Seed Saving and Collecting

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Lettuce seedlings in seed bed.


[edit] Why to save seeds

Camposinos (farmers) often say they favor bought seeds simply because they have some company's name on it, or just for the convenience. There is also the belief that bought seeds are better. However, there are lots of good reasons to save seeds:

[edit] Save Money

Seeds sold at Melo, Navey, or the Machetazo are usually a dollar for a small packet. These stores often have limited options and there is no way to know if the seeds were exposed to poor conditions and are no longer viable. If you save your own seeds you know exactly how they were treated and very little money is needed to save and store a large quantity of seeds.

[edit] Preserve Diversity

As we move into a more global, mass produced world, seeds are following suit. Companies produce large amounts of a few varieties. We lose the many options our grandparents had. When seeds are locally produced there is a larger variety both with in the community and the world.

[edit] Suited to Climate or Needs

Seeds sold on a large scale are usually a one size fits all. They were not selected for your valley, coastal plain, or highland. Usually they are the same seed large scale producers grow. The seeds are selected assuming the farmer will use chemical fertilizer and pesticide. These seeds may produce a higher yield more rapidly, but if they won't tolerate your climate or they don't receive chemical treatment the yield will be substantially lower. It is better to use your local seed and get a good yield with out the need for lots of fertilizers and pesticides.

[edit] Which plants to harvest for seed

When choosing plants harvest seed from look for plants that have been grown for many generations, in your location. These are good reliable plants that can be counted on year after year. Also, look for plants that you cannot buy the seeds for or are expensive.

Traits of an exceptional plant that should be considered for seed collection can include: Survives droughts or heavy rain, has high yield, produces earlier or for a longer time, grows well in a certain area with higher winds or sandier soil, is exceptionally tasty, has larger harvest or the harvest survives storage and transport better.

When a good plant is found mark it with a long stake or a colored ribbon to remind you to let that plant go to seed. Do not harvest the leaves, roots or fruit of the plant. Let the plant use all its energy and resources to make seeds.

For Beginner Savers:

 Corn, Basil, Garlic, Ground Cherries, Dry Gourds (like birdhouse gourds), 
 Marigolds, Beans, Chives, Tomato Dill, Lemon grass, Okra, Shallot (Green Onion), 
 Chayote, Lettuce, Pea, Soy Beans, Parsley, and Lettuce 

For Experienced Savers:

 Winter Squashes, Summer Squashes, Taro, Yam , Watermelon, 
 Melon, Green Beans, Asparagus, Broccoli, Carrot, Leek, Potato, 
 Celery, Ginger, Pumpkin, Sunflower, and Turnip 

For Accomplished Savers:

 Cabbage, Beet, Eggplant, Kohlrabi, Onions, Collards, Endive, 
 Mustard, Spinach, Cauliflower, Cucumber, Kale, Radish, and Swiss Chard 

These plants are grown from roots, tubers or whole fruits, or by division, rather than from seed. They do not store well, especially in hot climates.

This list was adapted from 'The Family Seed Saving Book' by Rosemary Marrow copy write 2002

[edit] Harvesting seed

A small baby squash.

It is best to collect seed in the early morning, after the dew has dried off and before the heat of the day sets in. Collect only from healthy plants that show no signs of damage from bugs, fungus, or other diseases.

[edit] Fleshy Fruits

When collecting from a plant where the seeds are inside the fruit, such as tomato or cucumber, pick the fruit when it is almost too ripe to eat.

[edit] Seed Heads

For plants that have dry seeds inside the dry flower heads such as marigolds, carrots and many herbs, cut the stem with seed head when it is dry and hang upside down in a paper bag to catch any seeds that fall out.

[edit] Seed Pods

For beans, peas and cabbage collect the whole pod. The pod should be fat with seed and dry and papery. You can often hear the dry seeds rattle around inside the pod.

[edit] Cleaning and drying

To ensure that seeds last as long as possible it is important that they are cleaned and dried completely. If the seeds are not dry enough mold and fungus become a problem. If there is a lot of pulp, shell or other plant parts left with the seeds, there is higher risk for bacteria and disease as well as fungus and mold.

