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DYI Seed Saving: Melons, Tomatoes & Peppers - Megen Hall, Sales Associate  


Saving Organic SeedsCooler nights are settling in here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont reminding us all that the summer days are dwindling.  Many of us have been busy canning, freezing, drying, fermenting…putting by little bits of summer.  So why not take it a step further and try saving some of your own seed for next planting season.  Collecting and saving seed from certain fruits and vegetables can be really easy and rewarding. 

In our region, with damp weather, a short growing season, and sub-zero temperatures during winter, we have the best success saving seed from fruits such as zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, peppers, melon, and others like these.  The reason for this is because the seed of these crop types mature quickly within our short season and the seeds remain protected from the elements inside the fruit, therefore you are more likely to produce higher quality, disease-free seed.

Let’s focus on the easiest of the aforementioned, which are tomatoes, peppers, and melons.  The seed produced from all of these crop types will become mature at the same time that the fruit is ripe and ready for consumption, therefore you can harvest the food for eating while at the same time scoop out the seeds and save them for next season.  Before you begin, though, there are a few things you might want to know. 

Without going into a whole lot of detail about genetics, I will suggest saving seed from open pollinated varieties as opposed to hybrids.  A hybrid plant will produce viable seed, but the genetic traits exhibited may not be the same as the plant they came from, whereas the traits from open pollinated varieties will be same in the next generation.  Next, you will have the best success if you have planted only one variety of each melons, tomatoes, and peppers.  For instance, if I only planted one type of melon), say Emerald Gem, (and my garden or farm is far enough away from my neighbor’s), then there is no chance that the seed will have crossed with another melon plant and the seed I harvest will be true-to-type (rather than an unintentional hybrid, or crossing).  If I planted three types of melons, there is a strong chance that insects may have cross-pollinated the varieties…resulting in mixed genetics and hybrid seed – which will produce a plant with any number of combined traits, maybe good, maybe not so good, but certainly unpredictable.  There is less of a chance for cross-pollination with peppers and even less of a chance with tomatoes because these are self-pollinated.  Cross-pollination would happen merely by chance instead of by design.

Just follow these simple instructions and you can begin to enjoy the art of seed saving.

Melon
Insect-pollinated annual. Unless hand pollinating, isolate different varieties by 1/4 mile to prevent cross-pollination. Tree lines, woods or buildings separating fields can allow for shorter distances. Harvest the melons when ripe for eating. Remove the seeds and pulp and rinse under water until seeds are clean. A light fermentation with a little water can sometimes help in the cleaning process. Simply add 1 cup of water for every cup of seeds and pulp and let sit in a warm place for 2-3 days, stirring daily. Then rinse under water and allow seeds to dry on a plate, cloth or similar clean surface. After they are rinsed, use a 1/2" or 1/4" screen to help with cleaning. Melon seed will remain viable for 4-6 years under cool and dry storage conditions.

Organic Tomato Seeds Fermenting Tomatoes
Self-pollinated annual. Different tomato varieties rarely cross with one another so isolation distances are not generally required. The seed is mature when the tomato itself is ripe. Squeeze the seeds and juice into a jar and add about the same amount of water. Allow this liquid to ferment in a warm place for 3-5 days, stirring daily, until the seeds have sunk to the bottom of the jar. Rinse the seeds and allow to dry on a paper plate or cloth. Use of a 1/8" screen can help with cleaning. Tomato seeds remain viable for 4-10 years under cool and dry storage conditions.

Peppers
Self-pollinated but can have up to 20% insect pollinated. 200-300 feet is sufficient for isolation between varieties. Peppers need to be red (or whatever color they ripen to) and can be cut open and the seeds dried on a plate or cloth. Use a 1/8" screen to help with cleaning. Pepper seeds can remain viable for 3 years under cool and dry storage conditions.

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