Tag Archives: Seed Saving

Growing Guide: Ground Cherries

You’ve probably grown tomatoes and maybe even tomatillos, but their lesser-known relative, the ground cherry, deserves a spot in your Solanaceae (nightshade family) lineup. Ground cherries have a more sweet, fruity flavor, hence the name ground cherry. They’re well suited to sweeter, dessert-type recipes than their relatives and are tasty fresh, too!

Ground Cherry History

Ground cherries are native to South and Central America and may have originated in Brazil before spreading to Peru and Chile. They were one of the many crops cultivated by indigenous peoples in the Americas before European contact, and Europeans brought them to England in 1774.

English colonists brought them to the Cape of Good Hope, earning them one of their other common names, the Cape Gooseberry. As colonists traveled with them, the plants made their way back to North America. 

While ground cherries were popular with small farmers, they were never commercialized, probably due to their ripening and harvest, which we’ll get into in a bit. Today, they remain popular among specific communities like the Pennsylvania Dutch, who grow them for jams and preserves.

Starting Ground Cherry Seeds

Growing ground cherries is a lot like growing tomatoes! Start your seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost. Plant the seeds about 1/4 inch deep, and for good germination, maintain a soil temperature between 75 and 85 degrees F.

Ground cherries typically take 7 to 10 days to germinate.

Transplanting Ground Cherries

Ground Cherries should be transplanted out after all danger of frost has passed. Harden off your transplants for a couple of weeks before planting.

Transplant them into a bed that has rich, well-drained, light soil. You may need to amend the bed with compost, as ground cherries are heavy feeders. You should also select a bed that receives full sun.

Rotate Your Ground Cherries

Rotating your crops is essential, and ground cherries are no exception. We like to rotate crops by family. Ground cherries are a member of the Solanaceae family, like tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplants, and potatoes, so we avoid planting them in beds where any of these crops have grown in the last couple of years.

Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries
One of our customer favorites, Cossack Pineapple Ground Cherries

Ground Cherry Spacing

Unlike tomatoes and tomatillos, ground cherries don’t require trellising or cages. However, they still need proper spacing. Ground cherries have a sprawling, spreading growth form, so you should place them 2 to 4 feet apart. In some varieties, like Mary’s Niagara Ground Cherry, plants can surpass 6 feet wide in good growing conditions. 

Ground Cherry Care

Keep your ground cherries weeded and water consistently. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. After the soil temperature has risen in June, mulching around plants is a good idea. It will help with weeding and prevent the fruits from getting dirty or rotting as quickly around harvest time.

Harvesting Ground Cherries 

Ground cherries are edible and tasty when fully ripe and yellow, and their husk is brown and dry. Usually, this also means the cherries have fallen off the plant and are lying on the ground. Collect your fallen cherries and remove the husks before eating. 

This habit of dropping ripe fruit is one of the reasons ground cherries have never seen widespread commercial interest.

Using Ground Cherries

Ground cherries can be eaten fresh, cooked, or preserved for later. Ground cherries also have a good shelf life and can be kept fresh for weeks before processing. Here are a few of our favorite recipes we’ve found for ground cherries:

Preserve your ground cherries for later with Grandma Ott’s Ground Cherry Jam from Seed Savers.

Make breakfast special with this 10-Minute Ground Cherry Coffee Cake from The Kitchn.

Try this Ground Cherry Tart from The Forager Chef for a simple dessert that really lets the ground cherry flavor shine through.

Try a more savory approach with this recipe from Ground Cherry Salsa from Health Starts in the Kitchen.

Turn your ground cherries into moist and delicious cake with this Coley Cooks recipe for Ground Cherry Torte.

Saving Ground Cherry Seed

You may not have to save seeds, as ground cherries have a strong tendency to self-sow. However, if you’d like to steward a variety, we recommend separating varieties by 300 feet for pure seed. You only need one plant to save viable seeds, but if you want to maintain a variety over many generations, save seeds from between 5 and 20 plants.

