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Dr. Rick, our GardenSMART television host, introduces gardeners to the "how to do it" of seed saving in his article, below, ''Saving Heirloom Seeds''.  This practice has been going on for centuries.  Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of saving seeds.  The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Monticello is a modern day source for old time vegetable seed.

You can practice seed saving in your own garden with the tips from Dr. Rick.  Just remember that hybrids will not come true, they will either revert to one of their parents or might mingle with another plant in your garden and produce a completely new hybrid.  Saving seed is economical, and it is Fun.

---Anne K Moore July 17, 2009---


Richard Ludwig, GardenSMART Host

If you're an avid gardener with a love of history, you should be trying heirloom vegetables.  Growing these antiques keeps history alive in your garden and puts tasty produce on the table.  These varieties have remained around because of some particularly wonderful quality.  It might be taste, hardiness, or a curious appearance but there's definitely something special about them. 

A key point is not to over expect them to perform.  Often they're not as productive or disease resistant as newer varieties.  Therefore, don't dedicate your entire garden to them. 

A wonderful place to find interesting heirlooms is the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.  Check it out at  It's the perfect site to find unusual varieties of peas, beans and lots more.  In fact, some of these seeds were actually harvested from the gardens at Monticello, Jefferson's homestead.  When GardenSMART visited, I purchased several interesting varieties including Prickly-seeded Spinach and Fava beans.  Can't wait to add them to my garden! 

Unfortunately, heirloom seed may not be consistently available from one year to the next.  Don't worry.  Just harvest seed from your own garden after the first year.  This works particularly well with heirlooms since they are not hybrids and the seeds will produce offspring almost identical to their parents. 

Collecting seed takes place at the end of the growing season - late spring/early summer for cool season plants such as lettuce and spinach and late fall for warm season veggies such as tomato and squash. 

Too many gardeners miss this seed bounty in a rush to clean up their vegetable patch at the end of the season.  This is because most vegetable plants look pretty exhausted as they put every last bit of energy into producing the next generation.  Remember, collecting seed takes patience.  Don't be in too big a rush to remove it from the plant.  Make sure the seed coat is hard and the seeds naturally fall out of their pods.  Harvest too early and you'll have immature seeds that won't germinate next season.

Storing the collected seed is just as critical.  Choose an airtight container such as a prescription pill bottle or Ziploc bag.  Store seeds in a cool, dry, dark location and they'll stay viable for months, even years.  The refrigerator is a perfect place for storage as well as the place to take care of the seed's stratification requirements. 

Stratification is the cold weather requirement for many seeds that keeps them from germinating in the fall and being killed by the winter weather.  Follow these simple tips and you'll have plenty of old-timey varieties for your garden and to share with friends for years to come.  You'll also be living a bit of history. 

Avid gardeners from the past like Thomas Jefferson still have a lot to say to us today.  Keep his ideas and memory alive by giving heirlooms a try.  They may end up being the favorite vegetables in your entire garden.    

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