Organizing Your Seed Stash

 

 

Well, my Mama tried, but I’m no lady, so let’s discuss our seed stash!  We’ve talked a few times about why seed saving is so incredibly important and how simple it is (here and here) but figuring out how to do it practically is another matter altogether.  When I first delved into seed saving about 10-12 years ago, I had no idea it would become a total obsession, so my seed stash was nothing more than a few sandwich baggies tossed into the freezer.  A few random odd seeds and half-used packages constituted my whole collection but I’ve expanded slightly since then LOL.  I’ve tried several different approaches; snack sized baggies of seed thrown into gallon sized bag according to plant-type; plastic lidded totes with baggies chucked in it, but I couldn’t keep it together until I landed on my current method.  For the method I’m using, you can find everything you need in either the craft or office aisles at Wal-mart.   Here’s what you need!

  • 4″+ zippered binder
  • 2″X3″ bead bags
  • self-adhesive labels to fit the bags
  • business card binder pages or trading card protectors
  • Sharpie marker

The method couldn’t be any easier.  I mean seriously, a caveman could do it.   Place your seeds in the bead bags and label the bag with a self-adhesive label or with a Sharpie marker.

Then choose a card binder page, insert the seed bag into a card slot and label the space so when you remove the seed package, you’ll know where it belongs.  Later on down the road, you’ll be able to tell at a glance what needs replenished without having to hunt…or wonder what went in that empty space.  Done.  Okay, almost done.

Organizing my seed stash!

I’m a little obsessive about it, so I’ve organized mine by plant type;  there are separate pages for tomatoes, peppers, root veggies, herbs, flowers.  Again, at a glance you can tell what needs to be replenished and it helps to keep your mind organized when you’re starting seedlings in March.  Feel free to copy or organize your seed stash alphabetically, according to plant date or the age of the seeds.  Whatever works for you!

I also find the large, cheap zippered supply pouches work great for holding bulk seeds such as peas or beans, extra bags, labels, markers etc.   All total, you’ll end up with about $10 invested, but it makes your life so much easier, especially during planting season.  Ease aside, the benefit to this route is that you’re giving your seeds layers of protection from moisture and light, which will ruin your seeds fairly quickly.  A third bonus to this method:  Your binder will only take up 4 inches on your bookshelf or in a cabinet.  So much smaller than the bucket of baggies that I started out with!

So let’s talk about the quantity now.  How much seed is enough seed?  My rule of thumb is to have 2-3 years worth of seed at all times and here’s why:  if I have 50 tomato seeds and start 25 of them,  plant the 25 seedlings and they’re destroyed by an animal, weather or someone reckless with a scuffle hoe, it’s upsetting, but I still have 25 seeds for next year to preserve the strain.  Disaster averted.  It stinks that my seedlings were destroyed but life (literally) will go on.  Many people have larger seed collections they freeze, for just-in-case situations, and that’s probably not a bad idea, but for me, 2-3 years of seed works pretty well.  You’ll want to be diligent in using the oldest seeds first; most seeds have a shelf life of maybe 3-5 years after which time their germination rate drops precipitously.  If you find you have too many seeds to use in a season or two, consider donating them to a fellow gardener or a non-profit that produces food for schools, kitchens and shelters.  Don’t let those precious seeds go to waste!

It’s not exactly rocket science, but I’m pretty pleased with my seed stash and the organization system I’ve got going on.  Tell me how you keep yours together…I’d love to know!  Til next time!

Saving Beans for Seed

Let’s talk about saving bean seeds. This spring, we broke ground on a large area in our pasture, an area Angus jokingly referred to as the R&D garden.   We used the area for sprawling plants such as sweet potatoes, and to isolate a few plants to save seed for next year.  Unfortunately, there was just too much shade from the tree-lined driveway for it to be a successful garden, but I’m not bitter.  Okay, I am a little bitter, but the bright spot is that the black-eyed pea seed produced enough viable plants to harvest my seed stock again.

