The Great Seed Exchange, And A Little Update From The 2010 Tiny Garden

August 31st, 2010 - filed under: The Farm » Flora


Oh, deary me. Goodness goodness goodness. With a late spring, a miniature monster to care for fulltime, a foggy summer punctuated by unexpected heat waves, and most recently, two consecutive weekends away . . . it feels as though the world is conspiring against my garden. Ha! It’s just a hot mess up in there these days.

Oh well, I can’t complain! In this odd year of mostly hands-off-farming, I’ve actually learned a whole lot. And I’m so excited for next year! I can’t wait to implement all my new insights, and I just can’t wait to see this baby beast all covered in dirt and sprinkling seeds as he toddles along. We’re gonna have so much fun!


So speaking of seeds, I sort of have this grand idea. I want to organize an international seed exchange for Bonzai readers! I’ve always been enamored with the idea of saving seed – there’s something so inherently whimsical about this incredibly practical act. There are tons of really great reasons to do it, not to mention the fact that it’s just plain fun. I mean, talk about recycling!

I’ve written a bit about various seed-saving techniques, but the truth is, it’s fairly universal no matter the species. First, remove the plant part that holds the seeds. If it’s a pod or a flower, allow it to dry completely and then liberate the seeds. If it’s a fruit like a tomato or gourd, simply excavate the seeds and then allow them to dry out. Either way, collect your fully-dried seeds and label them clearly, storing in an airtight container (old spice jars work great). Easy as pie!

So this autumn as your garden begins to wind down, why not save as many seeds from as many plants as you can? Then email me, tell me what you’ve got and let me know what you’d want, and I’ll do my best to get everyone matched up for a great trade. I’ll post more info as the time draws near, but for now just remember to let some of your stock go to seed!


And now, a little look into my pitiful plot, haha. But I swear it’s not all my fault! It’s a similar story in every raised bed across the city. All the plants are petite; each bloom and fruit is delayed. I don’t know anybody who got homegrown blueberries, and even the Farmer’s Market produce is showing up late for the season.

What a strange year it’s been . . .

One thing I haven’t had any issue with is my gourds! Funny, since last year I planted a ton and didn’t get a one. But check ‘em out this time! They’re lovin’ it!

My very first homegrown pumpkin! There are a few of these guys already, with hints of more to come. I’m so excited!

I think this guy would grow up to be an acorn squash. Alas, I’m pretty sure he won’t make it. One of the casualties of heat + weekends away . . .

These are my first ripening tomatoes. Yes, my first tomatoes. It’s basically September. The best thing about waiting so long for your garden to get it together? Man, these are gonna taste soooo good.

What’s left of the chard. It was super lush but never got very big. But it still made many a smoothie! (of course!)

Beet greens . . . I wonder if there’s actually anything going on under there? Ah well, if nothing else the greens will be delicious!

My basils are finally starting to take off. I just hope it’s not too late! Pesto ahoy!

Summer is never complete without sunflowers! My big beauties are finally getting ready to bloom. They’re just about 7 feet tall already!

So tell me my dears, how has the season been where you live? Any luck in the garden this year? If so, I hope you’ll be saving your seeds!

  • Tenise Rae

    It has most definitely been a weird year. My tomatoes are just now turning red as well. I just picked my first three today. One of them had a couple of black spots on it….I’m thinking mineral deficiency possibly, maybe magnesium or something. We’ll see how the rest turn out.

    My lemon cucumber is taking over the garden. It’s almost suffocating the cherry tomato plant. Lots and lots of blooms, not a lot of cucumbers though. Hoping for more soon. That’s about it for veggies this year. We just moved and all. So next year will be freaking awesome. So excited for planning a huge garden!!

    Oh yeah and I saved tomato seeds from last year and they didn’t sprout. I didn’t know why but I just stumbled upon a video that said that tomato seeds need to be fermented before they sprout. I gotta look more into this but I thought that was interesting since we were on the subject of saving seeds. :D

  • michelle

    we here along the northern california coast had our official 3 days of summer last weekend…we broke with a record high of 73 degrees! yikes! haha!
    our garden is looking lush but the fruits are pitiful. our giant tomato plant has one mutant green baby…our blueberry gave no fruit this year and has turned black, i’m pretty sure shes dead (but we’re holding on to hope that she’ll miraculously turn around)…no strawberries on the strawberry plants (none! on any of them…all 10 plants!). we are now on our 5th basil plant and it is finally doing well. our chard took off and gave us tons of tasty sides though! and our quinoa is starting to do a litte something. now we’re on to our fall/winter garden, which is looking amazing!…napa cabbage, white sage, kale, and brussels sprouts! oh and of course our redwood saplings are maturing into little trees!
    we’re drying out our spaghetti squash harvest from last year and hoping for gourds…what a looooong process. but we are definitely interested in a seed exchange! best idea!

