March and April is a popular time for seed saving – in Canberra we grow so many summer and autumn crops that, as the days shorten and the weather cools, get ready to end their annual life cycle once again. Nature’s beginning – and end – is seeds and herbaceous crops will be flowering and setting seeds; fruits (like cucumbers and tomatoes) will be mature and fall off the vine, grow oversized, develop thick skin or even start to rot; legume pods (like peas and beans) will be well developed, drying and brown.
If you’ve followed the first rule of seed saving, now is the time to reap the rewards! The first rule of seed saving is set aside the best for seed. What you save is what you will grow in future seasons so make sure you save seeds from your most prolific beans, tastiest tomatoes, longest-lived lettuces.
The second rule of seed saving is leave the seed heads/fruit/pods as long as possible on the plant to mature and for seed heads or pods, until they are dry, hard and brown. Leave until well past the stage when you would eat from the plant. Zucchinis and cucumbers should be submarine sized with tough skin, tomatoes should be as over-ripe as possible; coriander seed should be as brown and dry as you would buy in the shops as a culinary spice, bean pods should be brittle and crack open when you rub them, corn husks should be papery dry and brown.
Protecting plants with delicious pods or fruit on them can be hard – and not just from human pests! Rats, bugs, birds are all keen to harvest our best fruit and seeds before we can. Try bagging (paper or stockings or old cotton can work) the fruit/pods/cobs on the vine or plant. If that’s not enough, in lots of cases, as long as the plant is past edible stage and the fruit is ripe, fruit can be harvested and left to sit somewhere safe for a week or so to let the seeds soak up more goodness from the flesh of the fruit; or as with podding and herb plants, tomatoes can also be pulled out of the ground by the roots and hung upside-down somewhere out of direct sun to dry off. Try pulling out a lettuce once the white fluff has started to appear on the top of the plant and putting it upside down in a brown paper bag or pull out the bean vines once most of the pods are browning and pop into a very large paper bag or cardboard box.
The best way to know if a plant is ready for the seeds to be harvested is to wait as long as you can. If you can’t wait any longer with the plant continuing where it is, try pulling out the whole plant and putting somewhere protected to let the seeds keep developing.