Homestead Seed Saving
The knowledge and ability to save your own seeds from one season to the next is one of those homesteader skills that may not seem important at first. When you think about the frugality, and self sufficiency aspects of homesteading then it really starts to make sense. That little packet of seed from the garden shop will only last you so long, and if you are contemplating growing your own food on a large scale those little packets just don’t cut it! In all reality, it doesn’t take very many plants to produce enough seed to last you for several seasons (most garden annuals are prolific seed producers!), and when you save your own seeds you can develop your own regionally adapted cultivars as well as land race varieties that are bread specifically for your garden. Trying to grow a tomato from seed that was harvested in Florida may not garner you the best results in North Idaho! Having said all of that I do grow most of my plants from purchased seed, but I aim to change that. I already have my own dill, cilantro, spinach, garlic, and pea seed, most of which is several generations regionally adapted to my garden. I have plans to develop a sweet corn and land race acorn squash as well.
I found a little information from Seed Savers Exchange for some of the easiest vegetables to save seed from. There are planting directions included here just in case you still have time to start new plants, but you can utilize the seed saving info for plants that you already have in your garden. Keep in mind that you will have more consistent results with heirloom open pollinated varieties than you will with hybrids. Even at that much of the seed you collect from hybrid cultivars will be viable, you just may not know what you will get! Pick the best plants in your garden to let goto seed. If you want to get a little more sophisticated you can isolate plants to minimize cross pollination, or select from neglected areas of your garden where there seems to be a particularly robust plant and save those seeds. Selecting from the best plants in the worst soil, with the least amount of care will garner you some incredibly hardy varieties that will produce extremely well for you! Here’s a selected list of some of the most common, and easiest to save seed from, garden plants…
Vegetable Planting and Seed Saving Instructions
Arugula – Planting: Sow seeds outdoors just beneath the surface of the soil as soon as the soil can be worked and the danger of a hard frost has past. For a continuous supply, seed a new row every three weeks throughout the summer.
Seed Saving: Arugulas will cross-pollinate. Separate varieties by ¼ mile. Allow plants to bolt and form seed stalks. Seedheads may need to be protected from bird damage and rain when drying on the plants. Seeds are produced over a 2-3 week period and will require repeated harvesting.
Beans – Planting: Sow seeds outdoors after the danger of frost has past and the soil and air temperatures are warm. Plant seeds 1″ deep and 2″ apart in rows 24″ to 36″ apart. Pole beans will need support. Snap varieties will produce abundantly if kept well picked throughout the summer.
Saving Seed: Bean flowers are self-pollinating and almost never cross-pollinate. As a precaution never plant two white seeded varieties side-by-side if you intend to save seed because crossing may occur but not be visible. It is always best to save seed from plants that ripen first and are free from disease. Harvest seed pods when completely dry, crush in a cloth or burlap sack and winnow the seeds from the chaff.
Corn – Planting: Sow seeds outdoors only after the danger of frost has passed. Corn will not germinate properly when the soil is still cold in the spring. Sow seeds 1″ deep every 3-4″ in rows 3-4′ apart. Thin the seedlings to 8″ apart after the plants come up. Corn should be planted in a 3-4 row block (instead of one long row) to ensure well filled-out ears.
Saving Seed: All corn varieties are wind-pollinated and will cross-pollinate with each other. Varieties should be hand-pollinated or isolated by 1 mile to ensure purity. Allow ears to dry on the plants, harvest and shell.
Lettuce – Planting: Sow seeds outdoors ¼” deep and 1″ apart. Thin to 8″ apart for looseleaf and 12″ for head lettuce. Does well when soil temperature is below 80° F., try to avoid planting in the middle of summer. Keep soil moist for up to two weeks after planting.
Saving Seed: There is only a slight chance of cross-pollination between lettuces. As a precaution separate by 25′ from other varieties that are going to seed. Allow plants to bolt and form seed stalks. Seedheads may need to be protected from bird damage and rain when drying. Seeds are produced over a 2-3 week period and will require repeated harvesting.
Melons – Planting: Best when direct seeded in warm soil after the danger of frost has passed. Plant 6-8 seeds 1″ deep in 12″ diameter hills spaced 6′ apart each way. After germination pinch off all but 3-4 of the strongest seedlings.
Saving Seed: Melons will cross-pollinate, so isolate ¼ mile from other “melons” (cantaloupes, muskmelons, honeydew, snake melon and Armenian cucumbers will all cross). Always save seeds from disease-free, early ripening melons. Wash seeds from ripe melons in a strainer and dry. Seeds are ready to store when they break instead of bend.
Peas – Planting: Peas can be sown as soon as the soil can be prepared in the spring. Sow seeds ½” to 1″ deep with 3″ between seeds in rows 24″ apart. Climbing peas will need support. Double rows can be planted on each side of a trellis. Peas thrive in cool weather.
Saving seed: Peas should be separated by 50′ to ensure pure seed. Select the healthiest plants for seed. Allow pods to dry on the plant before harvesting and separate seeds from pods by hand. If birds start eating the seeds before the pods are completely dry, they can be harvested slightly green and brought indoors to dry.
Radish – Planting: Sow seeds outdoors as soon as the soil can be prepared in the spring. Successive plantings can be made every 3-4 weeks throughout the summer and fall to provide a continual harvest. Seeds should be planted ½” deep and 1″ apart in rows 12″ apart.
Saving Seed: : Radishes will cross-pollinate and must be isolated by ½ mile or planted in insect-proof cages covered with screen. Radish seed stalks will grow up to 3′ tall. Always discard the early bolting plants, since they are not the best plants to save for seed. The seed stalk is harvested when the stalk and pods are dry. Seeds can then be separated by hand.
Tomato – Planting: Sow indoors ¼” deep in pots or flats 6 weeks before the last frost. Thin seedlings when 2″ tall and transplant into individual pots. Plant outdoors 24″ apart in rows 36″ apart. Indeterminate vines will require support.
Saving Seed: Cross-pollination between modern tomato varieties seldom occurs, except in potato leaf varieties which should be separated by the length of the garden. Do not save seeds from double fruits or from the first fruits of large-fruited varieties. Pick at least one ripe fruit from each of several plants. Squeeze seeds and juice into a strainer and wash, spread on a paper plate and dry.
Resources: Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, 2nd Edition A great introduction to saving seeds on the homestead!