  • Meghan

    If your basil doesn’t have time this season you could always clip some and transplant them into indoor pots after they grow roots (just put the cut end in some water… I use shot glasses and old spice jars)

    Not much of a garden this year. We didn’t plant anything because we were going to be out of town most of the summer. A tomato plant popped in our pots on the balcony, I guess from seeds from discarded tomatoes that I never picked up. Hasn’t done wonderfully, as we’ve been ignoring it, but we did get to eat a few cherry tomatoes earlier this summer!

  • Erin B.

    Ugh, my first year of container gardening & only 1 red pepper & 3 little(but yummy) tomatoes. No signs of it changing. I’m in the MidWest & don’t know if it’s just me or it’s normal…it is my first year :)

  • Sarah

    Tenise Rae mentioned it, but I also have heard that you have to ferment tomatoes for the seeds to sprout. The process looks pretty easy. My winter compost actually did the work for me too-I got maybe 2 dozen baby tomato plants when I laid out some compost this spring!

    I probably won’t have too many seeds to exchange this year, but I can’t wait to see how it goes! Our garden is mostly shady, but our peppers thrived in our one sunny spot! I’m drying about 3 dozen cayennes right now, and there are 10-15 more on the 1 plant I have. The jalapeño has had a handful of fruits, but it will pick up as our weather cools and dries a little here in Florida. I got a few tomatoes early in the season, but our tomato season has been pretty much over. My piccolo basil, chives, chocolate mint and oregano are hanging in there, and my catnip has gone absolutely crazy! I tried to plant some cotton, but I didn’t put it in a sunny enough spot, I don’t think. I really really wanted to grow luffas too (I’ve been trying for a few years) but not enough sun! I was definitely a hands off gardener once the weather heated up and the summer rains came… A little messy out there.

    I do need to start out my fall greens! I’m pregnant and due next week, though, so… before or during labor, do you think? :P

  • Pat

    @Erin B. my first year of container gardening too, only two things went really well for me, that was the tomato plant and my various italian herbs (of which i will try to gather the seeds, as most of them are in flower right now). my peppers, pumpkins and cougettes had lots of flowers, but no actual edible veg.
    i was wondering if it was me, too! But maybe it was the weather?!?

  • Felicia

    My four beautiful heirloom tomato plants prodced a handful of fruits before everything started rotting on the vine. Most people I’ve spoken with down here (Southeast Tennessee) had a similar experience. It breaks my heart that I didn’t even get anything off the German Queen, let alone manage to save any seeds. I And my accidental pumpkins fell to the squash bugs a few weeks ago.
    I hope your seed exchange goes well, maybe I’ll have better luck with my garden next year and have something to offer.

  • Becca

    I sell a product called Wildtree that is all natural herbs and grapeseed oils that are preservative free, no additives, no msg, no dyes but, taste AMAZING!! With that said, my hubby and I planted a pretty good size garden this year with beets, squash, onions, peppers, tomatoes (pear, heirloom, roma, grape, and big boys), watermelon, carrots, 4 kinds of lettuce, pole beans, peas, okra, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cantaloupe, honeydew, corn, and cucumbers. We used seeds and started them inside in April, they were 3 inches when we planted them outside at the end of May. Btw, we live in Ohio – unpredictable weather!!! :(
    Well, it didn’t go so hot this year and I’m really sad because I LOVE to can things and have them in the winter. The only things that produced were the cukes, the tomatoes (turning now!), corn, squash,okra, and peppers:( Nothing else made it!!!! We watered, and sprayed neem oil to keep the bugs and animals out -which worked but, it didn’t help with the growing process:(
    Next year we are going to use compost the neighbors and us are making, and till it really good. I spose the farmer’s markets will do for the rest of the season..not that I’m complaining:)

  • Hyla

    I was just out assessing my disappointing garden beds. For the second year in a row, not ONE zucchini. How crazy is that? I did have some success with the cooler crops earlier this summer though and Hopefully I’ll have better luck with my fall crop. Gotta love mother nature!