Processing and saving the seeds is exactly like processing tomato seeds. Squeeze the seeds and pulp into a jar, add about as much water, and let the mixture ferment for 2 to 3 days, stirring once a day. A little mold growth on top is fine.

After fermenting, add more water so that the pulp and non-viable seeds float to the surface and pour them off. You may need to repeat this a couple of times. Then, rinse your good seeds in a mesh strainer or cheesecloth with clean water.

Let your seeds dry out of direct sunlight for three weeks. Then, store them in an airtight container out of the sun.

Climate Change Impacts on Seed Growers

This past summer, an unprecedented amount of people have felt the effects of climate change. There was flooding in the northeast, wildfires in Canada that spread smoke across the eastern United States, record-breaking summer temperatures, and varying weather patterns. While we can’t say definitely how climate change will affect our local area and business, we do know that we’re already seeing some changes. Here are a few ways climate change is currently affecting seed growers.

High Temperatures

Not long ago, scientists referred to climate change as global warming, as overall, we expect to see an increase in temperature. Today, we call it climate change, as this better represents the scope of changes that will be seen across the globe. However, higher-than-average temperatures are still expected to be part of this change. In the last few years here in Virginia, we’ve seen higher-than-average temperatures across all seasons, including a few record-breaking days. 

Increased temperatures during winter may seem enjoyable, but they can also be problematic. Cold winters help to knock back certain pests and diseases. Additionally, some plants actually need a cold period or “cold vernalization.” While we can mimic this for some species by starting their seeds in a freezer or cooler, other plants, like hardneck garlic, need to be grown outdoors where there are consistently chilly temperatures.

High temperatures in spring, summer, and fall can also affect what plants we can grow seeds for or when we can grow them. Many cool weather-loving crops, like English shell peas, fail to produce well when temperatures are higher than average, meaning that we sometimes end up with less seed. High enough temperatures can also prevent crops from flowering or even kill some crops before they can go to seed.

They also affect how well plants are pollinated. If you’ve ever noticed more bees flying around your garden in July in the morning or evening rather than mid-day, it’s the heat. Many pollinators can’t move around and pollinate effectively in high temperatures. 

Person on tractor with equipment
Wood Prairie Family Farm Preparing for Fall Cover Crops

Increased Periods of Rain or Drought

While rain is a good thing, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Wet fields can spell trouble for farmers trying to get seed in on time. While you sometimes have plenty of wiggle room with crops you plan to harvest as fresh vegetables, crops that need to complete their entire lifecycle and mature seed often require the whole season.

Too much wet, humid weather can also cause trouble during the season too. Wet conditions can increase the occurrence of fungal diseases like powdery mildew. At the end of the season, like in July, August, and September, rain can cause issues again if it rains for long periods on seeds that need to dry out for harvesting. 

In an article written by the Guardian, one of our Seed Growers, Jim Gerritsen, owner of the organic Wood Prairie Family Farm in Bridgewater, Maine, shared his experience with growing organic potatoes for seed over the last 40 years. He described how increased rain has lengthened his harvest time. Jim said, “You dig on a Monday. Then on Tuesday, you get an inch of rain, so you’re not digging,” he said. “You take Wednesday to dry out, and then you get back in the field on Thursday; then you get another half-inch rain on Friday. You’re not digging on Saturday because the ground [needs to] dry out, so maybe you don’t get back into the field until Monday.” He needs about 15 good dry days to harvest, but the increased fall rains he has been experiencing now mean those 15 days are often spread out over four or more weeks.4

Fire damage to OR 126 McKenzie Highway from the Holiday Farm Fire
Fire damage to OR 126 McKenzie Highway from the Holiday Farm Fire that came near Adaptive Seeds

Crop Losses from Major Weather Events and Natural Disasters

While our first concern is always the people involved in these intense strategies, it’s important to note that they can profoundly impact seed growers and farmers. In the last few years, we’ve seen several growers experience or narrowly escape a total crop loss due to natural disasters like flooding, wildfires, and hurricanes.

