News, Culture and NPR for Central & Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
91.7FM Alpena and WCML-TV Channel 6 Alpena are off the air. Click here to learn more.

Saving Seeds!

Heather Cohen
/
Small House Farm

JW: In the spring, it's always fun to look at and purchase colorful packets of seeds and then plant them in your garden. Later in the season, it may be even more rewarding to gather and save those seeds from your established plants. I'm Judy Wagley. This is “From the Ground Up!” Bevin Cohen is from Small House Farm in Sanford, Michigan, and seed saving is his specialty. Thanks for joining me today, Bevin.

Bevin Cohen is ready to save seeds!
Heather Cohen
/
Small House Farm
Bevin Cohen is ready to save seeds!

BC: Thanks for having me, Judy.

JW: Bevin why should we think about saving our seeds?

BC: There's so many great reasons to want to save our seeds. Of course, there's the simple economics of it, right? Saving our seeds means we don't have to buy seeds later, so we can, you know, save that money. But the most important thing I think here-- is that when we save our seeds, the seeds that are grown in our gardens have adapted to the climates of our of our garden-- that's to our microclimates, to our soil conditions, our pest issues, our growing techniques. The seeds that we save in our gardens will perform better for us than any seeds that we could buy.

JW: Are there other advantages too, like to Mother Nature?

BC: Well, sure. You know, Mother Nature wants to ensure that she's growing the healthiest possible plants. So these plants that produce these seeds in your garden and you save those seeds, they will be healthier and happier plants, which means you're going to get more produce, more delicious fruits and vegetables to enjoy in your garden.

JW: So how do we go about it? Can you take us step by step?

Heather Cohen
/
Small House Farm

BC: Well, sure, it's pretty simple to do. You know, it's important to remember people have been saving seeds since the dawn of agriculture, right? So like 10,000 years, people have been doing this. It's something that everybody can do for sure. So the first thing that we want to learn is how to identify when the seeds are ready to harvest-- understanding when they're mature and that's gonna, of course vary from one plant to the next. Some of them are our garden favorites. It's really easy to do things like tomatoes or peppers, melons, that sort of thing. When those fruits are ready to eat, those seeds are ready to harvest. They're right there. I mean, think about the steps to eating a melon--you cut a melon open and you scoop the seeds out right? So you already really doing a lot of the seed saving work, you just have to think about it from a seed-saving point of view.

JW: Yes.

BC: Other crops might be a little “trickier, and I'm going to say that in air quotes because it's really not tricky at all, but there's a couple of things that you need to consider. If you're growing things like beans or peas, it's very simple to save the seeds from those crops, but you got to leave them on the plant to mature. Think about a green bean. When the pod is still young and tender, there's no seed in there yet, right? We’ve got to leave them on the plant. They mature. They'll get a lot bigger. They'll start to dry down, they'll get brown and crispy. That's the sign that they're ready to go!

JW: What about things like kale or lettuce? How do we save those?

BC: Well, you know, and that's a fun one because you don't often even see the seeds of a lettuce plant. You know, maybe when you're planting lettuce you do, but you don't even see the flower. We often grow our lettuce in the spring when it's nice and cool. And when summer comes and it gets too hot and too dry, that's when those flower stalks come up. And if we just let them go, they'll produce beautiful yellow flowers. They're absolutely gorgeous, and that all of those flowers will eventually make seed pods, and there'll be plenty of seeds to be had. Think about this-- one lettuce plant will make anywhere from 30 to 40 flowers. Each one of those flowers will make 12 to 16 seeds. So we're talking hundreds of seeds just from one lettuce plant.

JW: Yeah, I'm trying to do the math and I can't right now…

BC: Yes--It's a big number!

JW: Are there certain plants that are better than others for seed saving or is it “anything goes?”

BC: Well, the crops that we've been talking about here and I'll say the list again, we've got tomatoes and peppers and melons and lettuce and kale. Those are annual crops, right? They'll live their whole life cycle, flowers, fruits, seeds, the whole thing, all in that first year. Those are very easy. Some crops, on the other hand, are biennials. They need to be over wintered for a year before they make seeds the next year. Some common examples there would of course be things like winter radishes, cabbages, those sorts of things, and that makes it a little bit more difficult. Cause not only do you have to get this plant to survive all year in the garden, you gotta get it to survive through the winter. In order to get those seeds the next year. So that's a little bit more advanced, but there are plenty of easy ones that everybody can save their seeds from.

JW: Would you share some techniques for gathering and saving those seeds?

BC: Sure. Now with something as simple as tomatoes or melons watermelons, those sorts of things, it's just simple extracting the seeds from the fruits right when the fruits are ripe and ready to eat, and you're going to cut them open and eat them. Take the seeds out of them, right? You're going to want to make sure you wash them off really nice, get all the residue and juices and sweetness out of there, you know, and then set them out to dry somewhere. So we're talking herbs and flowers, and again, those beans and peas. You wait till they're nice and dry and crispy. Take them off of the plants and you're gonna want to separate the seed from the shells, that sort of thing, right? Threshing and winnowing is what we call it. So threshing is just simply impacting the seed pod in some way to get it to release the seed. Winnowing is utilizing the wind to separate the seed from the chaff. Get those seeds cleaned up and then you can put them away. Now we'll come back to those wet seeds. It's very important that when we let them dry, let them dry till they're nice and dry. Let them sit out seven, ten days--sometimes up to two weeks. I'll put them out on paper plates. I like to use paper plates cause the seeds don't stick too bad to the paper plate. But also I can label the plate. So, right on the plate. Then I'll put it in the nice, you know, out of the way, space in my house, out of direct sun. Maybe put a little fan on it if it's extra humid in the summer time and let those things dry down until they're ready. And then package them up and put them away.

JW: Package them up. How?

Heather Cohen
/
Small House Farm

BC: Well, there's a lot of ways that we could package up our seeds. So the easiest way, of course would be you can use little coin envelopes or little zip lock bags. You could even use like a mailing envelope, it’s perfectly fine. For a large quantity of seeds I'll often use like a Mason jar or something. Just put them in a jar, seal it up and put it in a cool, dark location and they will sit and wait until it's springtime.

JW: Be sure to label them.

BC: Make sure you label every step of the way. You gotta do it. It's so important that we label stuff. All the tomatoes on the outside--they look different. All these different varieties, and you might be able to identify a tomato variety from looking at the outside of a tomato. But the inside-- the seeds, they all look the same. So yeah, absolutely right. Label every step!

JW: Bevin, your elevator pitch, why should folks save seeds?

BC: Well, it's so easy to do and it's extra fun, so get out there, learn how these seeds grow. Getting to understand how these plants grow and produce these seeds is a whole ‘nother level of fun out in the garden!

JW: Bevin Cohen from Small House Farm in Sanford, Michigan. Thanks for joining me today and for all this great information for “From the Ground Up!”

BC: Thanks for having me, Judy.

https://www.smallhousefarm.com/

Judy Wagley is WCMU’s midday host, and is the producer of The Children’s Bookshelf from From the Ground Up! She guides listeners through their weekdays from 9am to 3pm.