Tag Archives: seed swaps

How to Save Seeds from the Home Garden

Blackberry lily seeds are easy to find and save

As your plants flower and set seed and your fruit ripens on the vine, think of what you would like to save for next year. Saving seed can be easy and cost effective. In addition to saving seed to plant in your garden next year, you can give away seed packets as gifts or participate in seed swaps.

In order to save seeds, you have to separate the seeds from the fruit and dry them completely. If you strike a seed with a hammer and it shatters or if it snaps cleanly when bent, the seed is dry enough. When they are this dry, store in a cool, dark place in jars or put in envelopes. Always label with a plant name and date.

There are two methods for separating and cleaning the seed depending on the plant. Use the dry method for seeds that are in dried flowers, dried husks, or dried pods like beans, peas, grains, okra, marigolds, cone flowers, calendula, dianthus, basil, mustards, lettuce, kale, dill, fennel (any member of the carrot/dill family and the brassica/broccoli family). Use the wet method when the seeds are imbedded in the fleshy fruit, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, squash, and eggplant.

Dry Method of Saving Seeds

Usually the plant has more than one flower head, each with their own timeline of flowering and setting seeds. During the summer, when the individual flower head has dried or when most of the seeds appear to be dried, cut the seed head and put in a paper bag. Cut when the stalks are brown at least an inch down from the seed head. Label the bag with the plant name and date. Continue to cut and save this way until you are ready to separate seed from fruit.

with nasturtiums, the flowers drop off and the seed will grow and become prominent months later

Some flowers, such as nasturtiums and four o’clocks, have a single flower that blooms and drops revealing a seemingly empty calyx. Soon though a seed will grow and become more prominent, making it easy to separate and save.

Beans and peas are fleshy so you can cut when the pod has become leathery or yellow and not completely dry. Let it continue to dry off the vine on a cookie sheet until the seeds rattle in the pods. For peppers, it is important to let the fruit ripen to the last color stage (many progress from green to red). For the cool season lovers such as greens (lettuce) and brassica family members such as kale, mustard, pak choi, cabbage, and broccoli, let the plant bolt (flower). Then cut and put in a bag.

Many seeds are also beautiful such as these Tiger beans

In the winter, when I can’t go outside and garden, I gather all my bags and sit down at the dining room table. I put the seed heads on a white dinner plate or a cookie sheet to make it easier to see the seeds and prevent them from rolling off the table. By this time, the seeds and husks are completely dry and I simply pull apart the seed from the husk on the plate. If it is easy to remove, like marigolds, I put the seeds in a glass jar. If it is a fine seed with a lot of husks, like pak choi, I thrash it around in a large paper bag so that the seed falls to the bottom. I pull out and throw away the stems and pods and dump out the seeds on a cookie sheet. I separate further on the plate or I use a sieve. If the seed has a lot of chaff, I continue to separate seed by screening with a sieve. Eventually I work my way down from large grocery bags to small jars.

Wet Method of Saving Seeds

For this method the fruit has to be very ripe. For pumpkins, squash, and melon, simply remove the seeds and rinse the stringy fruit parts off with water, straining with a colander. For eggplant, cut into cubes and cover with water for a day, stirring once. Squish the seeds out and clean off with water in a colander. If there are remaining seeds, repeat the process the next day to get the rest out. Put clean seeds on a cookie sheet and let dry.

Pumpkin seeds can be saved or eaten

For cucumbers, scoop seeds out and put in a jar. Add water and stir every day for 2 days. Strain to remove seeds and let dry on a cookie sheet.

For tomatoes, squeeze or cut up the flesh and put into a jar. Add enough water to be able to stir the mixture and to create volume for the pulp to separate from the seeds. I keep my jars in the kitchen out of direct light and stir daily for a few days. The tomatoes will ferment and will look gross but this process separates the seeds.

After a few days, the heavy seeds will sink to the bottom and the lighter seeds and pulp will float to the top. Skim off and throw away the top layer. Keep the heavy seeds, they are the ones that are viable. Keep adding water, swishing until the good drops down and the bad surfaces, and skim again. Keep doing this until the water is clear with good seeds at the bottom. Pour the mixture into a sieve and put the seeds on a plate or cookie sheet in a dry area, out of direct light. Every few hours, stir around until dry. You want them to dry quickly at this point in time because the moisture left on them may induce them to germinate. Once they seem dry, let them sit for several weeks until completely dry and then store in a glass jar.