[edit] Dry Seed Heads

Herbs, carrots, culantro and lettuce type seed heads have their whole stems harvested. The first step is to tie the stems together and hang them upside down in a cool shady spot, with a paper bag over them to catch any fallen seeds. To expedite the process the bagged stems can be moved into the sun between the hours of 7-10 in the morning but they must be brought back into the shade before it gets hot. If the seeds are exposed to high heat they will be less likely to sprout. The bagged stems should be hung for two weeks during the dry season and up to four during the wet season. Until the seed and stems are dry and brittle.

The second part is to divide the seed from the stem and head. Use a clean table or large plate. Empty the bag onto the plate. Crumble the seed head with your hands, releasing the seeds. Separate the seeds by hand from the stems and seed coverings. Another method is to crumble the seed heads over a sieve, the seeds will fall though but the rest will stay behind.

[edit] Dry Fruits and Seed Pods

Beans, eggplant, dry gourds fall into this category. These are easy, open the pod or gourd, dump the seeds into a dry bowl or plate. You may need to separate the seeds from the bits of the dry fruit. Seeds should be dried either on a tarp or a mesh screen in single layer in a dry place. They can be dried in the sun between 7-10AM and then moved into the shade for the remainder of the day. Make sure to bring them inside before dew falls.

[edit] Fleshy Fruits

Cut open the fruit and remove the seeds with their pulp. Put the seeds, pulp and all, into a bowl of water that completely covers the seeds. Let it sit for between 24 and 48 hours. One or two days later, stir the pulp and seeds. Let it settle. Discard any floating seeds, pour what remaining over a fine sieve. It should be easy now to separate pulp from seed. Wash them in clear water. They can be dried in the sun between 7-10AM and then moved into the shade for the remainder of the day. Make sure to bring them inside before dew falls.

[edit] Testing for dryness

There are several ways to test for dryness. You may feel comfortable using just one, but sometimes using more than one helps ensure your seeds are ready for storage

[edit] Bite Test

For larger seeds, use your finger nail or teeth to try denting the seed. If you can dent the seeds, they need more time to dry.

[edit] Salt Shaker Method

Take a medium size glass jar, like the kind mayonnaise comes in. Make sure the jar is very dry before starting. Put a handful of seeds inside, then fill the cap of the jar with regular table salt, add the salt to the jar. Screw the lid onto the jar, then shake the seeds and salt together. If the salt sticks to the seeds, the seeds are not dry enough. However, if the salt doesn't stick to the seeds, the seeds are ready to be stored.

If the seeds still need more time to dry try. Try one of these methods: place the seeds on screen or newspaper out of the wind and mix the seeds twice a day. Or put the seeds in a paper bag in a windy spot or over a fire. The temperature should never exceed 45 degrees Celsius. If the location is too hot to put your hand in, then it is too hot for the seeds.

[edit] Selecting seeds and recording and labeling seeds

Now that your seeds are dry they need to be sorted once more before storage. Remove any seeds that are damaged, broken or appear saggy or wrinkly. Also remove any abnormally small seeds. Now they are ready to be stored.

It is important to label your seeds, especially if you plan to share them with others, or compare them to other seed varieties, or you might forget what is in each bag before you get around to planting them. Each label should include the name of the plant, where collected, who collected it and when it was collected. Also, any special reason this seed was saved such as bigger fruit or better taste. Each packet should have its own label, clearly attached to the front of the packet.

[edit] Storing seeds

If a seed is stored in the right conditions it can double or even quadruple the length of viability. The ideal storage is a cool (5-20 degrees Celsius), dry, and dark place, protected from moisture, animals.

[edit] Refrigerator

If a refrigerator is dedicated solely to seeds. The seeds can be stored in paper or cotton bags envelopes or boxes in the refrigerator. If food is also stored in the refrigerator, the seeds must be stored in the same breathable containers of paper or cotton and then placed in air tight glass and plastic containers. The moisture from the food can damage the seeds. Seeds should not be stored in a freezer.

