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We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other. - E.H.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Saving Seeds

Last weekend, Agata and I spent a day putting the garden to bed for the winter. It was a gorgeous fall day (the first one without rain in almost a week), and we spent the day harvesting, planting garlic, saving seeds and getting the beds ready for the spring.

Agata has been saving seeds for a few years now, but like so many tasks in the garden this was my first time. It was a remarkably simple process really - by this point in the summer most of the plants had gone to seed, and in most cases, it was just a matter of snapping off the seed pods, and carefully shaking out the seeds into a bag and labeling them. If the seed pods weren't ripe yet we brought the plant home to hang dry.

(bachelor's buttons, also known as cornflower)

For tomatoes and cucumbers, the seeds need to ferment in their own juices to mature. We saved some of the tomatoes and cucumbers that were too far gone for eating (which is what you want - huge, orangey-yellow cucumbers and overripe tomatoes), separated out the guts and seeds and left them to rot in small dishes on the balcony, keeping each variety separate. After a few days, we separated out the seeds from the fermented juice and mold by rinsing them off with water.

The seeds that are good quality are heavier and fall to the bottom, and the ones that are not mature enough or bad in some way float to the top. We spread the good seeds out on some paper towel to let them dry, and then packed them away for next year. Not pretty, but effective.

Beans and peas were easier. We made sure to save some of the beans on the vine, letting them get thick and woody and dry out. Saving the seeds just involved collecting the varieties we liked, shaking out the beans at home and spreading them out to dry and cure.

(rattlesnake pole beans and cranberry pole beans)

We tried lots of different varieties of tomatoes in the garden last year, and made sure to plant each variety far enough away from the rest that they wouldn't cross pollinate, so the seeds would breed true the next year. Of course we can't know for sure if it worked, but I wouldn't mind trying some made-in-our-garden hybrids, either.

We saved seeds from the plants that had worked well in our garden this year. I like the idea of saving the same strains of plants, year to year, as well as trying out new ones. One of the things I'm really loving about community gardening is that the garden itself will stay the same, even if we move in the spring. Planting the garlic felt like a promise - after the snow, spring will come and we can do it all over again. I'm jazzed.

(some decorative cabbage. Not edible, but pretty.)

As a side note, we're still in the market for a black tomato variety we love: any suggestions?


  1. I recommend Black Pineapple tomato for eating fresh--it does not keep well. It has a smokey salty flavour that I like.
    I love your blog... made the cabbage salad tonight, and I added freshly grated ginger and dried cranberries and almonds. It was good.

  2. I just looked up the Black Pineapple tomato - looks delicious! I think I'll try some in the garden next year.. thanks for the tip!

    Also, I absolutely need to try the cabbage salad with ginger, cranberries and almonds - maybe for dinner tonight! Thanks.