In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
October, 2012
Regional Report

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Only two Mexican sunflowers are still in bloom, with seed pods taking center stage in my garden in autumn, including those of limas, yardlong, and yellow beans.

Clip and Save Seeds!

Autumn is a complicated season. The crisp air and the bright sun are invigorating. Yet the shorter days and the last of the garden's harvest signal an end to the growing season.

While the tomatoes and summer squash plants are dying, crackling seed pods and prickly seed heads remind us of next spring's planting. Picking the final yellow, filets, and asparagus beans, I was happy I'd remembered to let some to ripen one the vine to provide seeds for next year's crops. Some pods were dark and brittle. Those I clipped. The softer, beige pods needed more time for the seeds inside to fully mature and ripen.

Mexican sunflowers or tithonia never disappoint. Last week two lingering orange flowers sat among dozens of drooping brown seed heads. They raised my spirit as I clipped away. I always save the tithonia seed. I usually start these favorites under lights in the basement weeks before I see seeds on sale in the garden centers.

Seeds seem miraculous. Imagine -- they're alive! Inside each seed is an embryo surrounded by a starchy food source. Add moisture, a little warmth and the embryo sends out a root. The starchy cotyledons plump up to feed the embryo just enough to sprout its first baby leaves. The seedling grows true leaves using the energy of light in the process of photosynthesis. Two or three months later we have mesclun, crookneck squash, pole beans, Swiss chard, cantaloupe, zinnias....

Seed-Saving Basics
Seeds of open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of tomatoes, beans, peas, and peppers can be harvested this fall for sowing next spring. Tried-and-true flower seeds to harvest include calendula, allium, marigold, zinnia, poppy, cosmos, coneflower, black-eye Susan, and penstemon.

Choose seeds from the best of the best mature plants. Make labels with plant name and collection date. Dry seeds well and thoroughly before storing.

Package in airtight containers. Saving them in labeled, paper envelopes or paper bags is fine if they're put inside heavy-duty, plastic Ziploc bags or sealed glass jars. Store in a cool, dry place. A refrigerator kept between 32 to 41 degrees F imakes a good storage spot.

Some Specifics
Dry flower seed heads and pods very thoroughly untill they sound crunchy. Then break open or pull apart the dried pods or heads. Look carefully. Even more carefully separate any stem and the chaff, or outer covering, from the seeds.

For beans and peas, let the pods ripen on the plants until they're dry and brown and the seeds inside rattle. Clip the pods from the plants and spread them out to dry for least two weeks. Shell and store or leave the seeds in the pods until planting time.

Peppers are easy. Leave the best fruits on the plants until they're fully ripe and starting to wrinkle. Clip off the wrinkled peppers. Remove the seeds and spread them out to dry.

Saving tomato seeds involves several steps. Start with fully ripe fruits. Scoop out the seeds and the gel around them. Put the seeds and gel in a jar with some water. Cap the jar. Stir or swirl the mix twice a day for five days. This will ferment and the viable seeds will sink to the bottom. Pour off the liquid, rinse the seeds, and spread them out to dry very thoroughly. I like to use aluminum foil or pie pans for drying, but some gardeners prefer paper towels.

Remember! Cool, dry storage so the seeds stay safely dormant until you're ready to plant them.


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