Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Super Easy Seed Saving

In the foreground are tomatoes that self-seeded in compost.
Today's post is another departure into gardening. I did work on a doll today but it isn't done and most of my labor this time of year is in the garden. I have been growing fruits and vegetables for many years now. Besides the obvious cost savings, there is a peace of mind in knowing exactly where your food has come from and what it was fed and watered with. The Ecoli nightmare in Germany right now couldn't be a better illustration! I am feeling so terrible for the people there, particularly the parents. They must be in such a state of fear. That the very thing nourishing us, the healthiest fuel for your children, can kill them is terrifying. I was wishing today, while buying produce, that my own veggies were ready. It won't be long for the cabbages, leeks, and peppers; just a matter of a week or so. The tomatoes will come soon after. Of course we have our strawberries and blackberries ready now, as well as oregano, basil, sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, stevia, peppermint, and lemon balm. The climate here definitely favors herbs, which naturalize and grow like weeds!

These herbs are the very thing that inspired my super easy seed saving method. I should also say this is a virtually FREE gardening technique; who wouldn't welcome that?! You start by composting. You can compost unused vegetables and fruits, as well as discarded peels, etc. You can also compost junk mail (paper, not plastic), coffee filters and tea bags, coffee grounds and tea leaves, paper towels, napkins, paper or cardboard egg or other cartons, and on and on. For this method you must NOT use a fancy wheel composter that gets hot enough to kill weed seeds or a worm composter. You may use a traditional compost pile, an old trash can with holes drilled in it, or a compost bin that drops the finished compost down to be removed at the bottom. You don't want the compost getting too hot. This kind of compost will take longer, but I feel it is worth it.

Normally you would remove any seeds before composting fruits and vegetables. However, with my method you may leave any seeds you want. Say when you seed a pepper or tomato (before cooking), just place the seeds in your compost. Or when cleaning the pulp form a melon or pumpkin, put the seeds in. You could also do flower seeds, but I recommend doing that in a separate bin. Let the compost set as usual and in the mid-winter to early spring spread your compost only where you wish the plants to grow. If you wish to compost all over the yard, then keep a seed-free bin for beds without vegetables.

In spring you will find seeds growing up where you spread the compost. The main problem I have with this method is identification. It takes a while to recognize the different seedlings. Some tomatoes and peppers can be very similar, as can melons, cucumbers, and other curcurbits. However, you will get the hang of it. Once you can recognize the seedlings, just pull out any plants you don't want. When the seeds come up they may be very close together. Just thin them about 6-18 inches apart, depending on the adult plant size.

I find the seeds that sow themselves this way tend to be healthier and require less fertilizer and pesticide. I think this is because the seeds choose the optimal spot to sprout. I only use organic products, but  they are still expensive and I still don't want to spray pesticides all over the food my children eat, organic or not! I noticed my herbs seed themselves all over and often choose a better environment than I would have.

In the photo you will see tomatoes of all varieties coming up in one of my seeded compost beds. They are rather over-exposed, but you can tell they have really gotten tall pretty fast. I spread the compost out later than usual here, in late March or early April, so I would have a second harvest after my earlier plants had reached the end of their harvest. Another plant, which may be either cucumbers or melons is also sprouting there. In that spot those were the only two types to sprout out of all the compost, so I assume this was the best spot for them. Just behind the bed are some parsley, Black-Eyed Susan, and flowers of my prize August Beauty gardenia (which now blooms in May and June, I guess due to global warming). That shrub is 10 feet tall! The smell is indescribably wonderful. The parsley and Black-Eyed Susan self-seed in the wind.

I hope this "wild" technique works for you! It's free, at least after you buy or grow the original produce, and it couldn't be easier! Happy gardening!

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