Act now to bring your garden back next year

The gardening comeback of 2020 would not be complete without one final step: seed saving.

Reap one last benefit and save the seeds to bring the garden back next year. Before commercial seed companies came along, all gardens were maintained by saving and sharing seeds. Historically, saving seeds has been a connection to the local community and a way to pass along culture and traditions. These traditions of seed saving run deep in West Virginia. Perhaps your family still has a bean or tomato that has been passed on for several generations.

There are hundreds of unique, often family heirloom vegetable varieties that can’t be found in typical seed catalogs. It might not seem like much but saving seeds from locally grown plants is an act to preserve agricultural biodiversity and local crop adaptation, something savvy gardeners have been doing for generations.

Seed saving is a way to select the qualities you want in the garden. You could save seeds from the tastiest tomato, the prettiest flower or the most disease-resistant cucumber and bring them back year after year.

Those interested in growing West Virginia varieties can check out Seed Savers Exchange, an organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds, and simply search for “West Virginia” in the exchange search box to find seed savers and vegetable varieties from around the state.

Not all seeds breed “true to type.” If you plant a seed from your favorite tomato the resulting fruit may turn out completely different.

Seed packets have a wealth of information useful to the seed saver. The words hybrid, F1, open pollinated or heirloom printed on seed packets indicate whether the variety can be successfully used for seed saving. Hybrid varieties are not used for seed saving because they do not “breed true.”

Most likely, seeds saved from hybrid varieties will not look or taste like the parent. Hybrid varieties have many benefits in the garden, such as disease resistance and fruit uniformity, but If you like the characteristics of a hybrid variety it is best to buy the seeds.

If you would like to save seeds always choose open-pollinated varieties. Open-pollinated seeds will result in plants that are genetically the same as the parent. Seed packets often delineate open pollinated varieties with an OP or heirloom.

Rest assured, seeds saved from a Brandywine tomato will result in a Brandywine tomato the following year. There is one caveat: open-pollinated plants must be self-pollinated to ensure true-to-type seeds. This means open-pollinated cultivars need to be isolated away from other cultivars to ensure cross pollination does not occur.

Gardening for seed saving takes effort, planning and knowledge of pollination. To avoid cross-pollination 2 different cultivars must be physically planted away from each other. The recommended planting distance for tomatoes is anywhere from 10 to 50 feet.

Of course, physical distance is not always practical in many small gardens. Seed savers could plant only 1 variety per species (1 variety of tomato, 1 pepper, 1 bean, etc.) or use “blossom bags” or mesh craft bags to prevent pollinating insects from visiting the flowers.

Place blossom bags over the flowers just before they have opened. Once the flower is no longer viable remove the bag and mark the fruit so it can be found later.

Methods for saving seeds can be separated into 2 different categories – dry processing and wet processing.

Dry method seed saving is used to preserve seeds that dry out while on the plant, including corn, beans, flowers and peas. To collect seeds using the dry method allow the pods or seed heads to remain on the plant until the outer structure is dry. This stage will be well past the typical harvest date.

Once seeds have been harvested continue to air dry them for 1 to 2 weeks until they are completely dry and ready for storage. To complete the process, thrash the seed by breaking the pods apart with your hands and separate the seeds into an air-tight container.

The wet method is for seeds that are incapsulated in a fleshy fruit structure. These include squash, tomato, watermelon and cucumbers.

Remember to leave fruit on the vine until it is completely ripe. Open the fruit and collect seeds in a container; you can expect some fleshy debris to be mixed with the seeds.

Add enough water to completely cover the seeds and let the container rest in a warm place for 3 days. Remove the pulp and any mold that has formed at the top of the container.

Any seeds that are floating at the top of the jar are most likely not viable and should also be removed. Rinse the leftover seeds several times using a strainer to remove remaining debris. Once seeds are cleaned allow them to dry on a paper towel.

Make sure to label all collected seeds. Include the date, species, cultivar and a short description of the plant. Keep seeds dry and in a cool location.

Seeds will last longer under ideal storage conditions. If you are interested in seed saving WVU Extension host a seed exchange at the Small Farms Conference each year in February.

