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I have collected seeds from my favorite flowers and vegetables. What do I do to preserve them for next year?
Collecting and storing your own seeds is an easy and inexpensive way to get a head start on next year’s garden. Seeds that are carefully dried and stored under the proper conditions may remain viable for several years.
Be sure to collect seeds that are completely mature by leaving the seed pods on the plant until they naturally turn brown and begin to dry. Before storage, you will need to remove all remains of the chaff or extraneous material. For seeds from fleshy fruit, you will need to clean away all remains of the fruit.
Place a paper towel on a tray and spread the seeds out in a single layer, arranging seeds so they do not touch. Make a label for each tray, including the seed type and the date. Place the tray in a warm, well-ventilated room to dry for seven to 14 days. An air-conditioned room with a relative humidity between 20 percent and 40 percent is ideal.
Seeds dry quickly during the first few days, but then the process slows significantly as the moisture content of the seed approaches that of the room. Large seeds will take longer to dry than smaller seeds. A successfully dried seed will retain just enough moisture around the embryo to keep it alive until germination.
Seeds may be stored in paper envelopes or glass jars. Coin envelopes are ideal because the careful folds will keep small seeds from escaping. Old spice jars that have been cleaned and sanitized are also ideal, and have the advantage of revealing moisture if the drying process has not been thorough. If moisture accumulates on the sides of the jar, you know they need to be dried longer.
While many websites recommend using desiccants in the drying and storing process, I have found that rice works just as well, and is both easier and inexpensive. It will absorb any excess moisture and is perfect for long term storage. Seeds that will be used the following year may be stored at room temperature or cooler. Seeds that will be stored for longer period should be stored at a temperature between 33 and 40 degrees.
Special thanks to Steven Chamblee, horticulturalist, Chandor Gardens.