Issue: October 17
Saving seeds for next year
Q. My garden did well this year and I want to save seeds from my vegetable plants. Are there special things I should do to save the seeds of beans, squash, tomatoes, and chiles? I want to be able to grow these varieties again next year because they did so well.
A. If the seeds you planted last spring were hybrid seed, you may not be able to what you want. Hybrid seeds often produce superior plants, but their seeds will not produce the same plants. Heirloom or "open pollinated" cultivars can be grown from saved seeds to produce plants and fruit like those you harvested this year, but there are potential problems with these cultivars. If there was more than one cultivar of each type of plant, they may have cross-pollinated and the resultant seeds (and next year's plants) will have been influenced by the genetic characteristics of both parents if there was cross-pollination. The good news is that beans and tomatoes are often self-pollinated and may not have cross-pollinated. The squash and chiles are more subject to this problem. Even so, you can save the seeds and you may be satisfied with the result. In the case of seeds saved from hybrid plants, you can also save the seeds, but the chance of the offspring producing the same quality fruit is greatly reduced.
Methods to save the seeds from each of these vary depending on the type of plant. Bean seeds are easy to remove from mature, dried pods. Squash seeds can be removed from the fruit before cooking and spread on paper towels to dry. Chile seeds can be treated much like the squash, just remove the seeds from the chile pods and spread them out to dry on paper towels. Tomato seeds may be treated in the same manner, but it may be better to wash the seeds in running water (in a bowl with water overflowing the bowl) to remove as much pulp as possible from the seeds. Or, you can hand wash them in the bowl, and then spread them on paper towels to dry.
Once all these seeds are dry, carefully package them in labeled (type of vegetable, variety, and year) paper envelopes. Store these envelopes in a cool, dry location. They can be stored in a jar with a desiccant in the refrigerator, or just store them in a dry, cool room. During the winter, many garages are adequate, but do not let them get wet. During the summer, the garage is usually too hot.
In the late winter or spring, you can start plants indoors to transplant outside (tomatoes and chiles) or they may be planted directly into the garden if they can mature their crop early enough (beans and squash). Seed saving can be an interesting addition to your gardening practices.
For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.
Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031
Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.