezer is also good to kill off any gogga’s that may have laid some eggs on your beans..
Clean off the seed, no need to remove the ‘beard’ just dry them for a week or two and store in a glass jar in the freezer. They will keep for at least 5 years, like that.
Both will cross with each other, so save seed from each variety every alternate year. They can also be dried out on a flat tray and then stored in a fridge for up to 5 years, after that they tend to lose germination every year. For beetroot and spinach it is very beneficial to soak the seed for 12 hrs before you plant the seed, as this will increase germination, especially after 3 years.
Best dried out properly, they need to pass the ‘hammer test’ as described for beans and will store for upto 30 years in the fridge.
Allow the fruit to ripen fully on the plant and then split the fruit to extract the seeds. Dry them on a plate until brittle and not easily dented by nail pressure. The seed lasts 2-3 years and is best stored in the fridge.
One of the weakest seeds for storage. 2 years is maximum and they need to be ‘refreshed’ every year.
Not really a common storage item but harvest the small tubers that look the best. DO NOT wash them and store in a cool dark place (Not in a fridge) until late august early September. It’s best to harvest a late crop (planted in Dec) and use those for germination in spring. They need a rest period to grow. 3 – 4 months will do it.
Garlic is harvested in Nov and planted again in Feb-March. Follow the planting instruction on our garlic page on the shop.
General Seed Storage Tips.
1) Store in a Cool place
2) Sore in a Dry place
3) Store in a Dark place
4) Dry the seed properly before storage
5) An even temperature in a dark cupboard is far better than a fluctuating temperate.
6) A little Diatomaceous Earth will prevent bugs from attacking your seed. (beans, corn and grains especially)
7) If storing in a freezer, do not open the container while the seed is frozen. Allow it to assume room temperature before opening the container. This prevents condensation settling on the seed.
One of the best books that you can purchase on the storage of seed is Seed to Seed by Susanne Ashworth, buy a copy there is a host of information available in this book.