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MASTER GARDENERS: It's time to collect and save seeds for next year

This past spring I read a book called “The Seed Keeper” by Diane Wilson. The novel tells the story of Rosalie Iron Wing who was taken from her home as a young child and returns later to find her roots.

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This past spring I read a book called “The Seed Keeper” by Diane Wilson. The novel tells the story of Rosalie Iron Wing who was taken from her home as a young child and returns later to find her roots. Before her return home, she experiences life in the foster system and later marrying a farmer and experiencing the changes that happened in the 1980s when farming transitioned from family farms to a more corporate enterprise.

After the death of her husband, she returns home and connects with family and others from her past and learns about her Dakota ancestors who had collected and saved seeds over generations. It is a hard and beautiful story that piqued my interest in saving seeds.

Referenced in the back of the book as participating in the joyful work of protecting seeds and being a source of heirloom and indigenous seeds is an organization called Seed Savers Exchange. I became familiar with Seed Savers when my daughter started college in Decorah, Iowa last fall. Seed Savers has grown, saved and shared heirloom seeds since its beginning in 1975. They have a seed bank that houses a collection of over 20,000 rare, open-pollinated varieties.

I ordered some of these seeds last winter and was very pleased with their germination rate as well as the healthy plants and bountiful harvest. As the weather cools, now is the time to be collecting and saving seeds for next year’s garden.

When saving seeds, there are some that are easier to collect and save than others. According to the University of Minnesota Extension, tomatoes, peppers, beans and peas are good choices for seed saving. Seeds from carrots or beets are harder to save because it takes two growing seasons for them to set seed.

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To save seeds and have them grow the vegetable you intend, check to see that the plants you grew are open-pollinated, not hybrid -- you will need to read the seed packet or check with the greenhouse where you purchased the plant.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension, to save seeds from a tomato, choose the healthiest, fully ripe tomato from your crop. Heirloom seeds are treasures that come from gardeners who save seeds from prize tomatoes. Cut the tomato open and scoop out the seeds along with the gel surrounding them.

Put the seeds and gel in a glass jar with some water. Stir or swirl the mixture twice a day. The mixture will ferment and the seeds should sink to the bottom within five days. Pour off the liquid, rinse the seeds and spread them out to dry on paper towels. When they are dry, they can be stored in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid.

Seeds from peppers, beans and peas are harvested from the vegetables after they have been left to grow to maturity and dry out on the plant. All seeds should be stored in dry, cool conditions. Your refrigerator is a good place to store seeds.

You can also save seeds from flowers. Marigolds and zinnias grow very well from seed and their seeds are easy to harvest and store.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu , or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners .

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 , and leave your name, number and question.

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