When the leaves turn brown and the days get chillier, it is all too easy to forget about your garden until spring.  But there is one really easy and very satisfying job you can do right now – harvesting your own annual flower seeds. Gardeners have been saving seed ever since we settled into one place and started growing our own food. Thanks to seed saving, we have the heirloom seeds and plant varieties that are so prized today.

Look for the most vigorous, healthy plants to gather your seeds from; the ones that produce your favourite fruits and vegetables, or the plants whose fowers you can’t stop admiring.

Just a note here – it’s important to remember that not all plants produce productive seeds. Hybrids, the majority of plants sold in most garden stores, are created by artificially cross-pollinating cultivars and will not produce plants true to type. Do NOT save the seeds from hybrids.

When gathering seeds, it’s important to wait until the seeds are fully mature. The plants that you are gathering seed from will give you a few clues as to when they are ready. Look for faded, dry flowers, or those with puffy tops. Pods should be brown and dried. Ripe seeds tend to turn from white to cream colored or light brown to dark brown.

When to collect seeds depends on the plant. Melon seeds, for example, are ready when the fruit is ripe for eating. Cucumber and squash seeds should be left on the plant until after the first frost. In general, let the seeds dry on the plant as long as possible, but don’t wait until every seed on the plant is ripe or you’re likely to lose a bunch to birds or other wildlife.

Tip: Consider saving seeds from several plants (around 5 is best) in case one or two plants produce inferior seeds.

Harvest seeds after the dew has dried on a sunny day. Remove as much fiber and pulp as possible. You can wash the slime off in a mild bleach mixture (1 part bleach to 10 parts water). Then, lay the seeds on paper towels or newspapers to dry.

Those plants which have seeds that scatter easily simply need to be shaken over a paper bag every day or so. (These include many flowers, lettuce, dill, etc). Beans, peppers and sunflower seeds can be picked by hand.

Dry your seeds on the plant for as long as possible. Then, place them on a screen or in a paper bag to completely dry before storing.

When storing seeds it is very important to keep them dry or they may become moldy. You can purchase desiccant packs to keep seeds dry or keep them in glass jars, paper envelopes or plastic containers. If you go the envelope route, consider putting the envelopes in a container to keep pests away. Don’t forget to label everything so you know which seeds are which, as well as the date harvested.

Store all seeds in a cool dark place until it is time to plant. Varying temperatures, heat and moisture are not kind to seeds kept in storage and will threaten their ability to germinate.Correctly dried and stored seed should last for a couple of years.