Open Pollinated versus Heirloom Plants

When saving seeds, it is important to know if your plant is open-pollinated or a hybrid. If they are open pollinated, then the next generation will be the same. You will get the same plant with the same characteristics such as flower color or flavor. Heirlooms are open pollinated so you can save seeds of heirloom tomatoes and grow the same tomatoes each year.

If the plant is a hybrid, it was produced by crossing two genetically distinct parents. The hybrid was bred to have desirable characteristics such as disease resistance or better flavor. In seed catalogs, hybrids are often referred to as “F1”s – filial 1 hybrid. If you save the seed of this plant, the next generation may not retain the same desirable characteristics. You will get the same type of plant, but the plant may not be as tasty or not be resistant to a disease.

Try these simple methods to save seed for your own home garden or to give as gifts. Consider saving seeds for seed swaps with friends or local seed swap events.

Seed Swaps: Share Your Seeds and Try New Varieties

It’s that time of year again — seed swaps! National Seed Swap Day is this Saturday, January 27, the last Saturday in January. Seed swaps are a great way to obtain new seeds, share your favorite seeds, and attend a fun event. A seed swap can be as simple as friends getting together to share seeds they saved from the previous gardening season to an all-day planned event with speakers, door prizes, and refreshments. Seed swaps can be a vehicle to teach others how to save seed, the importance of seed diversity, heirloom seeds, and other aspects of gardening. Some organizations exchange more than seeds, tables may be set up to collect used gardening books, magazines, tools, pots, and nursery catalogs. Some may expand their definition of seeds to allow bulbs, rhizomes, and cuttings. Others include related activities such as learning to make handmade seed envelopes.

seeds of blackberry lilies are easy to pick and save

Each swap is different but usually organizers have established guidelines. They may prescribe the preferred container, the number of seed in each bag, and the information required on the label. Organizers should clarify if commercial seed packages or hybrid seeds are accepted. Although no one want seeds from invasive plants, the organizers should clarify the definition of an invasive plant in that geographic area.

If you are interested in attending a seed swap, ask your local county extension agent or Master Gardeners if they know of seed swaps in your area. Check out my monthly list of local gardening events for seed swaps in the Washington DC metro area (three are listed below for this Saturday). Kathy Jentz, owner of the Washington Gardener Magazine, which hosts two events annually, keeps a running list of seed swaps across the country.

tiger beans are not only easy to save but beautiful

If you are interested in starting a seed swap, visit a few first to see the range of activities that could take place and the number of volunteers it would require. Read Seedswap: The Gardener’s Guide to Saving and Swapping Seeds by Josie Jeffery and download the Seed Savers Exchange’s 8-page handout on how to organize a seed swap. Talk with other organizers to learn how to determine guidelines for accepting seed, the process to avoid a mad stampede to the seed table, and possible fun activities or speakers. Determine if you want a simple seed swap or a community event with speakers and an agenda. Now is the time to attend the seed swaps this year in order to plan your swap for next year.

The Washington Gardener Seed Exchange occurs every January-February with speakers and door prizes at Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD, and Green Spring Gardens, Alexandria, VA. This year, the Brookside Garden event will be on Saturday, January 27 and the Green Spring Garden event will be on Saturday, February 10. These are from 12:30 to 4:00 pm. There is a fee and registration is done via brownpapertickets.com. 

The Northern Shenandoah Valley Master Gardeners will host a seed exchange with vendors and book/magazine swap at the Blandy Experimental Farm Library, Blandy Farm, Boyce, VA;  January 27, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, free.

The Central Rappahannock Extension Master Gardeners will host a seed swap, with speakers, door prizes, and refreshments at Central Rappahannock Regional Library, 1201 Caroline Street (theater), Fredericksburg, VA, on Saturday January 27, 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, free.

Peg’s Picks: February Gardening Events in Washington DC Area

rosemarySo many gardening events in February, this list is too long!

