Saving seeds saves you money
By DEBBIE ARRINGTON Scripps Howard News Service
Don't put seeds in a plastic bag right away, because they will rot.
Vegetable gardening starts with seeds. But as anyone who's gotten sticker shock browsing at the nursery can attest, seeds can add up to a major expense.
To really save money by growing your own food, save seeds, too.
"It's pretty amazing what you can get," said Bill Maynard, community garden coordinator for Sacramento, Calif. "You can save a lot of money."
What you don't use, you can share. Maynard's community garden group meets in spring and fall to swap seeds. There's always plenty to go around.
One lettuce plant can produce hundreds of seeds. By letting one head go to seed instead of harvesting it, you can produce scores of extra salads.
"You can save it for next year or many years to come," Maynard said. "So many seeds last for a long time. Flowers are really easy, too, especially zinnias and marigolds."
Warm weather prompts lettuce, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, beets and other cool crops to "bolt" or flower.
The first step is patience.
"You want (the seed pod) to turn brown," Maynard explained. "You don't want any green. Pick them when they're dry, but before they're open. Even after you pick them, they'll need to dry some more."
Maynard suggests putting the pods in a shoebox or other container than can "breathe." Keep varieties separate, so you'll know which seeds are which.
"Don't put them in a sealed plastic bag right away; they'll rot," he added. "Keep them out of full sun and away from any dampness."
Once they're fully dry, transfer them to envelopes and label with the variety and harvest year.
Seed saving was second nature to gardeners two or three generations ago. Today's gardeners are rediscovering seed saving along with heirloom vegetables, fruit and flowers.
Don't save seeds from hybrid vegetables and flowers -- plants that were bred by combining different parent varieties for certain attributes -- because they won't grow true. Seeds for hybrid plants, which are usually patented, should be purchased from a reliable source.
But as their name implies, heirloom varieties have been passed down through generations of gardeners via seeds.
Based in Iowa, the nonprofit Seed Savers Exchange connects thousands of gardeners and farmers throughout the county who want to grow these historic varieties and preserve America's plant heritage and diversity. It also sells seeds via its catalog. After all, potential seed savers need to start somewhere.
The interest in seed saving echoes the continued boom in backyard farming and community gardens.
"It's growing all the time," said Maynard.
You'll find the basics of saving seeds and making them grow in "The Heirloom Life Gardener" (Hyperion, 2011) by Jere and Emilee Gettle, founders of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Seed Savers Exchange (www.seedsavers.org) offers a wealth of heirloom seeds collected by gardeners and farmers throughout North America as well as lots of tips on how to save more. This nonprofit organization is a wonderful resource for both novice and experienced gardeners interested in growing heirloom vegetables, fruit and flowers from seed.
Courtesy of Scripps Howard News Service