Home gardens will soon be overflowing with fresh produce. We’ll all be enjoying vine-ripened tomatoes, cucumbers and melons just to name a few. Plant derived foods make up about 80 percent of our diet, but it’s all too easy to overlook the most important harvest of all – seeds.

Seeds are the source of all of our food diversity. During the 1940s, big seed companies began buying smaller regional companies and shifted their focus to producing seeds that could be grown anywhere in the country. Hybrid crops were developed to produce higher yields with uniform size and shape to facilitate commercial shipping and storage. This emphasis on volume and efficiency spelled the end of smaller, regional crop varieties. Research conducted by National Geographic discovered that in 1903, there were 408 varieties of tomatoes available from commercial seed growers. By 1983, there were only 79 heirloom tomato varieties left, a loss of nearly 80 percent. More than 90 percent of American crop diversity has been lost since 1900, with more than 75 percent of that since World War II. With the exception of beans, you’ll seldom find more than one food type in most well-stocked grocery stores. Saving seeds is the only way to ensure that diverse foods will be around for future generations. The diversity of future foods depends on small farmers and gardeners. You can save seeds from vegetables, flowers, herbs and trees. The more people who become involved with saving seeds, the more choices we’ll have.

Prior to WW II, most gardeners saved their seeds from one year to the next. Nowadays, most people purchase seeds each year from commercial seed companies. Harvesting and saving seed has become a lost skill, but it’s really very easy. Not all seeds are suitable for saving. Only save heirloom varieties. Hybrid seeds are unpredictable and may produce plants that bear no resemblance to their parents. Open pollinated plants are the best choice for saving seed. These plants reproduce via self- or cross-pollination. Self-pollinators include tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. They contain both male and female parts. Seeds saved from self-pollinators will almost always be identical to the parent plant.

Most garden vegetables are cross-pollinated. These plants are pollinated by insects or the wind. They include cucumbers, broccoli and squash. Don’t plant similar varieties too close together or you’ll end up with contaminated seeds. Cross-contamination won’t affect this year’s fruit, only the seeds from that fruit. The most notable exception is corn. Cross-pollinated corn will cause the current ears to change and they will be different from either parent.      

First, clean and dry the seeds. Make sure to remove any residual flesh. Tomato seeds need a little extra work. Slice in half and squeeze the pulp and juice into a jar. Add a little distilled water and stir. After a day or two, a cloudy, white mold may form on the surface. That’s OK. It’ part of the fermentation process. Add more distilled water. The non-viable seeds and debris will float. The viable seeds will sink. Skim the debris and thoroughly rinse the seeds. Spread on parchment paper and allow to dry completely. Store somewhere cool and dark in an airtight container. Seeds will be good for several years. Don’t forget to label your seeds with the exact variety and date of harvest. Write down as much as you know about the variety. Over time, each generation will become better adapted to your particular garden. 

Saving seeds connects us to the future.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com