Month: January 2014

Paydirt – A Gardener’s Column: Plan Ahead for Seed Saving

Seed assortment

Kuna Melba News, January 15, 2014

Any gardener worth his or her salt saves a few seeds every now and then. I have my own favorite plants that I save seeds from, mostly flowers, but for other types of seeds, you probably need to buy them fresh every year. This is because many types of plants are either too difficult to gather seeds from because they are too small or require special preparation, or the species tends to hybridize with other plants and you cannot get true seed. Some seeds, such as coriander and celery, can also be used as spices either whole or ground.

If you are interested in saving seeds, here are a few guidelines.

Root crops such as beets, parsnips and carrots, along with other similar plants like parsley and cabbage, are biennials. They do not produce seed the first year. During the second growing season they will put up flowers that will then produce seed. The other benefit of having these types of plants is that the flowers produced by them attract beneficial insects to your garden. After the flowers have wilted and died, for a plant such as carrots with small seeds, you can tie a small bag over the seed heads to catch the seeds.

Some plants are hybrids and only a cross between two unique parents will produce true seed, not the hybrid offspring. Another thing to consider is that for open-pollinated plants, you need to make sure you don’t have similar varieties in your garden otherwise you may create your own hybrid seeds. Tomatoes are the exception. They are mostly self-pollinated and will produce true seed from their fruits as long as they are not hybrids to begin with.

Peppers and eggplants are great to save seeds from but you need to separate varieties by at least 500 feet to avoid cross-pollination. Squash, cucumbers, gourds, and melons are pollinated by insects and need a half-mile or more between varieties. A gardener friend of mine once saved seeds from a cantaloupe and grew them the following year. He grew a magnificent punkaloupe, a cross between a cantaloupe and a pumpkin. It was large like a pumpkin but had the skin of a cantaloupe and smelled great. Not all curcubits will cross-pollinate but it is usually safer just to buy new seed every year.

Saving tomato seed takes a little care. Harvest ripe tomatoes and squeeze out the seeds from the fruit. Then let that gooey mixture of seeds and goop ferment. This removes the coating on the seeds that prevent them from sprouting inside the fruit. It will take about  three to four days for a bowl to get sufficiently ripe. This mimics the natural rotting process that would happen out in the field. Don’t be afraid of any mold that forms on the seeds. It is part of the process. Keep it outside in the shed or garage as it will most likely stink up a bit. Once it starts bubbling, add water and stir. The good seeds will fall to the bottom and you can drain off the mold and water. Dry them quickly in a low-temperature dehydrator or with a fan as you don’t want them to begin germination.

As with any seed saving, you want to keep them dry and out of the sun.

PAY DIRT – A Gardener’s Column: Thumbing Through the Catalogs

Kuna Melba News, January 8, 2014

This time of year gardeners are keeping warm and looking through the dozens of seed catalogs that fill their mailboxes. With their green thumbs stained with ink, they pick and choose between old favorites and the new ones that plant breeders either have created through select breeding or resurrected from extinction by dedicated seed growers. In the old days, neighbors would trade favorite seeds with each other, encouraging a proliferation of unique strains of plants and vegetables. While I would like to share with you my Texas hummingbird sage flower seeds, my hollyhock seeds and even some of my nasturtium seeds that I harvest in the fall from my garden, instead I’ll share with you some of my favorite seed.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is not only a big player in the home gardener’s seed choice, but they offer bulk seed for the mid to large market gardener. They carry a variety of heirloom and organic seeds and every year have unique offerings. This employee-owned company has an amazing selection of cut flower seeds and has some varieties only available through them. Their catalog has lots of useful information in it too. You can shop online at or you can request a catalog.

p06WHOLE-SEED-CATALOGBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds has grown by leaps and bounds over the years and when their 2014 catalog came in the mail I though I had received a phone book. As one reads the The Whole Seed Catalog, one discovers beautiful photographs of fruits, vegetables and lots of down-home folks holding said vegetables. The writing is great too. All of their seeds are non-hybrid, non-GMO, non-treated and non-patented. They respect the tradition of seed saving and through their growers have saved many heirloom plants from extinction. They travel the world and bring back unique vegetables from around the globe and claim seeds from over 70 countries. The 350 page catalog will cost you $7.95 but they have a free 212 page one. Visit where you can order a catalog.

If you have a taste for exotic vegetables then you have to have the Kitazawa Seed catalog. This catalog features no color photographs but it does have great illustrations of unique varieties of Asian vegetables. Especially unique is the wide array of Asian greens, many of which grow in cold weather. One of my favorites is misome that I use for my famous lettuce wraps. Visit to order online or request a catalog.

p06PayDirtSouthernExposure2014Southern Exposure Seed Exchange mainly offers seeds for plants that do well in the southeast and mid Atlantic states, they do have some varieties that you can’t find anywhere else, especially cowpeas and over 20 varieties of okra. Just make sure you check the days to harvest to determine if we have enough growing days. You can get around this by starting some of them early in a greenhouse or sunny window. Visit to peruse their 700 seed collection or order a catalog.