Anyone who gardens knows that obtaining seed stock is currently a hit or miss undertaking. Shortages and shipping delays are disruptive and frustrating. What if you could peruse your late winter seed catalogs and enjoy the anticipation of working in your garden and not have to worry about when or even IF your seeds will arrive? Every vegetable you grow produces seeds–each of which can potentially produce an entire plant full of produce-and more seeds!-generation after generation.
The method I describe here will work for all melons as well as cucumbers. But be sure to start with heirloom (open-pollinated) seeds. If you use hybrid seeds, they will not reproduce true to the parent plant, and any yield realized will be puny and disappointing at best. Also, different types of plants have different procedures for seed harvesting. For example, saving lettuce seeds is quite different than saving tomato seeds. Seed-saving is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
So you nurtured that beautiful cantaloupe from seed to sprout to flower to fruit and the reward is perfection: Sweet, aromatic, and juicy. Don’t throw those seeds in the compost pile or down the disposal! A few days’ effort will yield seeds for next year which will produce plants with a much better likelihood of passing on the positive genetic qualities that you so enjoy.
This morning, after a few days’ absence, I found two cantaloupes that were an odd yellowish color and were a bit soft. I assumed they were overripe, and hoped that I would be able to salvage at least some of the fruit for us to enjoy. I cut into them with great trepidation. They. Were. Amazing! As I was scooping out the seeds and pulp I decided I should save the seeds for next year. So I took the seeds, pulp and all, out of the strainer (no rinsing), placed them into a Mason jar, and added about 2 cups of warm water.
Now I just let them set on the counter and swirl the concoction once or twice a day. The pulp will begin to ferment and make bubbles. As it ferments, debris and non-viable seeds will float to the top and the viable ones will sink. The fermenting process is very important, as it works to kill off seed-borne diseases, so don’t skip it. Once the components have separated, I pour off the debris water. Then I add some more cold water, swirl, and pour off. I do this several times till I have just the viable seeds in the bottom of the jar. Then I put my seeds into a sieve and rinse very well. Spread out to dry in a single layer: You can use paper towels and sunshine, and it takes a couple of days. I like to dehydrate them at 115 degrees for several hours.
When they are dry and cool, put them into a clean, dry Mason jar. You can add a silica gel pack if you want. Put in a dark place and check it in 24 hours. If you see any moisture at all on the inside of the jar, re-dry your seeds and try again.
Once your seeds are 100% dry, put them into the freezer for about two weeks. Then they get placed in the fridge until you are ready to plant.
My gardens! My poor, poor gardens! Summer was in full swing, pestilence and plant fungus had been miraculously kept to manageable levels. My cucumbers were on the precipice of producing a ridiculous bumper crop of glorious Straight Eights and Marketmores. Cantaloupe vines were lush, with baby loupes swelling everywhere.
Plans were in place for a big old bread and butter pickle canning session last Saturday. We were going to have those awesome little slices of summer with our Christmas dinner this year! One afternoon of hot, hard work for a whole year of the best pickles ever preserved.
The Viral Monkey Wrench…
Enter COVID. Friday, my last day of work before a weekend off with no call. Late that afternoon, I felt it: That “Oh, crap, I’m getting sick” feeling. I knew exactly what it was. The rapid test Saturday morning confirmed it. And so began my quarantine…
Another family member was asymptomatic, but had no sense of smell or taste. In very short order, our entire household of seven souls went down. We were all quite miserable, but fortunately no major health crises ensued. We are one full week in now; everyone is recovering, but the lingering hacking, shortness of breath, and fatigue after small chores is pretty irritating. We truly dodged a bullet.
For four full days, all I could do was lie in bed, fan blowing directly on my face (100° outside, metal-box camper with totally inadequate AC), and stare out my window at my neglected greenhouse between long naps.
The Virus and the Damage Done
I think it was Tuesday when I finally braved a (very short) stroll around the gardens and greenhouse to survey the damage. Squash bugs had totally destroyed two zucchini plants and were working on my pumpkin. I STILL haven’t been out back to see the spaghetti squash. I’m afraid to look.
Tomatoes have some type of fungus going on and the aphids are just Biblical in their proliferative abilities. I’ve lost 2 plants and will probably lose a couple more tomato plants soon.
I missed a full week of blackberry picking. Pounds and pounds of beautiful berries left to rot and ferment on the vine.
The cucumbers, though! They are another problem entirely. I had already dehydrated more cucumber chips than we will ever eat. We deep-fried cucumber spears like fried green tomatoes (actually not bad!). Today I made a big batch of lactofermented bread and butter pickles (Not enough energy for a full-on canning day!), cucumber salad till we are blue in the face, and I STILL have a good 15-20# I don’t know what to do with!
The Good Outweighs the Bad
Yes, the grass is thigh-high in places. Money will be pretty tight these next couple weeks. I will likely want to cry when I have to compost the cukes I can’t process (COVID germs–I can’t in good conscience give them away!). So much work has been done here this summer with so very little to show for it. For a family with a goal of self-sufficiency, it feels almost like a failure, even though the circumstances were far beyond our control.
