Keeping and Choosing Seeds for Next Year's Garden

Kids seem to thrive on collecting things. Collecting the seeds from the plants that you grow each year in the garden can save effort, time and money in next year's garden. Try to get the kids to collect seeds for the kids' garden.

Storing seeds
Most flower, herb and vegetable seeds have a shelf life of one year. Drying the seeds can prolong this shelf life. You can achieve this by drying them in the sun. Try to choose days where the temperature is at least 90 degrees. It can take up to two weeks to dry seeds this way.

The second way is to turn the oven to the lowest setting. Keep the oven temperature no more than about 100 degrees.

Once the seeds are completely dried, store them in airtight, moisture-free packages. You can put the dry seeds in freezer bags, label them and put them in the refrigerator or in a cool dry basement.

Choosing seeds to keep
The kids may ask which seeds to pick when you decide to collect seeds for next year's planting. How do you choose seeds that are viable for next year's planting?

First, choose seeds that are ready. Find out how long it takes the seeds to mature and review what the seeds of different flowers and vegetables should look like. There are many ways to harvest seeds, depending on the type.

  • Tomatoes: Scoop out the seeds and pulp an put them in a fine-mesh strainer. Rinse as much of the pulp away as you can and place the seeds on a paper towel to dry. .

  • Peppers: Cut open the peppers once they've matured (usually when they've turned red). If you have a green pepper, hang it where it can mature, preferably somewhere dry. Rub the pepper seeds from the middle membrane part. Place the pepper seeds on a paper towel to make sure they are dry and store as necessary. Pepper seeds typically won't need additional drying.

  • Flowers: Once the flower has started to die, it will have produced seeds in the seed head. For most flowers you can save the seed head intact. Just rub the petals off, but be careful not to rub off the seeds along with the petals.

  • Cucumbers: Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise. Scoop out the pulp, being careful not to damage the viable seeds. Use a strainer to get as much pulp as possible away from the seeds. You may have to use your fingers to gently push down the pulp to remove it. Once most of the pulp is gone, rinse the seeds and dry on paper towels.

  • Squash, pumpkins and melons: Squash, pumpkins and melons are similar to cucumbers. Cut them open and there should be plenty of viable seeds. The kids can pick out these individual seeds as they are much bigger than most seeds. Rinse the seeds and dry them as necessary.

  • Sunflowers: Cut off the sunflower head once the center has browned. Leave about six inches on the stem. Hang the sunflower head to dry for a few days. Once the head has shriveled a little, the sunflower seeds are ready to come off. Gently scrape the sunflower seeds from the head. Shake any loose dirt and debris and rinse the seeds. Dry them as needed.

  • Lettuce: Lettuce seeds will look very familiar to kids. They look exactly like dandelion seeds. Once lettuce has gone to seed, be quick about getting the seed before the wind blows them away. Remove the parachute from the seeds before storing them.

Experimenting with seed-keeping
There are many ways to harvest, dry and store your own seeds. Try different ways. Do freezer bags work better than other type bags? Are there other containers that could store the seeds? Some places sell special seed storing bags. Have kids check out books at the library, ask a local horticulturist or go on the Internet to do a search on seed saving.

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