Saving Seeds, Planting Now: Weekend Talks

How do you save seed from a favorite tomato? Will bean seeds dry fully in the yard? How do you keep birds from gobbling all your flower seeds?

Black Spanish Radish

Black Spanish radishes and their edible pods.

Those practical issues, along with a bit of science and philosophy behind saving seeds, will be the topic of my talk this Saturday at City People’s Garden Store in south-central Seattle.

“Saving Seeds of Your Favorite Edibles” is the sixth of seven classes in our Edible Year series. It’s 10-11 a.m. Please pre-register with the nursery.

On Sunday I’ll head the other direction, both literally and figuratively. Going north to Swansons Nursery, I’ll give a slide show and presentation on what to grow now.

In “Edibles for Fall and Winter” I’ll detail what crops you can get started now from seed, what to look for in the nursery, and when to plant them for fall and winter harvests. We’ll also discuss “overwintering” crops that you start now and plan to eat next spring. That talk, also free, begins at 11 a.m.

Contest alert: $1,000 Available


Do you work with a community garden that could use some new supplies, or has big plans for next spring but could use plants? Then you should apply for the City People’s Garden Store Urban Garden Contest! The chosen entry will get a $1,000 gift card that can be used at the nursery over the next year. Deadline is Aug. 31, so there’s still time to apply.



Sharing & Saving Seeds

I’ve been puzzling over a Doodle poll with friends to get our annual seed swap and seed-ordering party scheduled. I think we finally have it, but it’s tough to bring a bunch of gardeners together, even in January.

This gathering is important to me, though. Not only do I get to see a bunch of friends and share some food and drink (some people will bring fresh or preserved garden bounty), but it’s an opportunity to find out what worked in friends’ gardens last year, and to collectively discuss what we’re going to try this year, and order as a group.

Seed Swap

And, perhaps most importantly, we get to share any seeds that we’ve saved from last year’s plants.

Many benefits

Seed saving and sharing helps me “close the loop” on my gardening a little bit.

I like to buy seeds and starts from catalogs and nurseries, but I feel better when I’m also growing some plants from seeds that came out of my own soil, or that of my friends.

In some cases, preserving seeds from your best plants will create a truly local variety, one that will respond better to our climate. Over the years, you may get bigger yields, earlier ripening, or other benefits.

Germ testing

This week I’ve been “germination testing” saved seeds from a couple of my winter squash, and I’ll offer them up to my friends. The seeds are sprouting well — 8 out of 10 in my test, which is good enough. If you want to test your seeds, here’s what you do:

  • Count out a bunch and lay them on a paper plate, then cover them with a paper towel.
  • Wet the towel and slip the plate into a plastic bag. Don’t close the bag tightly; the sprouts need air.
  • Put the bag in a consistently warm place (top of the fridge works well).
  • Monitor it for 7-10 days, adding a sprinkling of water if necessary to keep the paper evenly moist
  • Count how many seeds have sprouted.
  • Keep the test going for about 3 weeks, because some seeds germinate slowly.

Seed Sprouting

Under 50 percent germination rate means it’s time to toss out the seeds. Commercial seed comes in at 70-80 percent. Fresh seed sprouts more robustly; old seed sprouts weakly or not at all.

But before you have seed to share, you must learn how to save seeds from your vegetables. You’re in luck!

National Seed Swap Day

This Saturday, January 25, is National Seed Swap Day, and

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we’re celebrating here with a seed saving workshop, followed by a swap. It’s being hosted by the new King County Seed Library, a year-old effort hosted by the Seattle Farm Co-op. The workshop will be taught by the KCSL director Caitlin Moore.

The event starts with the workshop at 1:30 p.m. It will be held at the Good Shepherd Center, Room 202, at 4649 Sunnyside Avenue North in Seattle. It is free and open to the public, and you don’t have to bring your own seeds to participate. Children are welcome to play at the onsite Garden Art Corner.

See also

Saving Rainbow Chard Seeds

A Library That Lends Seeds

Seed Catalog Series:


Saving Rainbow Chard Seeds

Saving seeds can be as easy as beating a bag with a stick.

Seed Saving 5

Next I put some stems into a burlap bag and tried beating the bag with a piece of bamboo.

Well, almost.

That’s one of the methods I used to save a huge quantity of Rainbow Chard seeds (you need a lot to get the rainbow mix in future plantings!).

Last month, one of my Urban Farm Handbook challenges was to save seeds. Since the chard was ready, I decided to snap some pictures and do a little test on different methods.

Seed Saving 6

The result of the burlap method: more seeds, but still some stems.

Here’s what I found:

  • I tested two winnowing (releasing seeds from their stems) methods using a large Kraft paper bag and a burlap bag. Burlap wins hands down.

