Seeds are important. Everything, from the humble munggo to the mightiest narra, springs from a single seed.
By Yvette Tan
They are easy to take for granted. We often throw away the ones we find when eating fruit or preparing vegetables, forgetting that these micro powerhouses can be the foundation for anything from the potted herb on a windowsill to the mother plant of a productive orchard. As Ken Greene, Co-Founder of the Hudson Valley Seed Library quotes, “When you plant a seed, you choose an entire agricultural system.”
Saving seeds can be as easy as picking them out of raw fruit or vegetable, washing them, and storing them in a cool, dry place, ready to throw in a hole in the soil once planting season starts. However, taking the extra step of properly storing and labeling them can make a difference come time to plant.
How to Save Seeds
Gather your seeds. Choose ones from plants that are healthy, vigorous, and undamaged, and also best tasting. Do not keep seeds from diseased plants, as the seeds may be infected as well.
Try to save open-pollinated varieties, which will grow true to the parent plant. Hybrids—the product of two different varieties—tend to be unstable, meaning there is no way of telling what the plants that grow from the seeds will be like.
Make sure your seeds are clean. Remove twigs, pods, and other unneeded parts or covering from the seed. Not only will you be able to store more seeds in your container, this also lessens the possibility of rot, insects, mold, and disease contaminating your stash.
Air-dry seeds for about a week before storing in paper envelopes. Seeds can also be dried on paper towels, which can be rolled up and used as biodegradable storage. To plant, simply tear off a bit of the towel with a seed stuck to it and drop into soil.
Don’t forget to label the types of seeds you have, and the date when you stored them. Most seeds have a shelf life of three years, so recording dates is essential. Store the same kinds of seeds together. Avoid mixing different kinds of seeds.
Seeds can be stored in paper packet envelopes, in plastic food storage containers, film canisters, and tightly sealed glass containers like mason jars and glass containers with gasketed lids. Keep them in a cool, dry (never freezing) place. A refrigerator is good, if you can spare the space.
Popping a silica gel packet in the container with the seeds can help keep them dry. Another trick is to place two tablespoons of powdered milk (make sure it’s from a freshly opened pack) in cheesecloth or four layers of facial tissue, seal it to avoid spillage, and place it in the container with seeds.
Try to use seeds within a year; the older the seeds, the less their chances of growing. When planting seeds stored in the refrigerator, take the container out and warm it to room temperature before opening to keep the seeds from clumping together because of condensation. Don’t fret if some of the seeds don’t germinate—it happens, even to the most experienced gardeners. The beauty of the seasons is that you can try again next year!
Berlow, Ali. The Food Activists Handbook: Big & Small Things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community. New York: Workman Publishing. 2015.