2/6, Saturday, Washington Gardener Magazine Seed Exchange 12:30-4 pm. Washington Gardener Magazine is co-hosting the Seed Exchange at Green Spring Gardens with lectures, face-to-face seed swap and more. $15 for verified Friends of Green Spring members (FROGS) and WG subscribers; $20 for other guests. Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 101 3301 for FROGS and WG subscribers and code 290 101 3302 for all other guests or call 703-642-5173.

2/6, Saturday, Sustainable Vegetable Gardening Series, presented by the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Prince William County. Chinn Library, 13065 Chinn Park Drive, Woodbridge, VA 22192. 2/6, 2/13, and 3/5, 10:30 am to 1:00 pm. Classes are free but limited to 60 people; register in advance, e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org or call (703) 792-7747. Taught by Master Gardener Cook’s Garden Team. http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/ENR-Program-Information.aspx.

2/6, Saturday, Lecture: Ignite Your Garden with Spring Wildflowers, by Rick Lewandowski, Director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, 10:30 am to noon. Free but must register. In Conservatory Classroom at U.S. Botanic Garden, 245 First Street SW, Washington DC 20024; (202) 225-8333. http://www.usbg.gov

2/6, Saturday, Lecture: The Allure of Native Shrubs and Trees for the Garden, by Rick Lewandowski, Director of Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm. Free but must register. In Conservatory Classroom at U.S. Botanic Garden, 245 First Street SW, Washington DC 20024; (202) 225-8333. http://www.usbg.gov

2/7, Sunday, Lecture: Natives in Containers, 1:30-2:30 pm. Plantswoman Julie Borneman shows you how to beautify and increase the wildlife value of any space by container gardening with native plants. $10/person for advance registration ($12 for out-of-county registrants) or $12 at the door.  Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Rd, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 182 1901 or call 703-642-5173.

2/9, Tuesday, Vegetable Gardening: Planning and Seeding 7:00 to 8:30 pm, Senior Lounge, Walter Reed Recreation Center, 2909 16th Street South, Arlington 22204. Free, register in advance. Taught by VCE Master Gardeners. Same topic presented on 2/16 and 2/20. (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com. http://www.mgnv.org

2/11, Thursday, Cooking Demonstration with Ancient (Heirloom) Beans by Adrienne and Danielle Cook, 12:00 to 12:45 and repeated at 12:45 to 1:30 pm. Free, no pre-registration required. Same presentation/times on Wednesday 2/17. Conservatory Garden Court at the U.S. Botanic Garden, 245 First Street SW, Washington DC 20024; (202) 225-8333. http://www.usbg.gov

2/12, Friday, Garden Talks with Master Gardeners: Herb Gardening, 1:30-2:30 pm, Master Gardeners give advice on choosing the best herbs and how to make them flourish in your garden or container. $10/person. Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 182 2701 or call 703-642-5173.

2/13, Saturday, Starting From Scratch with Seeds, 9:30-11 am. Green Spring propagator and horticulturist Judy Zatsick will discuss potting mixes, containers, seed treatments, lighting, fertilization, watering, seed sources and timing. Take home a few seeds to start your own collection. $22/person. Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 187 4201 or call 703-642-5173.

2/13, Saturday, Basic Landscape Design, 10 to 11:00 am. Free; must pre-register, e-mail Misty Kuceris at misty@burkenursery.com or call (703) 323-1188, Burke Nursery and Garden Centre, 9401 Burke Road, Burke VA 22015. http://www.burkenursery.org

2/16, Tuesday, 7:00 to 9:30 pm Seed Starting for the Vegetable Garden by Gordon Clark, owner of Montgomery Victory Gardens. Fee and must register for class #8022, at Visitor Center Adult Classroom, Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902. http://www.brooksidegardens.org.

