Every time you crunch into an apple, you can thank Johnny Appleseed for keeping them from becoming just a memory.
Thousands of plants may have become extinct if people didn't save their seeds. History tells us that back in the early 1900s, there were almost 8,000 varieties of apples in America. By the early 1960s, apple species had dwindled down to 1,000 or so. There were only a handful of seeds native to America.
Jerusalem artichokes, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, pecans, and sunflower seeds had to be brought back from the brink of extinction, and even corn came from Mexico.
What to save
Heirloom seeds are a good bet to save. They have a long track record of being able to adapt to all types of conditions and can create a great foundation for next year's garden.
The best kind of seeds to save are ones that are open-pollinated. Try annuals like calendula, cleome, cosmos, impatiens, marigold, morning glory, sunflower, sweet pea, and zinnia.
Seeds from vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, and beans, peas, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, summer squash, and watermelon all can be saved. Pick your best and strongest plants for seed saving because those are the traits you want to carry on.
Don't save hybrid seeds. Those are two plants that come from two different parents to produce the plant that is growing in your garden now. They may have been pollinated by another plant, so you won't get the same results next year.
The best example is gourds. You might have mini pumpkins growing next to the turbin squash in your garden this year. Bees and the wind have been cross-pollinating the plants. If you save their seeds, you might come up with a combination of the two next year. F1 Hybrids are first generation seeds and not worth saving. Many are sterile and worthless.
Wait until the seed has matured, then shake or drop seeds onto a piece of paper or light colored dish or saucer. This will allow you to see all the seeds and be able to separate the chaff. Let them dry for about a week in a warm dry place. If you are taking seeds from tomatoes, you can soak them out of the center membrane. Cucumbers, watermelon, and squash seeds can be scooped from the center, rinsed, and dried.
Keep them in envelopes or glass jars in the refrigerator until spring. Label them with the name of the plant, color of blossom, and flowering or fruiting time.
Good seed or bad?
So, how do we know if our seeds are good or bad? Try the standard paper towel trick. Dampen one piece of paper towel and put a couple seeds on the wet area. Put the moist towel in a sealed plastic bag and leave it in a warm dark place. If the seeds are good, they will start sprouting in a few days. If they are in your cupboard for weeks without cracking open, the seeds are dead.
You also can try the old soak and slimy seed trick. It is a good technique for small seeds like tomatoes. Place seeds in water and allow them to "ferment" a few days, then pour off the slimy film on top and all the floating seeds. The seeds that sink are still living and the ones that floated to the top are dead. Rinse them, then let them dry for several days to a week, and store them in the fridge.
So, after you pluck the seeds out of your garden, get your sketch pad out and start planning that garden for next spring.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at