Many of the vegetables we grow in our gardens produce seeds, which, if harvested and stored correctly, have the potential to grace us with free plants. And late summer is the perfect time to start collecting them.
A few notes: Make sure the plants from which you’re collecting seeds are heirloom, or open-pollinated, varieties. These are plants in their original forms whose seeds will produce plants with the same qualities as their parent.
Hybridized varieties, on the other hand, are created by breeding two or more different types to capture the best qualities of each. Attempting to grow seeds collected from hybrids will yield a harvest of disappointment, as the resulting plants will not have the expected attributes but rather carry the traits of only one of the parents — and there’s no way to know what that will be. For this reason, it is best not to grow seeds from supermarket produce.
Many plants become cross-pollinated in the garden when pollinators, other insects, animals and wind transfer pollen from one plant to another. To ensure the seeds you collect will grow into plants that match their parent, different varieties of the same crop should be kept anywhere from 100 feet to a mile apart, depending on climate, weather and other variables. This is often impractical, if not impossible, in the home garden.
To avoid cross-pollination surprises, plant only one variety of the category of plants from which you plan to harvest seeds. If you want to save tomato seeds, for example, grow only one type of tomato in your garden.
If that feels too limiting, go ahead and experiment, knowing that even if cross-pollinated, both parents are heirloom varieties you selected and planted. They’ll probably be fine even if they’re not what you expect.
Store all seeds in a cool, dry place in a covered glass jar or paper envelope away from ripening fruit, which would affect seed germination. The temporary addition of a silica gel packet to the jar will remove any remaining moisture, but take it out after a couple of days to avoid over-drying.
Here’s how to collect and save seeds from the most common homegrown crops.
Beets and carrots
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Jessica Damiano writes regular gardening columns for The Associated Press. Her Gardening Calendar was named a winner in the 2021 Garden Communicators International Media Awards. Her Weekly Dirt Newsletter won a Society of Professional Journalists PCLI 2021 Media Award. Sign up here for weekly gardening tips and advice.