Fires Near and Far

In an interview for Think Out Loud, Sarah Kleeger, the founder of Adaptive Seeds, talks about the tough decisions and work they had to put in when the Holiday Farm Fire approached within 10 miles of their farm in 2020. 

She told Think Out Loud that when they knew it was time to evacuate, they took all their seeds with them, which took 8 to 10 pickup and trailer loads. They were allowed and continued to go back to the farm wearing respirators to harvest additional seeds. Thankfully, the farm escaped unscathed, but Sarah said it was an important learning experience about what they may need to do again in the future.3 

As some of you may know, wildfires can also take a less sudden toll on crops. Smoke and ash in the sky can prevent crops from getting enough sunlight, causing slower growth. The ash and chemicals in the smoke can also clog plants’ stomata, making respiration and photosynthesis next to impossible.

Flooded Fields

Sadly, Hardwick Vermont’s Riverside Farm, an organic farm just miles from High Mowing Seeds, wasn’t so lucky. When record rainfalls hit Vermont early this summer, their fields, which they’ve been growing on for over 30 years, flooded entirely, and they experienced a total crop loss. Thankfully, the community that values this farm so much has stepped up to help them recover.

While these events may seem scattered, they’re happening with more frequency. While we’re glad both of these farms turned out okay, some may not survive losing an entire season of income. Losing just a single seed grower can also significantly impact small seed companies like SESE, Sow True Seed, High Mowing, or Fedco. This, in turn, affects the availability of seeds for gardeners and farmers and, ultimately, global food production.5

Changes for Native and Naturalized Species

Climate change isn’t just impacting the species we grow in our gardens. It’s affecting the plants, fungi, insects, and animals that share these locations with us. As gardeners, we may find that different weeds are present in our gardens or that fewer birds are visiting our yards. So far, one of the most notable changes for gardeners has been the loss of many pollinators and beneficial insects.

Unfortunately, we can already see that climate change is quickly contributing to the decline of insects. Recent studies have shown that 41% of known insect species have declined steeply in the last decade.1 These species make up the basis of our ecosystems, and many are now facing extinction. 

What Can We Do?

Reading about these issues can bring a sense of gloom and hopelessness, yet all is not lost. There are many things individuals can do to improve the plight of seeds.

Save Seed

As a gardener, one of the easiest and best things you can do is to save seed from at least one variety. When you save seed, you’re preserving genetic diversity and helping to adapt an open-pollinated variety to the changing conditions we face.6 

Support Small Organizations 

Small seed organizations need all the support they can get in these troubled times, and they deserve it, too. Many, like Adaptive Seeds, are working hard to adapt and breed varieties that will hold up well in this changing climate. That’s one of the reasons we’ve compiled a list of small seed companies on our website. Though not comprehensive, we’ve included seed growers from the United States’ northern, eastern, and western regions that support social justice causes, sustainability in farming and gardening, and saving your own seed. 

Diversify What You Grow

If you cultivate a large plot, whether as a gardener, seed grower, or farmer, now is a great time to diversify. Growing a mix of crops will help lessen the blows when you have rough years with certain crops. Growing a diverse mix will help show you what varieties and traits are best performing in your changing area.

Start a Seed Library

Starting a seed library is an excellent idea if you’re up for some community involvement. In addition to preserving genetic diversity, seed libraries help to revitalize communities, improve food sovereignty, and help adapt seeds to a specific area. Read the Mother Earth News guide to get started with a seed library.2


Climate change is here whether everyone accepts it or not. It’s affecting our farmers and seed growers across the country. Recognizing these changes and doing our best to adapt and preserve seed will help us see a hopefully more stable future. 


1. Daley, Jason. “Insects Are Dying Off at an Alarming Rate.” Smithsonian Magazine, 12 Feb. 2019, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/study-shows-global-insect-populations-have-crashed-last-decade-180971474/

2. Conner, Cindy. “How to Start a Seed Library.” Mother Earth News, 18 Aug. 2016. https://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/seed-libraries-ze0z1608zfol/

3. Hernandez, Rolie. “Climate change affects seed growers.” Oregon Public Broadcasting, 15 Oct. 2021, https://www.opb.org/article/2021/10/15/climate-change-affects-seed-growers/#:~:text=Drought, extreme heat and smoke,and entire losses of crops.