2/16, Tuesday, Vegetable Gardening: Planning and Seeding 7:00 to 8:30 pm, Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library, 717 Queen Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. Taught by VCE Master Gardeners. Same topic presented on 2/9 and 2/20. Free; register in advance, call (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com. http://www.mgnv.org

2/17, Wednesday, Cooking Demonstration with Ancient (Heirloom) Beans, free, no pre-registration required, Conservatory Garden Court, 12:00 to 12:45 and repeated at 12:45 to 1:30 (same presentation/times on Thursday 2/11). U.S. Botanic Garden, 245 First Street SW, Washington DC 20024; (202) 225-8333. http://www.usbg.gov

2/18, Thursday, Spring Ahead with Cool Season Flowers presented by Lisa Ziegler. A Horticultural Magazine webinar at 2:00 pm ET. Free; register at http://hortmag.com

2/19, Friday, Everything You Wanted to Know About Pruning (But Were Afraid to Ask!) by Jim Deramus, Brookside Gardens staff. 1:00 to 2:30 pm. Fee; must register for class #8023. Visitor Center Adult Classroom, Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902. http://www.brooksidegardens.org

2/20, Saturday, The Basics of Gardening: A Series of Classes for the Serious Gardener presented by the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Prince William County. 2/20, 2/27, and 3/12, 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. Powell’s Creek, McCoart Administration Building, 1 County Complex Court, Woodbridge, VA 22193; $5/class or $10 for series of three classes, includes light refreshments and materials. Register in advance, e-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org or call (703) 792-7747. Taught by Master Gardeners. http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/ENR-Program-Information.aspx

2/20, Saturday, Eco-Savvy Symposium: Water-Wise Gardening, 9 am-4 pm. Learn practical, water-wise gardening techniques and creative solutions to conserve, capture, contain and sustain this precious natural resource. Fee and must register. Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 188 5501 or call 703-642-5173.

2/20, Saturday, Pruning Class, 1:30 to 3:30, taught by Rachel Habig-Meyers. Hosted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Prince William County. In the Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery, 9424 Linton Hall Road, Bristow, VA. Classroom and hands on, dress for weather, free; register in advance, space is limited. E-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org or call (703) 792-7747. http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/ENR-Program-Information.aspx

2/20, Saturday, Vegetable Gardening: Planning and Seeding 10:30 am to noon, Ellen Coolidge Burke Branch Library, 4701 Seminary Road, Alexandria, VA 22304. Taught by VCE Master Gardeners. Same topic presented on 2/9 and 2/16. Free; must register in advance. (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com. http://www.mgnv.org

2/20, Saturday, Designing a Sustainable, Manageable Yard, 9:00 am to 12:30 pm, Fairlington Community Center, 3308 S. Stafford Street, Arlington VA 22206.  Taught by VCE Master Gardeners. Free; must register in advance. (703) 228-6414 or e-mail mgarlalex@gmail.com. http://www.mgnv.org

2/20, Saturday, 2016 Spring Gardening Conference: “Exploding the Myths: Fascinating Facts to Help You Avoid Common Gardening Mythstakes! 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. University of Maryland Extension Montgomery County Office, 18410 Muncaster Road, Derwood, MD 20855. Presented by the Montgomery County Master Gardeners. For more information, contact Terri Valenti at mc.growit@gmail.com. Fee and must register at http://mcmgconference.eventbrite.com. Snow date is February 27. https://extension.umd.edu/growit/montgomery-county-vegetable-gardening-classes-and-events

2/20 & 2/21, Saturday and Sunday, Plants to Support Wildlife, Behnke Nurseries, 2:00 pm, free and must register. Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD (301) 937-1100. http://www.behnkes.com

2/21, Sunday, Lecture: Mt. Cuba Plant Trials, 1:30-2:30 pm. Hear about Mt. Cuba Center’s ongoing trials of native plants and their related cultivars from the center’s education and research director, Eileen Boyle.  Learn about the center’s partnership with Dr. Doug Tallamy to test the ecological value of the trial plants. $10/person for advance registration ($12 for out-of-county registrants) or $12 at the door.  Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 182 1801 or call 703-642-5173.

2/21, Sunday, Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes, presented by Thomas Rainer, co-author of book, “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes,” 2-4 pm. Books will be available for sale and book signing will occur after the presentation. Manassas Park Community Center, 99 Adams Street, Manassas, VA 20111; free; must register in advance, hosted by the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Prince William County. E-mail master_gardener@pwcgov.org or call (703) 792-7747. http://www.pwcgov.org/government/dept/vce/Pages/ENR-Program-Information.aspx

2/25, Thursday, Gorgeous Superhero Flowering Shrubs and Groundcovers for Right-Size Flower Gardens, by Kerry Ann Mendez, 2:00 pm EST. A Horticulture Magazine webinar, free, register at http://hortmag.com

2/26, Friday, Garden Talks with Master Gardeners: Small Space Veggie Gardening, 1:30-2:30 pm. Master Gardeners will demonstrate how to grow vegetables in limited space. $10/person. Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 184 5401 or call 703-642-5173.

