With all of the pies, muffins, and preserves that are being created this season (not to mention the pumpkins that’ll be carved a few months from now), there will be an extraordinary windfall of seeds to be scooped out of these majestic vegetables. Most people just toss the gooey innards away, but a frugal few will keep the nutrient-rich seeds as snacks—they’re great roasted and seasoned with herbs and salts, or even just raw right out of the shell. If you plan on getting your hands on some squashes or pumpkins this year, do yourself (and your garden-loving friends) a favor and save the seeds for more than just snacking! Putting a few of the seeds aside for your own garden is super-easy, and can provide you with some incredible vegetables for years to come. As with berries, herbs, and smaller fruits/veggies, be sure to only save organic seeds so you don’t sow a bunch of GMO-tampered crud into your food garden; there’s enough of that out there already.
Squash and Pumpkin Seeds
To save these seeds, place the stringy, slippery, pip-filled gourd innards into a colander or sieve as you’re hollowing out the shell. Let these seeds soak in warm water for a few minutes to loosen the flesh that’s sticking to them, and then slop them around under briskly running water to rinse off the last bits of goo still attached. Spread these seeds across the same screen you used for the smaller seeds and let them dry in a dark, warm place for about a week, and then store them in a paper bag until they’re fairly dry. If you haven’t yet created a screen for your seeds, fear not: you can use cotton dish towels, regular white paper, or a clean window screen you’ve popped free from your house and washed for this express purpose. Place the dry seeds in a new paper bag for another couple of weeks to air out and dry even more, and then store them in an airtight container (like a jar with a tight-fitting lid) until you’re ready to pop them into soil next spring.
Melon and Cucumber Seeds
These sweet, fleshy cousins of pumpkins and squashes are also related to cucumbers, as the lot of them are all part of the Cucurbitaceae family —and fortunately for us, the way to save their seeds is similar to that listed above. There is a slight difference if you plan to save melon or cucumber seeds, however: it’s really best to save these from plants that have grown in your own garden, rather than those you’ve bought from a store or farmer’s market, because the seeds become more viable the longer the plant is left on the stem. To save cucumber and melon seeds from your own garden plants, leave a couple on the stalks, elevated from the earth by a couple of bricks or rocks so they get air circulation around them. A couple of weeks after they’ve become ripe enough to pick, their skins will have thickened and hardened significantly and turned yellowy or orange, and the seeds within will have matured exponentially. Sure, it’ll be a bit harder to cut into them now, but the pips within will be far more likely to bear fruit once planted. You can then rub the seeds gently with a cloth to remove the gel membrane around them, and dry them as you would squash seeds.
*Note: melons need to be grown in isolation or they’ll cross-pollinate and won’t bear fruit. If you plan to grow melons in your garden next spring, stick to one variety, or if you really need to grow more than one, plant them at opposite ends of your property and pollinate them by hand.
If you’ve decided that you’d like to save part of your bean harvest for dry storage, you’re in luck: beans are incredibly easy to save. Let some of the big, heavy bean pods dry out in the sun, and once they’re nicely shrivelled and crunchy, toss them into a paper bag for a few weeks to dry out even further. You’ll then be able to crack them open with ease to extract the hard, dried bean inside it, and then store those in paper bags or sealed glass jars until you’re ready to slow-cook them for warming winter dishes, or shove them into the earth next planting season. Some people choose to store the entire dry bean pod instead of shelling them to get the seeds out, and that’s fine too—I’ve just found that doing so takes up valuable space that could be used to store more seeds, but use the method that you feel most comfortable with.
You’d be surprised how many plants you can grow from just a couple of seeds, so feel free to be generous in sharing and trading seeds with others. Biodiversity in gardening is a key to great plant health, and being able to grow one’s own food is amazingly rewarding. Cheers!