But you know what? We don’t actually HAVE to be self-sufficient this summer. I can still go to the grocery store and get what we are needing. We will go on. My coworker lost her dad to this damn disease. Many of my “recovered” patients are truly struggling weeks and months later, some succumbing to other comorbidities.
There will NOT be an empty place setting at our 3rd annual Thanksgiving In The Greenhouse because of this virus. I still have the six people I love more than Life itself here with me, struggling, laughing, and upholding each other. NOTHING is more important than this.
We have had many successes and a few frustrations these past few weeks here at the Homestead.
Frustration #1: It’s been something like 13 weeks and my kids STILL haven’t received their tax refund. This is delaying the start of our home-building adventure, and we are quickly running out of time to be at least partially under a roof by winter. We are watching the cost of our construction rise weekly due to the increases in raw materials prices.
Still, the lesson in patience hasn’t been all negative. During the wait, Mike was inspired to redesign our house. His changes will save us 25% on our concrete costs, which was the largest part of our budget. We have also been tackling some long-delayed outdoor projects, and have been doing some awesome work making the greenhouse cooler for the brutal summer months to come. My goal is to actually get some tomatoes this year instead of the 15-foot, barren, green monstrosities I produced last summer.
Frustration #2: Mike has had a few issues with our tractor recently, and has had to spend a lot of time tinkering with it. Of course, every day spent fixing the tractor is another day of not being able to do the work we need to do. Yesterday, he spent a long time working on the broken ignition switch, and was quite frustrated. But he brainstormed a workaround last night, and hopefully we will be up and running in short order. We’ve got some rain in the forecast, though, so an operational tractor may be a moot point for the next several days.
Frustration #3: I’m not sure if we will be able to get much of an outside garden put in this summer, and I am really disappointed. Mike had plowed a lovely patch up on the hill. Justin brought out the new tiller so I could start planting my veggies over the weekend. He got 3 feet and the wheel fell off!! An easy enough fix, but even after Mike plowed, Justin couldn’t till the ground due to the rocks and huge clumps of glorious Missouri clay. Mike is going to try running the plow over the ground again, but apparently what we really need is a disk harrow (See Frustration #1: The tax refund).
Never a Lack of Projects
But even with all the bumps in the road, I manage to fill my time here with a ton of productive work. This past weekend, I was able to almost complete the final transition from winter to summer greenhouse. Back in March, I foolishly thought it would just take a couple of weekends. Been working on it for a couple months now! I have a few of my winter plants (mostly lettuce) currently going to seed still in their beds. I have brown bags filled with seed pods from radishes, kale, yellow winter choy, tat soi, and spinach. Most of them have dried out and I will be harvesting the seeds for next year soon.
I weeded and prepared all the beds for more summer plantings. I have a fair number of green peppers and sweet banana peppers going, 8 tomatoes starting to set some fruit, and a few vines that seem really happy.
I still have some room, and will probably fill in with some purchased starts (This feels like defeat-I really wanted ALL my food to be started here with my seeds. But it is what it is).
An Interesting Experiment
We have a couple of empty beds in the greenhouse. Obtaining suitable garden soil in bulk where we live is a prohibitively expensive venture. So I tried something. Last fall, as I was pulling out my summer veggies to prepare for winter, I took ALL the vegetation and started piling it into one of the empty garden boxes. Entire tomato vines. I should have chopped everything up, but that sounded like way too much work. I added plant material to the point where the box was overflowing. Over the winter, I would occasionally turn and water it, and also add any trimmings I pulled out of the other boxes. Old pots full of used potting soil, etc. It is slowly breaking down and making some lovely soil now, with a healthy little ecosystem of worms and pill bugs. I would say I have another year of this before I will be able to start planting, but it will be one box filled for free.
Libby’s Fairy Tea Garden
I repurposed our old culinary herb garden right outside of the kitchen, and planted some new herbs so my granddaughter can blend her own teas. We have chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, chocolate mint, spearmint, and peppermint growing. She has improved it by turning it into a magical little fairy garden, with shiny trinkets, gnomes, fairies, and even a tiny swimming pool! She is currently drying a huge crop of chamomile flowers and will soon have a lovely tea collection for us all to enjoy!
My little 11-year-old Mini-Me!
We were able to get the shade cloth up this year BEFORE the tomatoes were damaged. I have a really nice big fan, and we are relocating it soon so that it actually brings cooler air IN, rather than just blow around hot air, as it is doing now. We will also be adding some screening to the sides of the greenhouse soon, and then hopefully we will have a true four-season greenhouse.
Pics: The shade cloth doing its thing, me in my happy place, snapdragons blooming, horseradish that won’t stop, an accidental chamomile patch, my new Mason bee house, a recently-discovered peach tree, and blackberries starting, baybee!!!!
Count It All Joy
After a frantic season of forward motion, big improvements, and inspired planning, we seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern right now. Even though we are a bit frustrated with the delays, we are still amazed at how much we are accomplishing. I am absolutely in love with my Homesteading life and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
I could do without the ticks, though. Pestilence level: Biblical/apocalyptic. And squash bugs. Miserable, miserable little creatures.