  • Beens

    Man, I am homesick now! On the day that I left the UK, the plums on my mother’s tree had just ripened, I sat on the grass eating as many as I could before leaving for the airport!

    Yesterday was NZ’s ‘official’ first day of spring *looks out at the rain coming down* so I absolutely can’t wait to get something into the soil, I’ll probably start small with some salad leaves, herbs and tomatoes. It has been a mild winter out here, but I’m anticipating some really cold snaps this month. Either way, I *will* have some homegrown vegetables, what better homage as an immigrant than to grow something in the soil of your new home?

  • Annie

    Here in the upside-down land of Australia, we’re awaiting spring to properly begin. On top of my wardrobe in my room is large plates with cotton wool housing some just sprouting seeds that are waiting for any sign of a sunny day to be planted. Summer is definately goign to abundant.
    Once the winter came this year, everyone in my house sort of gave up the garden – everything but weeds died. I did manage to fill the front of my shirt (should really get a basket!) with green tomatoes, and made green tomato pickle. Alas, no one in my house but me likes ‘nanna food’. We have two bountiful peach trees, and last summer my home-brew expert boyfriend made an awesome peach wine. My housemate and I made peach jam and the rest were given out to friends and at Food Not Bombs. On the way to the train the other day, I spied a flyer for a veggie swap that starts in November. YAY!

  • Saundra

    Everything of mine burnt up minus 1 pepper plant and a lil basil then my mom went and took all but one of my peppers which is seeding out now crappy year overall :(

  • Sayward

    So it sounds like the consensus is that this year was just hard on gardens! At least I’m not alone! =D

    But I am so glad to hear that some of you did have some success! I’ll look into the tomato seed saving techniques – thanks for the heads up on that guys. I’ve never tried tomatoes before but I’ll definitely want to this year.

    Hee’s to hoping the crops keep coming! Summer’s not over yet (and good luck to those who are entering spring!!)

  • Catnip

    We’ve got plenty of basil – I put mine under a empty vinegar bottle with the bottom cut out until mid June – a mini greenhouse

  • Kelly H.

    Neat idea. I’ve never thought about saving any seeds except those from garlic. I have TONS of those to plant/share!

    My garden was also very lush – chard, spinach, kale and snap peas galore – but not very fruity at all. The tomato plants grew HUGE but bore very little fruit. A couple small ones here and there. I have two plants off in their own barrel and they are covered in green tomatoes…We’ll see if they redden up. I have a few peppers, but I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be green or red and I’m also not sure how big I’m supposed to let them get. I had starts and no instructions!

    Meghan – I didn’t realize you could transplant basil. Thanks for the info!

  • sarah

    I can’t believe you guys are just now getting tomatoes… (in Missouri) ours were pretty abundant until the last several weeks and the heat just killed them. I agree with the “lush but no fruit” consensus though. Everything did well, but it did seem like there was more plant than tomato if you know what I mean. And it wasn’t a good year for most berries.

    We mostly plant snow peas (spring only) cucumbers (pickling) and tomatoes (5 or so different varieties) although we did do a lot of peppers this year for some reason. The fun thing about gardening is that every year you realize things you should do differently… one particular variety of tomato was so unbelieveable this year that we are planting nothing but that one for next year – I saved seeds for us, but unfortunately didn’t get as many as I’d like, otherwise I’d love to share.

    We did a lot of lacto-fermented pickles this year which was nice. I got quite a bit of things canned (although can never have enough stewed tomatoes). I think if everyone keeps a seed swap in mind for next year it will be awesome.

    Sayward I was curious although I think I already know the answer – did you try your potato tire tower again this year? We do have a 600 sq. foot garden but I don’t like the potatoes taking up so much room so I try to incorporate veggies and herbs into my landscaping and I was thinking about trying that… but only if it worked better than last year. Otherwise I may just section off a corner of the backyard.

  • windycityvegan

    For those of you letting things just go to seed, be sure you do some research about second generation/hybrid offspring – I know that if some of my squash or tomato plants cross-pollinate with different species of their type of plant, seeds that produce the next generation do not always yield good results. Nothing sucks more than meticulously saving seeds, only to find that the generation they produce result in really leafy plants with little else because you didn’t space the first generation plant species out far enough! SSE has some great information about species-specific precautions to take if you plan on saving your own seed.

