Saving seeds for next year’s harvests

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All throughout the summer we have been keeping produce picked as it is ready—both for the enjoyment of the fresh vegetables and to encourage the plants to continue producing. But now as the gardens wind down and production slows, it is a good idea to let a few varieties go to seed to save for next year’s harvest. It’s easy and you will be able to enjoy the same varieties again and again.

wax beans

Good choices for seed saving are beans, peas, tomatoes, winter squash (though cucumbers, squashes and pumpkins are “promiscuous” and will cross-pollinate with other varieties and you cannot be certain of what you will get), pumpkins, melons, heirloom tomatoes, dill and pak choi, and a number of annual, biennial and perennial flowers.

For most varieties seed saving is as simple as letting seed pods form and “ripen” completely. For beans and peas, just let them stay on the vine until they are dry and brown. Harvest seed pods when dry and shell or shake them out into clean envelopes or containers. Label with variety and date, and store in the freezer. Those varieties such as squash or tomatoes will require completely ripe vegetables. Remove seeds, place seeds in a colander or strainer and wash thoroughly. Spread seeds on brown paper or paper towels and allow to dry completely before storing.

By doing this you are following in the path of many gardeners before you, folks who have helped to preserve

nigella seed pods

many heirloom varieties that could have been lost forever. And in the process you will be saving more than a few pennies in the bargain. It couldn’t be more simple.

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My secret ‘weapon’ — lemon basil

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lemon basil

Not the easiest of basils to grow from seed, but that’s probably the only way you are going to be able to get this wonderful herb. It prefers warm weather for germination. But once you get this stuff growing, you are good to go. Lemon basil is slow to go to seed, and if kept trimmed will provide lots of flavor and inspiration all season long.

Not only does it contribute a wonderful mild basil flavor to everything you put it in, but it also adds a lemony kick to boot. Saute lightly with all sorts of fresh garden vegetables, mince and top vine-ripened tomatoes or other cold dishes, add to salads or to casseroles, even corn muffins—the choices are yours to make.

Keep a water-filled glass of cuttings by a sunny window in the kitchen so you’ll always have some ready to use. Plus you’ll probably notice that this basil is quick to form roots. They can be potted up for extra plants to use, to keep growing all winter, or for gifts so you can introduce this amazing basil to your friends, neighbors and relatives. They’ll thank you.

 

Time to rack the garlic

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A few weeks ago we trimmed the scapes off the growing garlic. Removing the scapes, or bloom buds from the garlic, allows the plant to use its energy to create larger bulbs, rather than use it to produce flowers.

Don’t discard those fresh, garlicy scapes. Instead chop finely and use them in salad and pasta recipes for example. Saute the chopped scapes to add to vegetable dishes and casseroles. By July garlic crops should be ready for harvest. You’ll know when it’s time when the foliage begins to brown up a bit. I say “a bit,” because it is important to harvest the garlic long before all the foliage turns brown. The garlic foliage should be mostly green.

I like to use a stout digging fork to dig down deep and loosen the soil enough so the whole plant can be lifted out. Shake off the dirt and wash the heads well.

Do not trim off the foliage. Let the garlic drain, and then using two stout sticks or stakes, place the heads along one of the sticks like in this photo:

and place the second stick or stake on top. Then tie the ends together, in the middle too, to keep the heads captive between the two. Next, hang the rack of garlic to cure in a cool, dry  place out of direct sunlight, until the foliage turns brown and dry.

When the garlic is cured, trim off foliage and trim roots. Store in a cool, dry location. Or you can braid the garlic when the foliage is still green. After braiding, hang the garlic in a cool and dry location out of direct sunlight. Your garlic can be used now or kept for use over the coming months.