Saving black-eyed peas for seed

 

Legumes are very possibly the easiest seed in the garden to save and I increasingly believe it’s a necessary skill; let me tell you why.  My family ALWAYS grew Kentucky Wonder white half-runners in our garden.  ALWAYS.  Back to my childhood (and beyond) that was OUR bean and we planted it with great success season after season.  Beginning 5-6 years ago, crops began failing.  Not just for me, but across our county, for both commercial growers and backyard gardeners.  It didn’t seem to matter whether it was a hot season, cool season, wet or dry, you couldn’t grow a dependable crop of half-runners to save your life.  So as I was shopping for seed this spring at our local farm store, I mentioned to the attendant that I needed to try a new variety of beans because I hadn’t had any luck recently with my old variety and she replied succinctly “They’ve been tinkering with the seeds for 10 years.  If you want a good crop, you’ll have to save seeds for yourself.” I tell you, my head whipped around like it was on a swivel.  The lady selling seeds was telling me to save my own so I didn’t need to depend on hers.  That was telling for me.  So this season, our goal is to save enough seed stock from our black-eyed peas and green beans to plant our garden next year.  Let me tell you why it’s an important goal for any backyard gardener:

  • It’s cost effective.  It costs nothing but a few minutes of your time at the end of the season to save pea or bean seeds.
  • It requires minimal-to-no labor on your part.  Just let the plants stand until the bean pods are dry and then strip the pods off as you pull up the dead plants, which is what you’d do anyway.
  • You’re protecting a dwindling resource.  It has been estimated that we’ve lost 90%+ of our seed species as a result of not saving seeds ourselves.
  • You’ll know the quality of seed you’re planting.  You don’t have to wonder about the age or condition of the seed, whether it had been treated with chemicals or tinkered with genetically.

So you can see there’s no reason NOT to save seeds.  Our grandparents did it for millennia before commercial seed production became the standard and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t pick up where they left off!  There are only a few very, very basic steps to saving bean and pea seeds.  Here we go!

  1. You have to allow the seeds to fully mature on the plant.  You can’t pick them young and count on them to mature, it won’t happen!  The pods should be brown/grey, dry and brittle and begin to split open before you pick them.
  2. Healthy plants only!  If you have a plant that looks funky, wilted or off-color, don’t harvest seed from it.  If it’s a diseased plant, it’s very possible the seed is carrying the same disease and can cause problems next season.
  3. Pick on a hot, dry day.
  4. Remove the seeds from the pods immediately.  If you keep them in the pods, you may set up mold, fungus or any number of undesirable conditions.  Discard any seeds that look off; discolored, shriveled, misshapen, bug-eaten
  5. Spread the seeds on a newspaper-lined tray or even the racks from a dehydrator.  What’s important is that you allow plenty of room for air-flow so the seeds can dry completely.  Allow a week or more for drying time.
  6. Once dry, place the seeds in a glass jar or plastic bag, label clearly and store in a cool, dark, dry environment.

That’s it, my friends.  It couldn’t get any simpler! It may be too late for many of you this year, but I’m issuing the challenge for next year to all my backyard-gardening friends:  try your hand at saving legume seeds and update us the following year.  I’d love to know how successful you are at creating your own seed stock.  Til next time—

Gardening By The Moon

To remember the once-in-a-lifetime eclipse today, we’re going to talk a little about gardening by the moon.  (See what I did there?)  I can clearly remember the first time I ever heard reference to gardening by the moon.  I had plans for a big bed of potatoes and when I mentioned it to my mother in law, she said I needed to be sure to plant by the dark of the moon.  I’d never heard that phrase in my entire life, but I DID know that I had no plans to go out and plant taters in the middle of the night, regardless of what she had to say.  Oh Lardy, I was so stinkin’ young then.

A few years later, while talking dirt with my mama, she said the Old Farmer’s Almanac suggested it would be a good weekend to plant such and such a crop, based on the moon, and that’s when things started to click for me.  This wasn’t a myth or a silly wives’ tales, but a speculative science, examining lunar cycles and the physical changes that accompany it on living organisms.  Now, I’ll freely confess that I’m still on the fence about some of this, but I think there’s enough evidence to merit its consideration.

So just a very brief overview for you to ponder.  Gardening by the moon isn’t a based on astrological signs but according to the lunar cycle.  The ages-old belief is that the various stages of the moon have a direct impact on seed germination and plant growth.  The gravitational forces that pull on the Earth creating high and low tides also affect the water content of the soil, so to yield the most vigorous plants and the largest crops, you should plant them during the lunar phase that will best suit them.  Weather allowing, Farmer’s Almanac says to plant annuals and plants that bear fruit above ground during the light (waxing) of the moon and perennials and root crops during the dark (waning) of the moon.  Beyond just planting, there are numerous farm-related chores that are said to be significantly impacted by the moon’s phase; chores such as timbering, fishing, hatching eggs, pruning and such.  I don’t know if that’s true or not.   As I said, lunar gardening is still new to me and I’m still firmly on the fence about it, but I CAN tell you this:  There have been numerous years that there was a significant difference in yields between my garden and my mama’s….despite the fact we lived only minutes apart, had similar soil composition, bought seed from the same source, amended our soils with the same compost, plowed in the same straw at the end of the season.  The only difference:  she planted by moon phases and I didn’t.

