By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Frugal gardeners know that seed saving not only preserves a favorite crop variety but is an inexpensive way to have seed for the next season. Is planting freshly harvested seeds a viable way to re-crop though? Every seed group is different, with some requiring stratification while others need special treatment, like scarification.
Harvesting and planting seeds from your vegetable crops usually works, but you need to know which ones don’t need unique treatments for ultimate success.
Vegetable growers often save seed from their crops, especially when they have grown a desired species. Can you plant fresh seeds? Some plants will start just fine from newly harvested seed, while others need several months in a specialized environment to jump-start the embryo.
If you are saving your seeds, you may wonder when can you plant seeds? It is inadvisable to save tomato seed, for instance, without cleaning the pulp away and drying the seed for a period of time. If you don’t let them dry, they won’t germinate but, instead, tend to just rot in the ground.
However, if you are a cut-and-compost-on-site kind of gardener, you will find your composted tomatoes will readily produce volunteer plants the next season. What makes the difference? Time and maturity are part of the equation but so is the period of cold exposure.
Planting freshly harvested seeds works best on perennial and cold season vegetables, like cole crops.
For most gardeners, there is a growing season which stops as soon as temperatures drop. Warm season gardeners have the potential to grow crops year-round. Yet, planting freshly harvested seeds even in regions where temperatures remain mild is not a great idea.
Seeds need to properly mature, the seed coating needs to dry and cure, and they need a rest period prior to planting. Waiting until seed has cured is the best method of vegetable seed growing. That way you don’t have an impermeable seed coat that will not allow water in and will grow foul and rotten before the embryo can germinate.
In almost all cases, it is best to prepare your seed prior to planting. Threshing and winnowing removes the extraneous plant matter and leaves just the seed. After that you may also need to soak the seed to remove any wet vegetative matter.
Once all the wet stuff is gone, spread the seed out and let it dry. This will make the seed stable for storage, but it also prepares the seed to accept moisture and split the husk, allowing the seedling to peep through. The drying process also helps the seed ripen. Once dried, it can be stored or planted if temperatures are cooperative.
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Flower gardening - so much to like about it. Beautiful fragrant plants that attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and photographers. Exercise and fresh air are built in since gardens require quite a bit of work and time. I'm not a vegetable gardener (only herbs), but I've been planting flowers for years. Many of the plants in my gardens came from seeds given to me by family & friends over the years, and flowers from my gardens grow in many different parts of the country. Most gardeners love to share seeds and late summer into early autumn is a great time to start collecting them. Seeds should be collected, though, as soon the flowers end their bloom cycle and the seed pods are mature (late Spring/early Summer for collecting Columbine seeds in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., for example).
Following a few basic steps will provide you with an abundance of flowers next year and for years to come at no additional expense. Read on to see what I do to harvest flower seeds from year-to-year.
Your old seeds will stand the best chance of germinating if they have been stored correctly. All seeds will store most effectively in cool and dry conditions, so you should be wary of any seeds that are stored in opposite conditions—warm and moist. When you examine seeds, discard the entire packet if they show signs of mold or another fungus.
Many commercial seed packets may have a "use by" date printed on them. Don't take this date too seriously—the seed manufacturers use this date to ensure that customers experience a large percentage of germination, and many seeds may remain viable for many years after the date printed on the packet. But the printed date will give you a sense of how old the seed packet is. If you are only a year or two beyond this date, there's a good chance most of the seeds will still germinate when planted. But if the seed pack is six years old or more, expect to have a much lower percentage of germination.
Going forward, proper storage procedure is to date the seed packet when you buy it, to ensure that you'll know exactly how old it is when you reach for it in the future. If possible, store the seeds in a sealed plastic bag containing a desiccant packet (those small packets that often come in over-the-counter medicine products), which will keep the seeds dry. If you don't have desiccant, packets of dry rice or powdered milk will also absorb air moisture. The sealed seeds can be stored in the refrigerator or another cool place, but don't freeze them.
The carrot fly is a widespread pest that can damage carrots, turning the leaves rust-colored then yellow. The fly’s underground larvae munch the outside of the root, making tunnels and rendering the root unmarketable and inedible. Since ground-dwelling beetles and spiders eat the larvae, you'll want to make sure they can thrive in your garden. A study carried out in Poland found that interplanting with dill or Welsh onion reduced damage from the carrot fly and increased yields, though the onion was less competitive with the carrot for nutrients and light.
Yes, tomato seeds will germinate without a year having to pass first (even right away, before you even dry them). Just make sure it's not too hot or cold for them to germinate and grow well. If it's consistently very warm in your house, they might have trouble, especially if you have artificial lights on top of that (since artificial lights can produce heat even the low-heat ones, like CFLs, will make the room more noticeably warm when it's naturally kind of warm).
Edit: However, it should be noted that tomatoes germinate faster in warm conditions (as long as it isn't too warm) than they do in cool ones, in my experience.
Anyway, I've grown newly harvested tomato and pepper seeds before with good results. They don't need to be aged. New is good.
As long as your growing season is long enough and your tomatoes tolerate the temperatures they will be in (indoors and outdoors), you should be fine.
Edit: If you want the plants to fruit indoors (rather than start them indoors and transplant them outdoors), as Stormy seemed to me to understand, then be sure to give your plants enough red light (which helps with flowering blue light helps with leaf growth), soil, and enough of the proper nutrients. I was assuming that you were wanting to start them indoors while it's still summer outside, and then transplant them outside for the remainder of the season, hoping to get some extra tomatoes during the rest of this season. Whatever season it is, indoors or out, you'll probably want your nighttime temperatures to be between about 55° F. and 70° F. Many people keep their house above 70° F. at night so, that's something to watch out for. Daytime temperatures should be between about 60–85° F. Flowers might drop if it's too hot.
If you have heat and cold tolerant tomatoes, parthenocarpic tomatoes or such, then your plants may set fruit in a wider variety of temperatures. See this question/answer for information about such varieties.
I concur with stormy about low nitrogen fertilizer for indoor use, but if your soil outdoors is already low in nitrogen (like mine probably is), then adjust accordingly. However, for plant growth, I haven't had issues using an even fertilizer (20-20-20), even though slightly less nitrogen than potassium is generally recommended for tomatoes. However, be careful, anyway, I've found that my indoor tomatoes can get burned by 18-18-21 fertilizer (but 20-20-20 fertilizer doesn't burn at all), which doesn't make a lot of sense, unless with the 18-18-21 fertilizer they're just using a faster-release nitrogen, or the potassium didn't dissolve in the water properly or something. That's one reason I like to mix fertilizer proportions myself (I know it really is what I think it is, and I can adjust it if it isn't what the plants need.)
However, as far as fluorescent lights go, be careful there. A lot of people will tell you to get only 5000-7000k bulbs, which is great for growing seedlings into plants, since it's high in the right kinds of blue light—but lower color temperatures are actually higher in red light, which is important for flowering. Lower color temperatures also help protect against damping off disease, in my experience. Plants don't lean toward the lower color temperatures as quickly, though (but when they adjust to it for a while, they do lean toward it faster than they initially did). They can still grow leaves on lower color temperatures of fluorescent bulbs (I know from experience), although 6500k might be more ideal for that.