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Save plant, flower seeds for practicality, nostalgia

September 12, 2013

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Deep in the hinterlands of Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault stores millions of copies of the world’s seeds — a safe deposit box against natural disaster and human error.

Deep in the hinterlands of my basement, I also store seeds in a box, albeit on a much smaller scale. In tiny jars, old deli containers and carefully labeled envelopes, each year I put away a few handfuls of seeds from my favorite and most successful plants.

These sunflower seeds are about ready to be saved. As gardens and flowers are fading and falling to seed, now is the perfect time to do it.

These sunflower seeds are about ready to be saved. As gardens and flowers are fading and falling to seed, now is the perfect time to do it.

It’s only been recently that saving seeds has taken on a political connotation. While it’s true that saving your own seeds can free you from large seed conglomerates — and that’s a great reason to do it — I started saving seeds for a much less lofty reason: I just think it’s neat.

Call me sentimental, but I get misty-eyed when I think that I still have seeds descended from the very first morning glories I planted at the tiny house my husband and I lived in when we were newly married. I smile when I see my favorite “Diablo” cosmos grinning sunnily at me, year after year. I adore the thrift of not always having to buy seeds for my favorite annual herbs, like basil and cilantro.

Much like reading a child my favorite classic story, saving seeds makes me feel like I’m passing along history that’s bigger than me.

If you’re interested in sharing a piece of that nostalgia, saving seeds is easy to do. What’s more, right now — as gardens and flowers are fading and falling to seed — is the perfect time to do it.

To get started, you first need to make sure you’re saving seeds from “heirloom” or “open-pollinated” plants that will produce “true to seed.” That sounds complicated, but really it just means that the baby plants will look like their parents, as opposed to “hybridized” varieties.

Second, remember your high school biology lessons. You want to save seeds only from your healthiest plants because those are the genes that you’ll want passed on.

From there, the method you’ll use depends much on the kind of seed you’re saving.

For flowers, which are a great place to start, you can usually see the seeds once the bloom falls away. Once the seeds start to look dry, just collect them with your hands. Morning glories, cosmos and sunflowers are easy choices.

For vegetables that grow in pods, like beans, it’s easiest to wait until the pod dries on the plant. Then you can carefully separate the seeds from the pods for storage. Most herbs and lettuces — which will typically form pods as they go to seed — can be handled the same way.

For fleshy vegetables, like cucumbers, separate the flesh from the seeds. Then lay the seeds out on a paper plate or towel to dry for a few days before storing them.

Tomatoes require one extra step, but they’re worth it. To save tomato seeds, scoop the flesh and seeds out into a jar of water. Gently shake the mixture each day for about five days. The mixture will begin to ferment, which will allow the seeds to come free from their jelly-like coating.

Once the seeds have sunk to the bottom, pour off the gunk and dry the seeds as discussed above.

With all seeds, store them in a cool place, like your basement. Also, be sure to label them well so that you’ll know what you’re planting next spring.

Lastly, if you end up with an overabundance of seeds, consider setting some aside for the Kaw Valley Seeds Project’s annual seed fair. There you can donate your collected seed or swap it for other varieties.

The fair is typically held the second Saturday in February at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, but you can follow the Kaw Valley Seeds Project on Facebook (facebook.com/kawvalleyseeds) for more specific details.

— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at www.mybitofearth.net.

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