    Seed Saving 1

    I cut down the chard stalks when dry, then decided to try two methods to winnow them, using a big Kraft paper bag or a burlap bag.

  • To remove the rest of the small stems, I tested doing it by hand and with a screen. The screen worked much better.
Seed Saving 8

The final step to remove the rest of the stems came when i got out my screen, a pieced of quarter-inch hardware cloth stretched across a wood frame.

Now that the seeds are free of their stems, I will spread them out on a large tray for a couple more weeks to continue drying. They had gotten pretty dry on the stems when I pulled up the plants. Then I let them continue to dry on the stems until they were a light brown. But I want them to harden a bit more before I put them in jars to store for the winter.



Inspiration, Seed Swaps Focus of Upcoming Events

The season starts early for a cool-season gardener. Not just the planting season, but the speaking-at-events season too. I’ll be at nurseries, garden shows and seed swaps in the next month, evangelizing about getting your edible garden underway.

Seed swaps first

This Saturday I’ll be hosting the Great Seattle Seed Swap up on Phinney Ridge. This first one happens on National Seed Swap Day, and is the first of four area swaps — three in Seattle and one in the Snoqualmie Valley.

Brussels sprouts in pots

I’ll also be at the Snoqualmie Valley swap on Feb. 6. At both, I’ll be giving a short talk as well as staffing a table for Q&A and seed research.

The King County Seed Lending Library has received a wonderful donation from the Organic Seed Alliance of Port Townsend. They sent copies of their recent book, The Seed Garden, for each of our locations. What a resource! It’s comprehensive, easy to use for research and a great read. The book was co-published with Seed Savers Exchange, another essential resource.

OSA also sent a generous supply of their locally adapted Abundant Bloomsdale spinach seed and phacalia tancetifolia, which has a flower that’s a pollinator magnet.

Come to the swaps to see the book and get the seed!

Nurseries coming

Before the swap on this Saturday I’ll give my first nursery presentation of the season, up at Swansons Nursery in northwest Seattle. It will naturally be about starting seeds, but also focus on soil-building at this time of year. And I’ll throw in some ideas about where to get inspiration for this year’s garden.

I’ll do another talk at Swansons on Feb. 27 on special techniques to get the most out of your veggie plot.

In March I begin my annual four-class series at another great Seattle nursery, City People’s Garden Store. I’ll head down to Madison Valley for the first talk on March 12 about starting the early-season garden.

Portland on tap

I’m getting out of town, too, with a pair of talks at the Yard, Garden & Patio Show in Portland. Walking the human-scale display gardens at this show always energizes me to try something new in the garden.

Get a book

At all the talks and shows, I’ll have my two books, Cool Season Gardener and Edible Heirlooms, available for sale, and I will happily personalize your copy with a signature.

I’m doing a special signing at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. Find me at the University Book Store booth #211 on Friday, Feb. 19, 3-4 p.m.

Hope to see you at an upcoming event!

Cultivate Community: Share Seeds

Handling garden seeds always fertilizes my mind. The crops virtually spring up, even before they’ve been sown. And it’s almost as energizing to pass a handful of seeds to another gardener.

So this weekend I expect sprouts to come out of my ears and roots to grow from my fingertips as I help to host “Seed Swap!” It’s the second annual open trading day sponsored by the King County Seed Lending Library.KCSLLlogo

We’ll be sharing seeds and cultivating community on Saturday, Jan. 31, 1-4 p.m. at the Phinney Center in Northwest Seattle. The free event is in conjunction with National Seed Swap Day.

For me, it’s just an extension of a practice we’ve been doing for years with a group of gardening friends.

Gathered around the kitchen table, we thumb the seed catalogs, share our own seeds, and decide what to order and grow this year.

We return to our own gardens with the wisdom of our friends’ results, along with a few of their shared seeds. And when we collectively order a new variety, it comes with the feeling that we’re plowing a new furrow together, each in our own garden, but somehow with everyone’s hands on the hoe.

Go Hawks!Our event will inaugurate the newest branch of the seed library: the Phinney Neighborhood Association! The PNA has agreed to host the seed collection in its popular Tool Library. Starting in February, seeds can be “checked out” during the Tool Library’s regular hours.

Workshops will offer tips on saving and cleaning seeds. Speakers include KCSLL Co-director and Urban Food Warrior Caitlin Moore, author and educator Lisa Taylor (Your Farm in the City, Maritime Northwest Garden Guide), and me. There will be a tour of the tool and seed library, and tables with greening groups there to visit.

So this Saturday, come up to Phinney Ridge and bring your seeds and empty seed packets. If you don’t have seeds, just bring an open mind about trying something new. Someone’s sure to inspire you with a smattering of seeds.

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