By Dennis Domrzalski
SEPTEMBER 13, 1999: As a hopelessly naive kid and even as a delusional young adult, I used to daydream about hacking a small farm out of the woods somewhere, preferably by a stream, building a log cabin and living off the land. I wanted solar panels, or at least water-powered generators, so I could disconnect from the grid and the evil, monopoly power companies. I wanted to raise my own cows and pigs and chickens and grow my own food and bake my own bread and distill my own whiskey and hack down trees to burn in a fireplace or woodburning stove. Basically, I wanted to live in a state of total self-reliance.
Fortunately or unfortunately, that never happened. I'm tied to a paycheck, now own stock in many of the monopoly power companies and have become a friend and enthusiastic advocate of sulfur dioxide -- just kidding.
But the dreams of youth die hard, and even though I'll never be totally self-reliant, I can be a little self-reliant and satisfy myself that I'm not an absolute prisoner of the system.
You can, too. And you can do it like I do, by saving seeds from your garden and vegetable plants.
In terms of money, the savings won't be great -- maybe 20 or 30 bucks for a backyard garden. But in saving seeds you will be linking yourself to those grunting creatures who roamed this planet tens of thousands of years ago, and engaging in the most basic ritual for survival.
And you will also be having fun and helping preserve species of vegetables that the money-grubbing seed companies want to get rid of.
To save seeds, all you need to do is dig them out of the mature, ripened fruits, dry them and store them in a cool dark place. With most varieties you only need a fruit or two to give you more than enough seeds for next year. Here's how to save some types of seeds:
· Tomatoes: Wait until the damn things are real ripe and red and then squish the seeds out into a glass of water and let them sit for two or three days. The gunk will ferment and help free the seeds from the gelatinous mess that surrounds them. Discard the seeds that float to the top, and after three days drain the mess, rinse the seeds off, put them on a paper towel and let them dry for a few days.
· Peppers: These are among the easiest seeds to save. Wait until the pepper turns a deep red and then crack it open and with your fingers gently pry the seeds from the soft membrane. Let them dry for a few days on a paper towel or sheet of newspaper.
· Eggplant: It's tough to tell when eggplants are ripe because they don't turn colors. They just stay black and deep purple. But they do lose their gloss when they're ripe, and that's when you should pick them. Dig the seeds out of the soft flesh and dry them. They look like tomato seeds. One eggplant will give you dozens, even hundreds of seeds.
· Beans: These are incredibly easy to save. Sometime around mid-September, just stop picking the plants. The green seedpods will grow, mature and dry out and turn brown. In late October, pick the dry-shriveled seedpods from the plants, break them open and immediately store the seeds. There will be no need to dry them because they will already be dried.
· Summer Squash and Cucumbers: Let the fruits get as large and as soft as possible -- regular cukes will turn yellow when ripe -- and then cut them open, scoop out the seeds and let them dry.
· Winter Squash: These are probably the easiest seeds to save. Let the fruits stay on the plant until the plant dies in the fall. That will ensure that the squash is mature. Cut the squash open lengthwise, scoop out the seeds like you would pumpkin seeds and let them dry. One winter squash will produce plenty of seeds.
· Herbs: Things like dill, fennel and caraway have large seeds that are easy to save. The flower heads of these large plants will produce brown seeds right on the plant. When they start falling off to the touch, it is time to shake the flowerhead into a paper bag to collect the seeds. Let them dry for a few days and store.
· Corn: This is another easy one. Just let an ear or two dry on the plant and then pick it off in the late fall or early winter.
· Carrots, Parsnips and Turnips: These plants have a two-year cycle, meaning they produce seeds in the second year of growth. So if you've pulled them all up already, you won't have any for seeds.
Make sure the seeds are dry before storing. I store mine in regular envelopes and put them in the refrigerator.
If you are growing different varieties of veggies, especially tomatoes and peppers, make sure to save seeds from each of the varieties. The gardening books caution against saving the seeds of hybrid varieties. Since hybrids are a cross of varieties, you will supposedly not get the hybrid variety, but one of the two originals that made the hybrid.
That's fine for the experts, but I don't care. I've saved hybrid seeds before and haven't seemed to suffer any. So save 'em.
· Mistakes and Planning for Next Year. If you haven't screwed up something in the garden this year, you're a liar. Something has been placed where it didn't get enough sun or it got too much sun or it was too close together or something. Those mental notes you've made to yourself everytime you've gone out into the garden, things like "Next year I'll put these here," or "These didn't do so well here," should be written down on paper. Document what worked and what didn't work and start planning next year's garden. Have fun.
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