LEARN HOW TO STORE HEIRLOOM SEEDS (AND WHY YOU SHOULD). THESE TIPS WILL KEEP YOU GROWING DELICIOUS HEIRLOOM VEGETABLES IN YOUR GARDEN YEAR AFTER YEAR.
It’s August and you’ve just decided that you want to plant a fall garden. The only trouble is, starter plants aren’t available this time of year and the garden centers are no longer selling seeds. Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone! This is exactly what happened to me when I decided to plant a cool weather garden, and why I wanted to share with you today how to store heirloom seeds and why you should.
WHAT ARE HEIRLOOM SEEDS?
Generally speaking, there are two different categories of vegetable seeds, heirloom and hybrid. Heirloom seeds are seeds that (when planted again) will produce a plant much like the “parent plant” that it came from. Alternatively, hybrid seeds will not produce a “true to type” plant, therefore you’ll end up growing a different variety from the original parent plant.
Heirloom seeds are typically very old, and have been stored and passed down from generation to generation for many years.
WHY CHOOSE HEIRLOOMS?
While we don’t exclusively grow heirloom vegetables in our garden, we definitely seek out heirloom varieties when possible. There are many benefits to growing these types of veggies, but here are some of the main differences.
Heirloom produce is known for having excellent flavor, it’s essentially eating the same tomato grown from those same seeds 100+ years ago! Talk about farm fresh! Typically, heirloom vegetables ripen at different times which will spread out the growing season a bit more. For example, we planted hybrid tomatoes in our 2020 summer garden and the tomatoes all ripened at the same exact time. We had a tomato burst, and then our tomatoes were done for the season.
Produce grown from heirloom seeds is less uniform, and often times those “fancy” looking tomatoes at the market are heirlooms!
Seeds can easily be collected, dried and saved for years to come. This is wonderful for the preservation of the variety, as well as maintaining a good stockpile of seeds at home!
HOW TO COLLECT HEIRLOOM SEEDS
Farmers have been collecting and re-planting heirloom seeds for years, which is why they’re still available today. Collection can vary between the different types of vegetables, but we have had good luck using these methods. It should be noted that some vegetables (like beans, peas, tomatoes, eggplants …) are easier to collect seeds from than others.
Some easy plants to start with are beans and peas. Let several beans (for example) over ripen on the vine until they are essentially dried out. The pod will feel papery and the beans can be heard rattling around inside the pod. Once collected, lay the dried beans/seeds on paper towel inside the house until they are fully dried.
For plants such as cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, pumpkin, etc. let the plants over-ripen again. Squeeze the seeds and pulp into a jar or other container that can hold liquid. The combination of pulp, seeds and a bit of water should sit for several days to ferment.
After fermentation, allow seeds to dry thoroughly.
HOW TO STORE HEIRLOOM SEEDS
Once your seeds have been dried fully, they can be stored in envelopes, in ziplock bags with paper towels, or in a tote.
It is important to store seeds in a cool, dry place away from any moisture. This will increase the longevity of your seeds.
Today, our seeds are stored in our basement which stays relatively cool all summer long. Other seed savers recommend keeping seeds in the refrigerator, which is a method that we used for several years with great success.
My Dad is an expert seed saver, and happily shared his seed stash with me when it was time to plant a fall garden. My seed supply was low for crops that like cool weather, but my Dad has dozens of varieties of seeds stored in their original seed envelopes, small plain envelopes, bottles, and bags in a plastic Tupperware bin. He uses old vitamin bottles, or whatever he can find for storage and it all works very well. Some of the seeds that I used to plant my fall garden were nearly 10 years old and grew effortlessly.
WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE WITH THE STORED SEEDS?
By now we’ve learned that it’s beneficial to save heirloom seeds to preserve the ancient vegetables that we know and love. When we save heirloom seeds, we can grow our own seed supply at home which comes in handy. When garden planning, it can be difficult to anticipate everything that you’ll want to plant for an entire year. Having some seeds in the home to fall back on makes gardening in a pinch so much easier.
Many people (and organizations) practice seed swapping or seed exchanges. Our local library does this too, calling it their “seed library”. Essentially, you are allowed to take seeds to plant for the season but need to trade them out for other heirloom seeds or return your dried seeds at the end of the season. Pretty neat, right!
If you’re looking for seed starting soil, we typically use this ProMix HP or Miracle-Gro seed starting potting mix. We have had great luck using both of these types of soil. If seed trays are needed, I recommend using a 72 cell size as that is the perfect size for each seedling.
If you’re interested in indoor gardening, check out Houseplant Care: A Beginner’s Guide!
In the comments below, I would love to hear if you save seeds too! Thank you for visiting our farmhouse today.
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