    I have Moon & Star seeds right now, but the rest of my cucurbits fell victim to squash bugs. I will probably have some good brassica seeds after my autumn garden winds down, I will keep you posted.

  • Sayward

    @ sarah – I did not manage to do potato tires this year, but I am planning a modified version for next year. My big scheme is to mix a *ton* of perlite into the dirt. I think my soil was way too dense last time. Maybe next year we’ll be experimenting at the same time – we can compare notes!

  • Sarah D.

    I’ll have extra cantaloup, dill & pepper seeds (not bell but spicy varieties…jalapeno, cayenne, habanero, banana- hot & sweet)…we’ll see. I haven’t gathered the pepper seeds yet. I’m in the process of fermenting the tomato seeds so we’ll see how much good seed I have from those. If that goes well then I might have some better boy, cherry & self-seeding cherry (less tasty but still great dehydrating). Keep me looped in on the seed exchange process, I’m willing to share my extras.

  • Meghan

    For zucchinis/squashes/cucumbers, is there a certain size that you should let the plants get before harvesting them to get the seeds? Bennings Green Tint, for example, seems to have much better developed seeds if I let the squash stay on the vine longer than I would if I were just planning on eating it.

  • Sayward

    @ Meghan – I think as long as they are fully mature then you should be fine. The seeds will continue to grow in size but they’re viable as long as the fruit is mature – their size after that is not so important, I think.

  • Sarah

    @ Meghan, I thought I’d check my resources & see if I could help answer your question. I’m looking it up in the Seed to Seed book by Suzanne Ashworth. It’s an excellent book if you’re looking for one. So re: squash & zucchini, they are all a part of the same family (genus) that has 6 different species. Crossing will happen within the same species but you’re safe saving seeds in the family as a whole if you only grow 1 variety of each species. So- crookneck, straightneck & zucchini will cross with each other. It recommends a 1/2 mile separation so if neighbors are growing then it might break that rule. It also suggests isolation OR hand pollinating. It’s making it sound like hand pollinating these guys is pretty easy. It says that the fruits have a greater number of viable seeds when cut from the vine and left to sit for 3 wks or longer. Rinse in colander to remove strings or debris, rub in a wire strainer if seeds still have flesh attached that is hard to remove. Drain & dry. They’ll remain viable for 6 yrs when stored properly. Cucumbers are a part of this family too (cucurbitaceae) but not the same species so they won’t cross pollinate with squash & zucchini. If your cucumber produces bitter fruit then you shouldn’t save the seeds. All cucumbers will cross with each other. Grow to full maturity & allow to ripen past edible stage. Fruits will be large and beginning to soften.. Some will change from green to white or deep yellow or orange. Cut open & scoop the seeds into a large bowl. The gelatinous sack around each seed needs removed by fermentation. Add 50% seeds, 50% water (equal parts) in a bowl or jar. Set away from direct sunlight in a protected location & allow to ferment. Will take 1-3 days depending on the temperatures. Smell will be pungent and some mold may form over the top. Stir it up twice a day. Fermentation is complete when most of the seeds have settled to the bottom and seedcases are floating on the top. Stir while adding as much water as possible, which allows the clean seeds to settle to the bottom & the debris and hollow seeds to float. You can pour of what’s floating. Repeat until you have only clean seeds on the bottom. Strain & dampen to remove moisture. Lay out on a cookie sheet to dry. Seed will remain viable for 10 years when stored properly.

  • Meghan

    Thanks, Sarah! That sounds like a great book, I’ll see if my library has a copy! That’s a lot of information!

  • Toni Dill

    I’m new, and I started your blog from the begging, looking thru each post. Been vegetarian 10 years, developed fibromyalgia, and heard vegan might cure me, and was referred here! They said you had symptoms and cured yourself, so amazing! Anyhow, I don’t know if you had stumbled upon this, but Native American used to do 3 sisters gardens. You plant corn, when it gets 2 foot high, you plant peas or pole beans, and climbing beans that puts nitrogen in your soil, and when the peas or beans take off, you plant gourds, pumpkins, zucchini, anything like that. The peas climb the corn, and feed it, and the gourds shade the ground, requiring less watering.