Wednesday was the last of our warm weather. What was golden and fiery red, is looking a little more dried up brown. As I put my gardens to bed for the winter, I’m saving seeds. For those that are new to gardening, or still in the planning stages, I want to touch on those routines briefly.
If you really have to rely on a garden to produce valuable nutrition, year after year, you have to take proper care of it. You can’t leave it bare earth for the winter. That leaves the top layer of soil to be subjected to the worst of the rain and wind and temperature extremes of winter. Valuable nutrients are going to wash away, leach away or break down. You should get in the practice of putting the garden to bed for the winter. I always cover the garden with a layer of compost, then a layer of leaves. The leaves are doubled over the overwintering plants. Garlic cloves can overwinter for earlier spring starts. Carrots and Parsnips can overwinter for sweetness or as a cheap storage option. Biennial seed producers like turnips and parsnips and onions are overwintered to trigger the seed growing. Now is a great time to get cold frames and hoop houses in place for season extension. If you’re going to fallow a bed, early fall is a good time to sow most cover crops.
Saving seed is really a year long process. But, fall is when I collect most of my seed. As I’m hoeing down the scraggly remains of my green beans, I take a few minutes to collect the dried up beans that I left on the bushes (or vines.) You can mark your seed in summer, if you have a poor memory, or if you have helpers that need things easy to identify. Old yarn works, or scraps of fabric, or tape. Cucumber seeds are scraped out of huge yellow crusty cucs. Watermelon seeds are strained out of the sad looking old watermelons. For small seeds that will need cleaning, like lettuce or radish or parsnip, I’ll cut the whole bushy plant off and stuff it into a paper bag for later sorting and cleaning. Paper bags are really easy to label and will usually stand on their own. If you put the seeds aside for a later project, they won’t hold up your outdoor work, and you can work them over the winter, at your leisure.
Seed saving is another one of those skills that could mean the difference between adequate nutrition and going hungry. It takes practice. Gardening takes patience, good soil is rarely found, it’s made. If you’re not gardening yet, do yourself a favor put some mulch down this fall and start in the spring. I doubt you’ll regret it.
- Calamity Jane