Monday, October 11, 2010

Saving Seeds

For several years, I've been growing herbs and vegetables in containers on my apartment patio. In the beginning, I purchased bags of soil ... and for several years later, continued to buy bags of soil. Then it occurred to me that I could compost ... even in a small space. So, using a large planter, the process was started. All of our veggie peels, seeds, etc. (anything which would normally be tossed or sent down the disposal) was added to the bin. The compost did it's job, without smells, and provided us with lovely, nutrient-rich soil for the next year's planting.

An interesting "by the way" happened in the lettuce bin ... other plants were growing. Were they weeds? Nope ... they were tomato and squash plants ... volunteer plants. Evidently, some of the seeds which lay dormant in the compost bin, were now ready to grow. And grow they did! They grew and produced ... sweet tomatoes and delicious squash. They were healthy and hardy ... and better than anything we've ever eaten.

The next year, the same thing happened. Volunteer plants grew and provided us with the best produce in our garden.

So I began to think about collecting seeds. It turns out that collecting seeds is easy. When we sliced an heirloom tomato, cut into a squash or trimmed the green beans, we took some of the seeds and placed them on a paper napkin (I know ... better not to use paper napkins but read on and you'll see that even they are used). Once the seeds completely dried, they were put in envelopes (a great use for those return envelopes that come in the mail with advertisements). The seeds were then stored in a dry place for the next year.

When it was time to plant, we cut small sections of the paper napkins, with the seeds stuck to them, and planted ... seeds and paper together. The paper decomposed (wonderful recycling) and the seeds grew. And then they produced ... strong, healthy vegetables.

Collecting seeds is economical (just check the price of a small packet of seeds). It's earth-friendly because those seeds, which typically get tossed out and sent to a landfill where there isn't enough oxygen to grow, will be used. There's also something fascinating about collecting seeds ... the idea that the lineage of a plant goes on and the vegetables which we eat have a history. It's like touching the best part of the past.

So ... today's tip is easy ... save some seeds for next year's garden.

As always, I would love to hear from you!

13 comments :

  1. I'm interested to hear more about your use of compost in containers. I also grow veggies in containers, but I was under the impression that I had to use potting mix to prevent the soil from becoming too compact. Did you have any problems with drainage or with the compost becoming too compact/hard? Also, did you use just compost or mix it with potting soil?
    thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Jenni - thanks for stopping by. We started out very simply with our composting. Here's a post, from 2008, which talks about how we started:

    http://reducefootprints.blogspot.com/2008/09/composting-in-small-space.html

    I had been using potting soil before composting so that's what we started with. I compost only veggie and plant matter ... no animal products ... and a fair amount of dry matter (dry leaves, cut up toilet paper rolls, etc.). Since I'm using a planter, with holes in the bottom, as my compost bin, it's possible for fluids to drain out but if that happens, it's my signal that the compost is too wet and I add more dry matter.

    About a month or two before I want to use the compost, I stop adding things to it (I start another bin). This allows everything to dry and all the organic matter to compost completely. I end up with clean compost. I then take it and mix it with the existing dirt from the previous year. I haven't purchased potting soil since I began composting. The new planting soil doesn't seem to be too compact for my plants ... in fact, they've been thriving.

    I hope that helps!

    SF

    ReplyDelete
  3. thanks for the tip! this past year was the first year i planted the majority of my garden by seed, but i was always hesitant about tomatoes. ironically i just bought san marzano seeds yesterday because they were 1/2 off at my neighborhood nursery, but maybe i'll do that with the yellow pear tomatoes that were so amazing this year...and yes i love the napkin reminder for everyone! the few times i come into contact with paper napkins they go into my compost, along with any paper wrappers (shredded) and the wrapping on sticks of butter.

    ReplyDelete
  4. EcoGrrl - We found that the trick to growing tomatoes from seed is to start them early in the house and once they pop their little heads out of the soil, give them as much sunlight as possible. We start ours a good 6 weeks before it's time to plant outside and we set them in a sunny window. As soon as the days warm to 50 degrees or more, we set them outside during the day and bring them in at night. Once the days and nights are consistently about 50 degrees, the little guys get transplanted to their permanent homes.

    Hope you'll try it out ... and let us know how it goes! :)

    SF

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have had the hardest time settling on a composting method that is user friendly enough for our hectic life. We are in Michigan so for half of the year it is FROZEN. I know taking out the compost everyday just won't happen so I am trying to figure out something. I have tried the indoor composter with not so great results. I think my last option is a worm composter in our house... do you have any other suggestions??

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Sarah! I've read some things about winter composting in real cold regions and it seems to take some extra effort that you and your family may not have time for. Vermiculture might be an option for you ... as I understand it, it can be done indoors and doesn't seem to take a huge amount of effort. Here's a post which a guest shared with us last year:

    http://reducefootprints.blogspot.com/2009/02/vermiculture.html

    You might also want to consider Bokashi Composting. From what I've read about this form of composting, once set up it's low maintenance and would also work indoors. Here's a blog about it:

    http://bokashicomposting.com/

    A little trick we use is to keep a medium-sized, covered container on the kitchen counter and toss scraps into it as we prepare meals. Then, whenever it's full (or gets funky), we take it out to the compost bin. For the two of us (and we're vegetarian), we typically take it out every week to week and a half.

    I hope that helps!

    SF

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks you for those great links! I think worms are in our future! Do you have any tips on keeping the bin on your counter from getting icky? Mine always tends to attract fruit-flies and just get kinda smelly after a few days. I am very careful not to add any meat, dairy, etc...

    ReplyDelete
  8. Cyndi, what a lot of great tips in this one post! Composting is a wonderful use of stuff you might throw out, and it's also just about the best thing you can give to your plants. No wonder you had volunteer vegetables and that they tasted so good!

    For Jenni who asked about compost becoming compacted ~ in my experience, the compost I've made has been light and fluffy and not likely to get compacted. It actually helps keep soil from getting too compacted.

    Thanks for reminding me it's time to clean out my compost bin and put it in the garden before the weather gets cold...

    As for saving seeds, I love the idea. I've only done it with flower seeds, but I will try it with some veggies!

    Maggie

    ReplyDelete
  9. The best watermelon we ever grew came from a seed one of the kids must have spit into the watermelon patch. We certainly didn't plant it. It resisted our heat and summer drought beautifully. Of course that's not always true, you really don't know what a hybrid may revert to, but with the price of seeds these days, it's worth trying! I love the idea of supporting bio-diversity, too.
    Thanks for the useful links, too.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sarah - fruit flies can be a problem, especially in warm weather. We keep the lid on our container tightly closed at all times, except, of course, to drop peelings in. I also give the outside a rinse every once in awhile to keep it free of any juices. You could also try keeping the container in the refrigerator and pulling it out when you're fixing a meal.

    Hope that helps!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi,
    I would like to thank you for the hard work you have made for this blog. I truly like this..
    I have added your blog to My Blog--- Blog Roll area
    http://auto-transports.blogspot.com/. So would
    You put my blog as well; our visitors can get virtual and useful information from your site.
    I will hope you will add my blog.
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  12. We are trying to save our own seeds too. Following you back from the green blog hop.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I love love love collecting seeds. It is my favorite gardening activity. I actually have a followup post on seed saving drafted already to post this month :) I don't have a sunny spot for a garden but I save flower seeds every year and share with friends and neighbors. My 3 year old is getting into it, too.

    ReplyDelete