It’s been my observation in the past few years that unusual wisdom and what we consider old wives’ tales often have their feet firmly based in truth.   Our grandparents looked to the sky for navigation, to develop calendars and to predict weather, so why does it seem so strange that we’d also use the moon as a guide as we tend the Earth?

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.  Genesis 1:14

Anyway, I hope you have the opportunity to go out and *safely* enjoy the eclipse today.  I plan on being on the front porch with my husband’s welding mask and a glass of iced tea as this is an experience I don’t want to miss!  Til next time—

 

Save The Tomato Seeds

 

One of the skills our grandparentals practiced was seed-to-seed gardening.  It was a beautiful practice that we have unfortunately forgotten but that I’m encouraged to see gardeners beginning to practice again.  The idea behind seed-to-seed gardening is that you start your plants from your seed stock, allow the plant to mature and then save seeds from the mature plant for the following season.  It’s a simple concept that has many benefits.

1-It’s free!  After you buy or trade for your initial seed stock, you never have to buy it again.  I’m using seed from plants I bought 10 years ago and in theory, should never have to replace that seed stock.

2-You KNOW the quality of your seed.  No questioning whether the seeds were treated or whether the plants were healthy.

3-You’ll have seed perfectly adapted to your microclimate.  If you save seeds from a plant that *thrived* in your location, you can be assured that the seed from that plant will produce thriving plants next summer.

4-You’re protecting a dwindling resource.  It’s estimated that just a handful of companies OWN nearly all the seed stock available globally.  That scares me, because whoever controls the food, controls the people.  Conspiracy theories aside, we’ve lost an estimated 90% of seed species because we’ve given up saving seed.  We can’t bring those species back, but we CAN protect what remains.

So let me encourage you to try your hand at saving seeds.  Today, as we’re in the midst of tomato season, I’ll give you instructions on saving tomato seeds.  They’re one of the few plants that have special requirements in order to utilize the seeds.  Most plants just need the fruit to dry on the vine or stalk (beans, peas, corn, etc) in order to collect viable seeds, but tomatoes are just a bit different.  Not difficult, just different.  Here we go!

First, you need to choose several “perfect” examples of your favorite variety. You want the best possible genetics involved, so pick fully-ripe tomatoes from healthy plants that thrived in your region.  I used a big, homely Cherokee Purple tomato in this picture.

 

Next slice your tomatoes open to access the seedy goo. I’m sure there’s a technical name, but we’ll go with goo. The goo has chemicals in it that prevents seeds from germinating, so to have viable seeds, we need to remove the goo through fermentation.  Don’t get squeamish on me…it’s an easy process and I promise you won’t poison yourself or your family.   Use your finger or a utensil to scoop the goo from several tomatoes into a glass or pint-sized Mason jar.

 

 

Third step, fill your jar 1/2-2/3 full of warm water. You need some headspace, but you also need plenty of water for the goo to float in. Cover the jars with a baggie or plastic wrap and poke a few holes so the goo can breathe. Scared yet?! Now set the jars in a warm, sunny windowsill and leave it alone for a few days.

 

 

So now the magic happens. After you add the water and allow everything to be still, the goo will float. After a few days, you’ll notice white, moldy spunk on top of the water. That’s good news, my friends! After a few more days, you’ll begin to notice seeds dropping out of the goo and laying on the bottom of the jar….those are your viable seeds. Give your jar a little swish, allow the seeds to settle and then carefully pour the yucky water out.  Carefully, friends.  You don’t want to lose viable seed AND you don’t want fermented tomato goo to spill on your clothes!  Trust me!   What you should have left in the bottom of the jar is individual, clean seeds. Carefully pour them onto a sheet of parchment paper or a paper plate and allow the seeds to dry completely.  This could take a few days, so don’t rush it.  If you package damp seeds, you’ll have moldy sprouts in no time.   Once they’re dry and ready to store, put the seeds in an airtight package like a sandwich baggie.  I love the little seed bead bags you can purchase in the craft section at Walmart, but baggies are fine too.  Now label your package and store it in a cool, dark place.

That’s it, my friends!  You’ve successfully saved seed stock for the next growing season.  Now wasn’t that fun?!  Til next time….