Seedy Recipes

Black-Eyed Pea Salsa

3 lbs. fresh, shelled black-eyed peas, cooked

2 green peppers, finely chopped

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1/8 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. ground black pepper

4 slices turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled

In a large bowl, mix together the peas, green peppers, onion, jalapeno, and garlic powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine and balsamic vinegars. Gradually add the olive oil, whisking constantly to thoroughly blend with the vinegars. Stir in the cumin and black pepper.

Pour the dressing over the vegetable mixture, tossing to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate 3-4 hours. Just before serving, stir in the crumbled bacon.

Serve with tortilla chips

Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension

Cinnamon and Sugar Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1 Tbsp. melted butter (or substitute oil)

1 Tbsp. sugar

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Dash of salt

Toss seeds with above ingredients. Line a well-greased baking sheet with seed mixture and bake at 300 degrees for approximately 50 minutes.

Stir and mix the seeds often to keep from burning and sticking. Bake until browned. Let cool and enjoy. Note: Pumpkin seeds can be a choking hazard for children, especially for those less than 5 years of age.

Source: NDSU Extension Service

Cornbread

2 eggs, beaten

3⁄4 cup sugar

2 cups flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 Tbsp. baking powder

3⁄4 tsp. salt

1⁄4 cup vegetable oil

1-1⁄2 cups low fat or reconstituted nonfat dry milk

Vegetable oil or spray

Preheat oven to 375. Beat eggs in small mixing bowl and mix in sugar. In large mixing bowl, mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt together. Add oil, milk, and egg mixture to flour mixture and mix.

Pour into a lightly oiled or sprayed baking dish. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Source: University of Maine Extension Service

Cowboy Beans and Rice

1 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped

3 cups cooked rice

2 (15-16-oz.) cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup barbecue sauce

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add onion and green pepper. Cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Add rice, beans and barbecue sauce. Simmer 5 to 7 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Source: University of Maine Extension

Fancy Candied Seeds

3 cups winter squash seeds

2 Tbsp. butter, softened, divided

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Place squash seeds in a shallow baking pan in a 250-degree oven for 10 minutes or until warmed. Grease a 15- by 10-inch baking pan with 1 Tbsp. butter; set aside.

Grease the sides of a large heavy saucepan with remaining butter; add sugar, water, salt and cinnamon. Cook and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to medium and stir (at medium heat) until mixture comes to a rolling boil. Do not rush the boiling process by turning the heat up. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 minutes at a simmer to dissolve sugar crystals.

Remove cover and continue to simmer, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 236 degrees (soft-ball stage). Remove from the heat; add vanilla. Stir in squash seeds and toss in candy sauce until evenly coated.

Use colander to drain excess candy sauce from the seeds. Spread onto prepared baking pan. Bake at 250 for 10 to 20 minutes, shaking the seeds on in the pan every 5 to 7 minutes until candy coating becomes crispy. Remove from oven and spread on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet to cool.

Source: Penn State Extension Master Gardeners

Quick Garbanzo Bean Soup

1/2 onion (about 1/2 cup)

3 garlic cloves or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1 can (14.5-oz.) low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1 can (14.5-oz.) diced tomatoes

2-1/2 cups water

1 can (15.5-oz.) low-sodium garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

3/4 cup sliced carrots (about 12-15 baby carrots)

1 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup whole-wheat pasta (rotini, shells, etc.)

1 small zucchini, sliced (about 1-2 cups sliced)

Wash, peel, and chop onion. Peel and mince garlic cloves. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic, and cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, and water to saucepan. Stir in garbanzo beans, carrots and seasonings.

Cook on medium high heat about 5 minutes. Stir in pasta and zucchini. Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer about 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Source: Iowa State University Extension

Seed Salad

1/2 cup unpopped popcorn

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup dried cranberries

Tip: Use 1 bag plain or light microwave popcorn in place of the unpopped popcorn for a quicker option.If using microwave popcorn, pop according to package directions and skip to step 2.

Place large pot on the stove; add oil and 3 popcorn kernels and cover the pot. Turn the burner to medium high. When you hear the kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn and the salt. Replace the lid. Swirl the pot as it pops. When the popping starts to slow, turn off the heat. Place the pot on a heating pad until the popping stops.

Put popcorn in a large bowl. Mix in the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries.

Source: University of Wyoming Extension

White Bean Dip

1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans

1/4 cup parsley

4 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Place all ingredients in a food processor, processing until smooth. Serve with a variety of raw vegetables such as celery, peppers and carrots.

Source: NDSU Extension

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