Saving seeds, part I

Vegetables that produce quickly, such as the radishes photographed above, will quickly go to seed if allowed to.  These little pods contain seeds that you can plant right away (if there is time for a second crop, as there is as of this writing) or save for next year.

When we talk about saving seeds, we often talk about collecting seeds dry or wet.  Wet seeds are contained within fleshy fruits such as tomatoes and squash.  Dry seeds are often contained within pods, such as beans, peas, and radishes.  Dry seeds can remain on the plant until the pod is dry (or until the frost hits).

Saving seeds using the dry method

  1. If possible, let the pods dry on the plant.
  2. Pick the pods on a hot, dry day.  You don’t want them to be damp to start with.
  3. Shell the pods, and spread the seeds out on a screen or paper to dry fully.  I like to place a screen on a laundry drying rack to maximize airflow, then gently shake the screen now and then to rotate the seeds.  Obviously, some seeds will be too small for screens, so paper will have to suffice.  You can also use little mesh bags that garlic is sold in if you don’t have the space to lay out a screen (try tying the bags from above so that the seeds can hang to dry).
  4. After the seeds are completely dry, put them in an airtight container and store them in a dry place.  I liked to use mason jars because it’s easy to identify, by looking through the glass, what type of seed is inside (but label accordingly).


Protecting brassicas from cabbage worms

If you are growing cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, radish, turnip, or rutabaga, you may need to take steps to protect your plants from cabbage worms.  These green caterpillars love to chow down on brassicas and similar plants; after they pupate, they emerge as small, cream-coloured moths (that have a couple of dark spots on their wings).

There are many natural ways to control them, such as attracting their predators into your garden.  One simple solution is to construct a cover made of tulle (a fabric commonly used to make prom dresses and the like).  This fabric mesh allows in rain and sunlight but prevents moths from entering and laying their eggs.

You don’t need to make anything fancy.  You can make a wire hoop frame, or simply set up some stakes that you can drape the fabric over so it does not sit on the plants (as I have done above, on my hail-damaged plants).  Place something heavy on the edges of the fabric, where they rests on the ground.  Or, you can construct something permanent.  There are plenty of ideas on the internet.

For more information on cabbage worms, and other methods of controlling them, see

Direct sowing cool season crops

Once the snow has melted, and the soil is workable (that is, it is neither frozen, cold, or very wet), you may direct sow cool season crops.  These plants tolerate overnight temperatures that hover around the freezing mark, and even a touch of frost; they prefer the cool temperatures of spring and fall rather than the heat of summer, during which they may bolt (go to seed too quickly).

Refer to the seed package to see how many weeks prior to the last frost that you may sow the seeds.  The package may also list an ideal soil temperature.  You may choose to place row covers over the area that you are planting to expedite the warming of the soil and protect your plants from occasional cold nights.

The following plants are quite hardy, and can tolerate a soil temperature of around 5°C:

  • Leeks
  • Peas
  • Radishes
  • Spinach, lettuce, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, and other greens
  • Sunflowers
  • Turnip and rutabaga

The following plants are also quite hardy, though they prefer a slightly warmer soil temperature of around 10°C:

  • Broccoli (shown above), Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Kohlrabi
  • Onion sets
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips