Heirloom Seeds and Seed Saving

Saving vegetable seeds is a time-honored practice that can save you money and help continue the existence of heirloom vegetables. Appropriate seeds for saving come from open-pollinated vegetable varieties.
Saving vegetable seeds is a time-honored practice that can save you money and help continue the existence of heirloom vegetables. Appropriate seeds for saving come from open-pollinated vegetable varieties.

Farmers have been saving seeds for centuries. In fact, that’s how many of the vegetables we grow today came to existence in our country. Immigrants from Italy, England and Germany came to America with seeds saved from vegetables grown in their native countries. Since the seeds were passed down through generations, the term “heirloom” has stuck as a way to describe genetically pure vegetables.

Saved seeds from hybrid vegetables will not produce fruit identical to the parent plant. The key to successful seed saving is ensuring that plants are pure–not cross-pollinated, and the best way is to begin with heirloom seeds and plant only one variety of each vegetable in the garden.

Any vegetable seed can be saved, but some, like carrots, lettuce, beets or onions, are more challenging and not cost-effective. Stick to saving seeds from tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers, peas or beans. Choose the strongest, healthiest fruit for seed harvesting, as these are likely to produce seeds that are well-adapted to your unique soil and weather conditions.

The seed saving and harvesting process is relatively similar among these vegetables. You begin by scooping the seeds from ripe fruit and end by drying them in a dry, well-ventilated area. Some seeds, including tomatoes and peppers, must ferment for a few days before drying. Jack Rowe’s online version of the Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook features detailed advice for a number of varieties. Saved seeds can last for years when stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry area.

Try seed saving with next year’s vegetable garden. Your involvement in the complete cycle of seed to plant and back to seed may bring you a whole new appreciation for vegetable gardening.

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