Saving Seed

The cucumber is a self-fertile, annual, fruited plant that makes its seed inside the fruit. In this it resembles the entire gourd family—pumpkin, squash, and so on—and also the nightshade fruits—tomatoes, green peppers, and eggplant. The "fruit" in this case is the cucumber itself. crosses: Cucumbers are cross-pollinated, with the pollen being carried from one flower to another by insects. That means any one cucumber variety will easily cross with another. But cucumbers will not cross with watermelon, muskmelon, pumpkin, or squash—only with other cucumber varieties. So to avoid crosses, pick one open-pollinated cucumber variety and plant just that. Or separate varieties by lA mile (preferable) or by at least 100 feet, with some natural barrier like a house in between. That works if you have no gardening neighbors.

selecting: Choose your best-looking cucumber fruits from your best-looking vines; really pay attention to health. The cucumbers intended for seed must be left to ripen on the vine. Mark them with a stake or some kind of tag so that somebody doesn't come along and accidentally pick them off.

Harvesting and Storing: After being green, your cucumbers for seed will turn yellow and then brown. The skin will become hard, almost like a gourd. Then it's finally ready. You can store the hard brown fruits in a cool place for as long as several weeks at this stage. That enables you to wait until all your seed cukes are ready and then process them all at once.

Getting Out the Seed: Cut each cucumber fruit in half, trying not to damage any more seeds than necessary as you do it. Spoon out the seed together with the surrounding pulp into a nonmetal container (glass or crockery). Let seeds and pulp sit and ferment at room temperature, stirring twice a day. After 2 to 4 days the jellylike pulp that had been clinging around the seeds will change into a thin liquid that lets them go. It's ready for the next step when most of the seeds are at the bottom of the dish and the liquid above is pretty much clear. Don't worry about the seeds that are still floating. They are doing that because they're hollow, no good, and wouldn't grow anyway. Skim and dump those. Don't get in a rush and skip this fermentation procedure because it destroys seed-borne disease—a very important step in saving cucumber seeds. Rinsing and Drying Seeds: Finish the seeds by filling your container with cool water, letting the seeds settle to the bottom and pouring off what's left. Do that several times. Now spread out the seeds to dry, no more than 1 layer deep, in a place like a sunny window. Don't use artificial heat like an oven or a heat lamp, because that could hurt or kill them. Figure on at least 2 days for them to dry, and then you can store.

STORING Seeds: Label them with the year, their variety, and the characteristics you selected them for. It's a long time until next spring or the spring after that, and you're liable to forget if you don't record it. Store seeds in a cold, dry place. Don't panic if they freeze. If the seed is dry, freezing not only won't hurt but may even improve the crop. Cucumber seeds can easily germinate for 5 years and maybe more.

Continue reading here: Harvesting

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