Saving and sharing seeds

Come on over gardener friends! It’s time once again to start sharing seeds at the Little Free Seed Library at my house. As many of you know from all my going on about it, the top shelf of our Little Free Library morphs into a place to share seeds every spring and fall. The library is located on the boulevard on the corner of 45th Street and Washburn Ave. S. in Linden Hills. (For more information and photos, check out this blog post from a couple of years ago: everydaygardener.com/sharing-seeds)

I’ve already started putting seeds in there from my garden, but it would be great if many of you could bring some seeds, too. If you do, please bring them in envelopes or baggies labeled with the name of the plant — one type of seed per container, please. If you would like to, and have the time, the label (or a piece of paper taped to the envelope or baggie) could include helpful tips like whether the seeds should be direct sown in fall or spring or started indoors before planting.

When I started the Little Free Seed Library, I envisioned having all sorts of information inside about individual seeds and things like saving, starting and storing seeds. Three years on, I haven’t done that yet. I’m having trouble coming up with a way to make that stuff shareable without killing a zillion trees making handouts. I’m thinking about doing some laminated pages that people could look at without taking them. But if your brains are like mine, what you read probably won’t stick long.

Maybe people with smartphones could take pictures of the pages to read later? And yet, I hate to make things reliant on having a phone in your hand all the time. It’s not like I hate technology or anything, quite the opposite. But it makes me sad for the world to see so many people walking around this beautiful, amazing planet with their eyes glued to a stupid phone screen when they could be checking out a cool plant or bird, or maybe even talking with the real-live humans walking right beside them.

But I digress. Maybe laminated sheets are the way to go. If you have better ideas, I’d be grateful to hear them so please email me at my blog. If you come to get seeds and find some you’d like, there are small envelopes inside the box to put them in. You’ll also find pencils so you can label what you’re taking home. As I write this, the library so far includes these seeds: Royalty Purple Pod heirloom bush beans, Pot of Gold chard, Straight Eight heirloom cucumbers, tropical milkweed (an annual milkweed), red swamp milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, hyacinth bean, white cleome, purple cleome, gray-headed coneflower and anise hyssop. There will be much more coming soon, and I leave seeds out for sharing until early November when the whole library gets turned over to books once again. 

Saving seeds

If you’d like to start saving seeds but aren’t quite sure how, here are some basics. First, you’re going to find two types of seeds, dry and wet. As you might imagine, dry seeds are easier to harvest and process that wet seeds. Perennials often go to seed in obvious ways, but some plants such as milkweed will require you to pluck seeds from weird-looking husks or pods. Once seeds are completely dry, which can happen on the plant or after you bring them inside, separate the actual seeds from the rest of the plant debris. I like to do that in a large strainer, but go with whatever works for you.

Wet seeds are found in wet places like inside tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, squash and other fruits and vegetables. Harvest those seeds by scooping them out with your fingers or a tweezers. You’ll get a lot of pulp in the process, so put the goopy stuff in a bowl with some water and swish it around for a few minutes. The pulp and unviable seeds will float while the good seeds will sink to the bottom. Being careful not to lose the seeds you want, pour off the pulpy water and bad seeds. Continue to rinse the good seeds until they’re clean. Next, spread them out in a single layer on a flat surface like a dinner plate, baking sheet or screen. (Steer clear of paper, cloth or waxed paper because they will stick to those.) Place the seeds in a cool, dry spot for a week or so to dry.

Dried seeds will last longer if they’re stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. In addition to the seeds I put out in the Little Free Seed Library, I like to package seeds in small, individual envelopes and them put batches of them inside large mason jars that I store in the basement all winter. Let the sharing begin!

Check out Meleah’s blog www.everydaygardener.com for more gardening tips or to email her a question or comment.