This week at Garden-to-Table, learn how to save seeds!
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HOW A FLOWER BECOMES A SEED

Even though flowers on different plants do not look like each other, they are actually made up of the same parts.

  • Petals: The often-colorful structures that surround the seed making parts. 
  • Stamens: The parts that make pollen, small grain-like cells that are often yellow in color. 
  • Pistil: The parts where the seeds actually grow.

To make the seeds, flowers make pollen in parts called stamens. The pollen from the stamens must be moved to the pistil. Sometimes the pollen moves from the stamens to the pistil on the same flower and sometimes it moves from the stamens on one flower to the pistils on another flower.

Once there, it will grow a tiny pollen tube down the style into the ovary, where the eggs are located.

This process is called pollination. In some cases, the pollen moves with the help of wind or water. Other times, animals like bees, birds, bats or butterflies help move the pollen from plant to plant. These animals are called pollinators.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pollinators provide humans with one out of every three bites of food we eat. Pollinators are essential for seed saving because plants will not set seeds without pollination. 

Watch a flower become a seed in this video of a dandelion flower becoming a seed head, filmed over a one month period!

See pollinators at work extremely close up in Wings of Life, a Disneynature film of unbelievable beauty. Narrated by Meryl Streep, this intimate look at butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, bats and flowers is a celebration of life.

Watch the 5 minute version below, or check out the full movie from the library.

WHY SHOULD WE SAVE SEEDS?

What did gardeners do before seed catalogs and garden centers were around? Seed saving is 10,000 years old – as old as human civilization. All domestic crops were once wild plants that early humans selected to feed themselves or their livestock. Our ancestors saved seeds year after year to preserve their favorite plants.

Seed saving is great way to save money by recycling last year’s seeds, and it helps kids learn where our food comes from, how it is grown, and why it’s important to respect the land and the people who grow our food. 

HOW TO SAVE SEEDS

Seed saving from your favorite plants is a fun end-of-summer activity. Stacey and Mary are backyard gardeners (and YDL librarians) and save seeds from their own gardens. Watch how they save seeds from dill, sunflowers, honeydew melons, beans, and radishes. Then read below for more tips. 

PEAS

Leave pea pods on the plant to dry. Harvest when the pods turn brown and start to dry. Lay them out to dry completely before storing. If frost threatens, pull the plant and hang it upside down in a cool, well-ventilated area indoors out of direct sun.

MARIGOLDS

Flower seeds are easy to save and marigolds are one of the easiest. Harvest the seeds when the flowers are brown and dried out. Remove the dried marigold flower head from the stem. Hold the base and pull off and discard the dried petals and leaves. You will see the slender, pointy, two-colored seeds inside attached to the base. Pull them away from the base and discard the base. Separate them and spread them on a paper towel. Allow your seeds to air dry uncovered on the paper towel for about a week. Store in an envelope.

BEANS

Beans are as easy as peas. Leave the pods on the plant to dry. You can harvest after the pod gets leathery. Again, bring them inside if frost threatens. 

TOMATOES

Tomato seeds are fun to save because you get to eat the fruit and save the seed, too. When a tomato is ripe for eating, the seed is ready to be harvested. Cut the tomato horizontally, and scoop the seed out of the cavities into a small jar, and fill with water. Eat the tomato.

Label the jar with variety and date, and set it in a warm spot to ferment. Stir every day for 3-4 days. The good seeds will drop to the bottom, and the unviable seeds will rise. Pour off the water and bad seeds, rinse the rest in a strainer until clean, and spread them on a coffee filter to dry them in a warm well-ventilated area. Paper towels will stick to your seeds so don’t use them. When they easily break in two, they are ready to be put away.

PEPPERS

You can eat a fully ripe pepper and also save the seeds. Peppers are completely red when they are ripe. Open the pepper, remove the seeds, and spread them out to dry. So simple! Then cut up the pepper for a salad or stir-fry.

LETTUCE

Lettuce gets bitter once it starts to bolt, which means it flowers and the flowers become seeds, so plant a seed patch and an eating patch. Lettuce flowers in clusters, and not all at once. The flowers briefly open, close up, then reopen as fluffy seed heads, like mini dandelions. When over half of the stalk has fluff, cut it and continue drying it in a paper bag in a cool, well-ventilated area. You have to harvest more than once, since they don’t all mature at the same time.

HEIRLOOM SEEDS

Maybe you’ve heard of heirloom tomatoes and maybe you’ve seen them in the grocery store. Next time you go, check out their prices compared to regular (hybrid) tomatoes. Why do they cost so much more? Why do they taste better? And why are they so strange looking? 

Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated varieties with a history of being handed down from generation to generation. These plants either transfer pollen internally, within a flower or between flowers on the same plant (called self-pollinating), or their pollen is transferred by wind or insects without the help of humans. Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen between plants.

To save pure seed, you want to prevent cross-pollination between two different varieties in the same species.

Ypsi Seed Library

Learn more about the Ypsi Seed Library, hosted by YDL. Due to the Library’s COVID-19 closure, the Seed Library is not currently available. You can donate or borrow seeds once YDL locations reopen.

SEED SAVING ACTIVITIES FOR LITTLE ONES
  • Empty all of your expired seeds into a bowl and have kids sort them by shape, size, color, etc. An egg carton works especially well for this.
  • Build fine motor skills by letting your little one use different tools such as tweezers, popsicle sticks, or spoons to extract seeds from a sunflower head.
  • Practice math–measure bean seed pods to see which is longest or count bean or pea seeds as kids shuck them from their pods.
LEARN MORE

READ ABOUT SEEDS

We also have some excellent books about seeds for kids. 

A Seed is Sleepy by Diana Hutts Aston introduces young readers to the many varieties of seeds and how they move. 

Let’s Go Nuts! Seeds We Eat by April Pulley Sayre discusses how healthy eating can be both fun and appetizing. 

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle is a lovely description of a flowering plant’s life cycle through the seasons. It’s also available as a video through Hoopla by clicking on the Hoopla movie link. 

Garden to table / Fresh Recipes to Cook & Share by the Williams Sonoma test kitchen offers over 50 recipes using fresh vegetables and fruit. 

MAKE GARDEN SALSA

Salsa, or pico de gallo, is easy to make from fresh garden ingredients. Last summer we made salsa with ingredients from the YDL garden.

  • Tomatoes
  • Jalapeno or other pepper, depending on how spicy you like it
  • Onion
  • Cilantro (if you like it)
  • Lime juice

Chop everything, mix in a bowl, add a little salt to taste, eat on chips, tacos, baked potato, meat, or raw veggies. Enjoy!

MAKE SEED ART