If youre looking for a fun late-season garden project, now that another typically atypical Kansas City summer is almost in the books, consider saving seeds from your garden.
By CINDY HOEDEL
The Kansas City Star
I am into seed saving not to save money (although it does), but to preserve beauty, fragrance and flavor. Truth be told, I also like the kindergarten aspect of sorting things into containers and marking them with Sharpies.
Growing flowers and vegetables from this years supply can be simple or complex, depending on the plant. I tend to seek out a high degree of difficulty in new endeavors and then strategically back up to what is easiest and, therefore, most sustainable. For the purposes of this column, we will move in the opposite direction, from childs play to amateur science hour.
The absolute easiest way to generate new, free plants is to focus on plants that do the work themselves. These are the so-called self-sowing annuals and biennials. Hollyhocks, portulaca (rose moss) and morning glories are popular examples. If you have some in your yard and do absolutely nothing, chances are they will reappear in the same spot the following year.
Spreading them around to other areas of your yard or garden that have similar light conditions doesnt even require saving the seeds over winter. Just wait until seed pods appear on the plant, pop them off, crush them between your fingers and scatter them right on top of the soil. Watering them might increase the size of the new colony, but even if you dont, some will emerge in spring.
Matts Wild Cherry tomato plants from Johnnys Seeds volunteer with the same wild abandon. The marble-sized fruits are smaller than supermarket cherry tomatoes, but super-sweet and foolproof. Matts Wild Cherry is the only tomato I know of that can start itself from seed outdoors in our area and still ripen by late June or early July.
The next easiest category of plants for saving are seeds that can be harvested dry, stored over winter and replanted directly in the ground in spring, rather than having to be started indoors. Zinnias, marigolds, moonflower vine and pole beans are super-easy to reproduce this way.
If you want to try an advanced project, saving so-called wet seeds is for you. Tomatoes, cucumbers and cantaloupes are three popular veggies whose seeds can be saved if you are willing to horse around with them for a few days. Basically, you squeeze out the seeds and the ooze that surrounds them and let it ferment, then rinse them out with clean water and dry them.
The most important thing to know before you try to save any seeds is whether the flower or vegetable is a hybrid. This is easy to find out by looking up the name of the plant on the Internet. If your favorite cantaloupe or hollyhock has hybrid or F1 in its name, they wont come back as the same plant.
You want to find plants that have heirloom or open-pollinated in the name. Brandywine tomatoes, Hales Best cantaloupes, Marketmore cucumbers, Grandpa Otts morning glories and lots of zinnias, including Envy and Benarys Giant, are popular and widely sold heirlooms.
If none of your existing plants are heirlooms, ask friends, neighbors and work colleagues if they have any seeds they would share, or order a starter collection this winter and save them yourself after that.
The next most important thing, after making sure the seeds you save will come back true, is doing some homework on technique. Its not hard, but you can screw it up if you dont collect or store the seeds properly.
Because no YouTube video or online fact sheet can convey 227 pages of information, I like real books, and my favorite on seed saving is Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. It goes into great detail for scores of different plants and has whole sections devoted to storage containers, refrigerated and frozen storage, and instructions for planting.
Once you learn when and how to collect seeds, labeling and organizing them can become a fun project for rainy days in October and November. I use empty plastic vitamin and pill bottles labeled with a Sharpie, but overachievers and Pinterest fans have been known to take digital photos of the flowers and print them out to make their own labels.
However you store them, come next summer, when your Torch tithonia (Mexican sunflower) is covered with monarch butterflies, your moonflower vine is perfuming the evening air and the velvety musk of your heirloom cantaloupe lingers on your tongue your eyes, nose and palate will thank you.