Fall Nature Study: Saving Seeds

Fall Nature Study_ Saving Seeds

Each spring, my children and I start seeds for nature study.  Eventually, we transplant them to the garden, care for the plants and harvest the fruit.  A few years ago, we decided to allow the process to come full circle by learning how to save the seeds as well.  There are a few different ways to save seeds for your plants and it depends on the type of seed.

Bean plants are easy to save seed from.  You simply leave some of the pods on the plant until the fall, when the skin of the bean in completely dry and papery.  Then, you pick them, remove the beans from the skin and label an envelope to save them in for planting in the spring.

Many other seeds can be saved by fermenting.  The fermentation process can help control seed-borne diseases from affecting your future plants.  We have saved tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and pumpkins/squash this way.  Make sure the fruit is completely ripe first.  Remove some seeds, rinse any pulp off of them, and place them in a jar of water.  Stir the seeds carefully with a spoon once a day for about three days.  You will notice that some of the seeds float to the top and some sink to the bottom of the jar.  The floaters are not viable and can be discarded at the end of the third day.  Next, strain the contents of the jar, saving the seeds that sunk to the bottom.  I pour mine into a tea sock.  Then, I spread them on a plate until they are completely dry, at which point I seal them in a labeled envelope.

You may want to write the year that you saved the seeds along with the name of the plant, in case you do not plant all of them and have some leftover the next year.  I have successfully used seeds a couple of years after saving them, but they do decrease in viability with age.  Another trick for keeping them is to place the envelopes of saved seeds in a container in the back of the refrigerator.  The cold temperature keeps them fresh longer.

Interestingly, I found that the seeds that we planted this year that had been saved from our own garden actually grew much more robust plants than our store-bought seeds.  I am not sure if they were more acclimated to our particular soil, but I think it will make an interesting nature study experiment next spring, to compare our own seeds to the purchased ones and chart their progress.

Another fun activity that my children did was to set up a stand in our front yard and sell packets of saved seeds, sort of like a lemonade stand.

There’s something really special about planting seeds that you’ve saved from your own plants.  It gives children a visual of the way God provides for us and helps them to see the whole circle happening first-hand.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” – John 12:24

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Growing Things

So, this happened on Monday. . .

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. . .and so did this.

snowy yard

This avocado pit has been sitting in a jar of water since the fall.  I grew an avocado plant a couple of summers ago that got big enough to transplant to a pot, until my daughter’s cat got to it and ate it.  All it takes is a few toothpicks, a jar and some water, so (after making some guacamole) I decided to try again.  The pointy end of the pit goes in the water.  This took until March to get a root, and I’ve been watching it get bigger and bigger, anxiously waiting for that stem to emerge at the top.

garlic

Another kitchen experiment that I’m trying is garlic.  I had a store-bought clove that sprouted, so I planted it, along with a couple of others from the same bulb.  My son and I put potting soil in the pot, moistened it, and gently pushed the cloves (sprout side up) down into the dirt.  These came up quickly!  Garlic doesn’t do well in our garden, so I’m trying the container method this year.  After opening these bulbs up tonight, it looks like we’ll be planting some more.

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We also started some lily seeds.  I had some lilies come up in my yard last spring whose bulbs had been given to me by a friend and planted a couple of years before.  I saved seeds from them, but didn’t know what type they were.  We also gathered seed from some lilies around town, so they could possibly be from different types.  It turns out that lilies are kind of complicated to grow.  Some types are epigeal and some are hypogeal.  I guessed that these were hypogeal and the kids followed these directions, to put the seeds in moist peat moss in sandwich bags.  I’ve been keeping them on a seed heating pad.  So far, nothing has happened.  However, looking at photos of lilies this week, I realized that the ones in my yard are Asiatic, meaning that they are epigeal.  So, we planted some in a seed-starting greenhouse today, along with some vegetables and other flowers.  We’ll see which method works!

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My daughter’s sweet potato is crazy with slips!  My son’s half finally got roots, but we discovered today that it was rotting, so we tossed it in the compost bucket.  Luckily, the second sweet potato that we started is progressing nicely.  Both halves have nice roots and a little slip is beginning to emerge on one half.  He recently figured out how to download photos that I take and insert them into a Word document, so he has been using them to create his own report on the progress.  He calls it his “homesteading book.”

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It snowed again this morning, but the sun came out in the afternoon and it warmed up, so we took advantage of that to plant the seeds that I’ve been meaning to get to for a couple of weeks.  Here’s hoping that we are officially done with snow and it will finally begin to feel like spring!

 

“To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;

A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

 

 

It’s Time to Start Seeds!

green grass close-up in spring

As spring approaches, I am looking forward to what has become a homeschool ritual for us at this time of year – starting seeds.  When my son was in kindergarten, I decided that would be a good science lesson for him.  However, it became a learning process for me as well.

After growing seedlings indoors, we ended up transplanting them outdoors after the ground thawed.  We learned about caring for the garden, when to harvest the fruit and vegetables, and finally, how to save seeds for the next year.  Each spring, we begin the process again and try new things.  We experimented with starting the seeds in different types of containers, growing various types of plants, and planting them in the garden in new ways.  We have tried a raised pallet garden, container planting, and a hugelkultur.  We learned how to compost.  We fought with powdery mildew, blight, pests, and made homemade sprays to deal with some of these issues.  We learned about pollination and even hand-pollinated some squash.  We expanded our garden last summer and let the area that comprised the original garden lay fallow.  This summer, we will test whether that has a positive impact on our plants.

If you would like to try seed-starting with your children:

  1. Find out your plant hardiness zone to figure out what seeds to plant and when.
  2. Gather supplies.
    1. Pick a container. You can order a seed-starting kit, use egg cartons, Styrofoam cups, peat pots, etc.
    2. Pick seeds. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and some flowers are often started inside.
    3. Pick up some seed-starting soil. You can make your own or buy it, but it is different than regular potting soil.
    4. Download one of the free plant life cycle worksheets or seed journals that are available online to teach your children about the process.
  3. Place some soil in your chosen containers, water well and add a seed to each. Push carefully into soil.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Prick small holes in the plastic wrap as well as the bottom of your containers for drainage.  Keep in a warm spot or place on a seed heating mat.
    1. Label each seed! We write on plain popsicle sticks that we insert in the soil.
    2. Water often, but use something with a gentle flow, to avoid displacing seeds. We’ve used a spray bottle or a water bottle with a small hole made in the cap.
  4. Once the plants emerge, remove plastic wrap and move into a sunny spot.
  5. When the seedlings get their second pair of leaves, move to larger pots with plenty of compost.
  6. If you are going to transplant to the garden, harden them off about a week before planting.

Of course, not everyone has a backyard that is large enough for a vegetable garden.  One friend of mine starts seeds with her children indoors and they watch the seedling grow, but the process ends there.  Another grows her plants in containers.  There are many ways to incorporate it into your homeschool, regardless of whether you live in a rural or urban area.

I have found it to be such a rich learning experience.  Not only is it hands-on, but it inspires awe in the perfection of God’s creation and His provision for us.