Peruano beans hogging the corner of a trellis bed
I probably should have posted this months ago, before you guys all had your gardens started. Forgive me. I didn’t think about it until I raided the pantry for some seeds a couple of weeks ago.
Your grocery store or, even better, your farmers’ market, are great places to get seeds and tubers for your garden. The raid of the pantry? I had only a few Peruano beans left in a jar: far too few for a decent meal. I got these in the Hispanic section of a local chain store: they were packaged by Melissa’s, which is a reputable national company. Knowing how I hate to waste things, I planted what I had remaining.
Most dried beans are great candidates. Lentils and garbanzos are a bit too fussy to my liking, but black beans and pintos work just great if they’re not too old. I have also mentioned that most of my shallots are, indeed, grocery-store shallots that I plunked in the ground. This works fairly well for garlic greens too, but do not expect huge heads of garlic from the silverneck (softneck) garlic commonly available. Potatoes are also likely candidates, but be aware that organic potatoes are much better to use than a big bag of Idaho russets: most likely the latter have been treated not to sprout and have been grown in pretty awful pesticide-laden soil.
Did you find an heirloom (open-pollinated) tomato at your farmers’ market that you adore? How about an heirloom pepper? My rule for farmers’ markets: if they grow for them, they’ll grow for me. You can save the seed of both fairly easily. For peppers, ensure the fruit is fully ripe, then slit it open and scrape out the seeds. Wash the seeds in a mesh (screen) strainer, then place on a cookie sheet to dry, away from direct sunlight. They should keep for a couple of years if you keep them dry and cool. Tomatoes require a couple more steps, but keep that mesh strainer handy. Get a couple plastic tubs (half pint is perfect), one for each variety of tomato. Get a couple tomatoes of one variety, let ripen fully, then squeeze into a tub, seeds, pulp, skin and all. What you are going to do is rot off the gel sack that encloses each little seed: this sack contains something that prohibits germination. Add a tiny bit of water into the tub, stir, and let sit outside for one to three days. It will ferment and smell pretty bad, and a fungus will grow to cover the tub and the gel sack will have rotted off. Take a hose and your strainer, and you can separate the pulp, skin, etc. from the seed. Dry on a cookie sheet indoors, label your seed, and it too will keep for 2-3 years if kept dry and cool.
Root crops obviously won’t work, and nor will melons/squash/cucumbers. The former aren’t fruits (so no seed) but the latter obviously are, with their seed-filled bodies. Don’t bother. Most likely these fruits were grown for fruit production and not seed production. The flowers of the cucurbitae family are…promiscuous, let’s just say. The little Don Juans/trollops are easily crossed with other squashes and melons by action of both wind and pollinators. So I suppose that shouldn’t stop you from trying to save the seed: it doesn’t stop ME. Just know the chances of its coming true and not some weird barely edible mutt are fairly small.
Anyway. This should give you license to experiment, at least! I do, all the time.