2/27, Saturday, Don’t Waste Space: Small Scale Vegetable Garden for Everyone, Behnke Nurseries, 2:00 pm, free and must register. Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD (301) 937-1100. http://www.behnkes.com

2/27, Saturday, Beginning Beekeeping, 11 am-12:30 pm. Discover what it takes to begin beekeeping from Mount Vernon’s beekeeper, John Ferree. Class takes place indoors as well as outdoors at Green Spring’s beehives. $12/person. Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 102 2601 or call 703-642-5173.

2/27, Saturday, RootingDC, 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, free all day gardening forum (but a $10 donation is suggested). Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Hosted by DC Greens. Can register in advance or walk in.  http://www.rootingdc.org

2/27, Saturday, “Perennially Inspired,” a day-long seminar with five horticultural experts, 8:45 am to 4:00 pm. Hosted by the Perennial Plant Association and the Horticultural Society of Maryland. Sheppard Pratt Conference Center, 6501 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21204. Fee; must register online or mail at http://www.mdhorticulture.org

2/27 & 2/28, Saturday and Sunday, The Basics of Creating Compost and Using Fertilizer to Improve Your Garden, Behnke Nurseries, 11:00 am, free and must register. Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD (301) 937-1100. http://www.behnkes.com

2/28, Sunday, Choosing the Right Gardens Tools and How to Keep Them for Life, Behnke Nurseries, 2:00 pm, free and must register. Behnke Nurseries, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, MD (301) 937-1100. http://www.behnkes.com

2/28, Sunday, Lecture: Garden Design from Nature, 1:30-2:30 pm. Thomas Rainer and Claudia West, leaders in ecological landscape design, reveal how plants fit together in nature and how you can use this knowledge to create a home landscape that is resilient, beautiful, and diverse. Book signing follows lecture. $10/person for advance registration ($12 for out-of-county registrants) or $12 at the door.  Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312.  Register online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring using code 290 182 2201 or call 703-642-5173.

Two series of three beekeeping classes hosted by Greenstreet Gardens and presented by Azure B LLC. First series is at the Greenstreet Gardens Lothian store, 391 West Bay Front Road, Lothian, MD, on Saturday 2/6 and 2/13. 10:30 to 1:30.  Third class is at the apiary on Saturday March 26 10 to 1:00 pm at Azure B LLC in Marbury, MD (the apiary).  $80 for all three classes; register with Greenstreet Gardens. Second series is at the Greenstreet Garden store at 1721 Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA, on Sunday, 2/21, and 2/28, 1:00 to 4:00 pm. Third class is at Azure B LLC in Marbury, MD (the apiary) on March 26, 10:00 am to 1:00 pm. http://www.greenstreetgardens.com

Merrifield Garden Center has Saturday seminars at their three locations, all starting at 10:00 am. The three classes that were scheduled for January 23 were rescheduled for Saturday February 6 at 2:00 pm (Delicious Landscapes at Merrifield location; Winter Vignettes at Fair Oaks; and Indoor Gardening at Gainesville). Free, no need to register in advance. http://www.merrifieldgardencenter.com

2/6: Designing a Garden for Children, Merrifield (M), 8132 Lee Highway, Merrifield VA 22116; Low Maintenance Gardening, Fair Oaks (FO), 12101 Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA 22030; Seed Starting, Gainesville (G), 6895 Wellington Road, Gainesville, VA 20156

2/13: Great Plant Combinations, M; Just for Kids, FO; Landscape Renovations, G

2/20: Using Stone in the Landscape, M; Boxwood and Flowering Shrubs, FO; Gardening for the Birds, G

2/27: Prune Like a Pro Part 1, M; Gardening with Native Plants, FO; Creating Real Curb Appeal, G