Collecting seeds from vegetables is all a matter of timing. If you pick your seeds too early, before they've had time to mature, they'll be thin and unsubstantial and lack the necessary food stores to survive winter storage, let alone start healthy new seedlings. On the other hand, if you wait too long to collect seeds, you risk losing them to the elements or you end up with seeds predisposed to producing late in the season. Here are a few tips for collecting and saving various vegetable seeds.
Seeds in this group are contained inside vegetables with fleshy fruits like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and melons. It's okay to let these fruits ripen beyond the stage you would harvested them for eating, but don't leave them attached to the vine or stem so long that they start to dry out, or the seeds will form a protective covering that will compromise their shelf life.
Eggplants & Tomatoes: Eggplants will fall off the vine by themselves when their seeds mature. Tomato seeds are ready when the fruits are slightly overripe and soft. The seeds of both of these vegetables should be scooped out and placed in a bowl of tepid water to separate the seeds from the pulp. Let the mixture stand for a few days and it will start to ferment. The seeds will then separate from the pulp and sink to the bottom. Pour off the pulp and underdeveloped seeds. Dry seeds on paper towels before storage.
Peppers: When the peppers turn color and start to shrivel the seeds are ready. To remove the seeds, slice the peppers open and scrape the seeds away from the pulp. Let them air dry before storing.
Cucumbers: Cucumbers with white spines will turn a yellowish-white when seeds are ready for collecting, and cucumbers with black spines will turn a golden brown. Cut the fruit open lengthwise and scoop the seeds and accompanying pulp into a bowl of tepid water. After sitting in water a few days, the mixture will begin to ferment and the seeds will sink to the bottom. Dry seeds on paper towels before storing.
Squash (also, Pumpkins & Gourds): Winter squash seeds are mature when the squash is ready for harvesting in the fall. Because they keep for several months after harvested, you can clean and remove the seeds as you consume them. Simply cut the squash into two and scrape out the pulps and separate the seeds by hand. Let the seeds air dry very thoroughly before storing. Summer squash should be left on the vine until the fruit has reached its full size and hardened. Follow the instructions for cucumbers to save seeds.
Muskmelon and Watermelon: The seeds of these melons are ready for collection when the melons become ripe and ready for eating. Wash seeds and dry them thoroughly before storing.
Edible seeds are from crops like corn, beans, and peas-crops where the seed is the part of plant that is eaten. Because these crops tend to hold on to their seeds longer, the collection time becomes less critical.
Peas & Beans: Leave them on the plants until the pods become dry and the seeds rattle inside.
Corn: Leave the ears on the stalks for another 4 weeks after the corn is ready for consumption. After 4 weeks, remove the ears from the stalks, peel back the husks, braid several of the husks together and hang them up for further drying. Shuck the ears when the kernels are completely dry.
These vegetable seeds ripen and scatter easily as soon as the plant reaches maturity. This group includes vegetables such as lettuce, onion, okra, beets, carrots, and members of the mustard family. The seeds of these vegetables ripen gradually, with the plant often containing seeds in various stages of maturity. Collecting seeds from these vegetables requires daily inspection or attaching small bags to the seed heads to catch dry seed as it falls. In the case of some of the root vegetables, seeds can be purchased more economically than the effort required to harvest and store the seeds.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com
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