[edit] No refrigerator

This method is effective, but needs more care and attention to detail. The seeds should be stored in paper or cotton bags envelopes or cardboard boxes. Then the packets should be stored in airtight containers like 5 gallon buckets, or tuperware containers. This will protect them from hungry animals. To ensure the seeds stay dry rice hulls, rice, or ash can be mixed with the seeds in their packets in a 1:1 ratio. Ash is a great method because it will absorb humidity and the alkalinity will detour animals and fungus. Make sure the ash is from organic materials and not plastic. Plastic ash is toxic both to people and the seeds.

[edit] Monitoring saved seeds

Seeds should be checked once a month. If signs of rot are detected the whole envelope or bag should be thrown out. If insects are found (usually in non refrigerator stored seeds) the effected seeds should be removed. Then whole packet should be placed in a dry air tight container. After two weeks the insects will have suffocated. These seeds should be planted as soon as possible. Also any seeds that were not stored in a refrigerator and are older than a year, should be thrown away. See the viability table for information on refrigerated viability lengths.

[edit] Germination tests

This test is used to determine what percentage of the seeds will germinate. Usually this test is done before planting. It works for both the seeds you saved and bought seeds. Home gardeners do this test one month before planting the seeds. Seed Banks do this test when they receive new seeds.

Randomly select the 100 seeds, try to take the seeds from different areas of the bags. For instance 33 from the center top, 33 from the middle left and 33 from the bottom right. (If you have less than 100, use all of them.)

[edit] Larger seeds

For seeds like beans, okra, peas, or watermelon put them in a glass or bucket of warm water. Just warm enough you can put your hand in and the water feels warm, but not hot, about the temperature of a bath. The seeds will be damaged if the water is too hot. Let the seeds soak for one or two hours. Then dry them gently on a sheet of paper or towel.

Prepare a shallow box, or plate by putting a bottom layer of sandy soil followed by a layer of sand, soil and compost mixed together and on top put a layer of regular soil. Make sure to break up any clods in the soil. This should be about two inches of soil total.

Place the seeds in a ten by ten grid and cover on top of the soil in the prepared box. Lightly cover the seeds with sand (about 0.5 cm). Label the box as you would a seed package, add the number of seeds being tested. Water lightly or mist every day. This germination test will take 28 days. Count the number of seedling that have germinated on days 7, 14, 21 and 28. The number germinated out of the number tested is you percentage result.

[edit] Smaller seeds

Culantro, carrots, beats, and herbs that have small seeds. Using two sheets of paper towels or unprinted paper (charla paper works well), lay the seeds on one piece of paper in a 10 x 10 grid. Place the second sheet of paper on top and mist the paper with water. The paper should be damp, but not dripping. Carefully put the paper with the seeds sandwiched inside in a plastic bag with holes for breathing. Label the bag with the information about the seed, plus the number of seeds involved in this test. Water lightly or mist every day. This germination test will take 28 days. Count the number of seedling that have germinated one days 7, 14, 21 and 28.

[edit] Results

Greater than 50% is good quality - share with others 30 - 50% is medium quality - share with other, but share a lot Less than 30% is poor quality - do not share

It is good to know that cucumbers naturally don't have a very high germination rate.

Record the percentage germination and the date of the test on the seed labels. After the germination test if you wish you may transfer the seedlings to your garden, or throw them out. Once a seed has sprouted it cannot be stored again.

[edit] Seed Banks

Seed banks are a way for a community or group to maintain a collection of seeds in one place. They are based on a group of people who want to store and exchange seed in a local area. The bank receives, tests, and circulates seeds and keeps information about them. These banks often include a place to store seeds, a record, and the boxes and bags to do germination tests. A seed bank does not charge for its seeds, buy seed, grow a lot of seed or sell seed to companies.

A record is kept on each kind of seed (tomato, carrot, onion). All of the information on each kind is recorded. This includes a list of the number of seeds, what variety of seed it is, who collected the seed, where it was collected, the date collected, the percentage and date of germination tests and who has taken that seed. These records are useful for many reasons. If you want to find a certain type of seed the bank no longer has you can find a record of who took seeds this year or if you want to know about how a seed did in the field, the contact information for a farmer who has grown the seed is on record.

Usually members give and take seeds equally that way the supply is never depleted. The seeds are ideally kept no longer than a year. A seed bank may also try out new seeds to determine if the seed is right for the area or to increase the seeds in the seed bank.

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