4. Nargi, Lela. “‘No normal seasons any more’: seed farmers struggle amid the climate crisis.” The Guardian, 16 Oct. 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/oct/16/seed-farmers-climate-change

5. Singh, Rishi P, et al. “Impacts of Changing Climate and Climate Variability on Seed Production and Seed Industry.” Science Direct, Birsa Agriculture University, 19 Dec. 2012, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780124059429000025

6. Van Eendenburg , Hannah. “Seed Saving at the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis.” Green America, greenamerica.org/story/seed-saving-front-lines-climate-crisis. Accessed 1 Nov. 2023. 

Endless Blooms: How to Save Zinnia Seeds

Heirloom tomatoes and colorful corn varieties often garner much of the attention when we talk about seed saving, but it’s not just vegetables that have a rich history. Gardeners have saved and selected flower seeds for thousands of years. Zinnias, one of the easiest flowers to grow, are also easy to save seeds from to keep next year’s gardens full of blooms. Learn how to save zinnia seeds in a few simple steps.

Select Good, Open-Pollinated Plants

If you want to save seed, having an open-pollinated variety is best. Varieties can mostly be divided into two categories, hybrid and open-pollinated, with heirlooms falling under the open-pollinated umbrella. 

Hybrids are a first-generation cross between two parent varieties. As they are a cross, there’s no guarantee on what their seed will produce next year; they may revert to looking more like one of the parents rather than what you just grew. You can still save seed if you’re okay with a potential surprise.

Open-pollinated varieties are established varieties that produce “true-to-type.” You can save seeds from them year after year with little change unless you select for it. For example, if you only saved seeds from a particular shade bloom.

Red Beauty ZinniasAll of the zinnias we carry are open-pollinated.

The “good” part of this statement is somewhat relative. To start, try to save seeds from plants that have been healthy and vigorous. Avoid diseased plants, as some diseases, like powdery mildew, can remain on the seeds. Then, you can also focus on other characteristics like color, size, or bloom period. Essentially, save seeds from plants you think looked and performed the best in your garden.

Consider Cross-Pollination

If you’ve grown multiple varieties of zinnias, insects may have cross-pollinated them. To achieve pure seed, like what we sell, zinnia varieties need to be isolated by 1/2 mile. However, no rule says you need absolutely pure seed. It’s fine to save seed even if there’s been a little promiscuous pollination; you may get some fun surprise variation from next season’s flowers. 

Mature Zinnia Flower HeadAllow The Flowerheads to Dry

With any seeds, it’s essential to let them fully mature before harvesting to ensure good germination rates. For zinnias, this means that the flower heads, including the petals, should be brown and dry. When this happens, you’re ready to start saving seeds and can cut or pull the flowerheads from the plant.

Zinnias Seeds and Flower HeadProcess the Flowerheads

First, pull the petals off the flowerhead and set them aside for composting. Some seeds may come off with the petals. Then, rub the flowerhead over a flat surface until it comes apart to release the seeds. The seeds are brown and a bit arrow-shaped. Pick out any extra material you can and set it aside for composting.

Zinnia Seeds

Dry Your Zinnia Seeds

Allow your zinnia seeds to air dry on a towel or other flat surface for about one week. This will help ensure they’re fully dry and won’t mold in storage. 

Store Your Zinnia Seeds

After they’re fully dry, you can store your zinnia seeds. Place them in an airtight container somewhere cool and dark. Zinnia seeds can last 3 to 5 years if harvested and stored properly. 

Be sure to label your container with the variety and the year you harvested your seed. Once you start seed saving, it’s easy to save more, and you’ll need to keep track of your seeds!


Zinnias are easy to grow, and their long bloom period and variety of colors make them an excellent choice for any ornamental or cut flower garden. Saving your own zinnia seeds is simple! It’s also a great way to help steward an open-pollinated variety and save a bit of money. Follow these steps for success with zinnia seeds.