Saving Seed from the Garden
Every year a few gardeners ask about saving seed from their flowers
and vegetables. We would not have the wonderful heirloom varieties
if someone hadnt kept the seeds year to year. Seed saving
can be a rewarding and cost saving way to garden, but beware of
Not every plants seeds are worth keeping. Hybrid plants are
developed by crossing specific parent plants. Hybrids are wonderful
plants but the seed is often sterile or does not reproduce true
to the parent plant. Therefore, never save the seed from hybrids.
Another major problem is some plants flowers are open pollinated
by insects, wind or people. These plants include squash, cucumbers,
melon, parsley, cabbage, chard, broccoli, mustard greens, celery,
spinach, cauliflower, kale, radish, beets, onion, and basil. These
plants cross with others within their family. The only way to maintain
the original variety is to isolate by large distances. Isolation
is often impossible or impractical in a home garden.
Some seeds may transmit certain diseases. A disease that infected
a crop at the end of the growing season may do little damage to
that crop. However, if the seed is saved and planted the following
year, the disease may severely injure or even kill the young plants.
What can you save? Standard or heirloom varieties that are not
cross-pollinated by nearby plants are good candidates. Many gardeners
successfully keep beans, tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. Plants
you know are heirloom varieties are easy to save. Ask the person
or organization you obtained the seed from how they did it. Some
people like to experiment, but make sure you dont bet the
whole garden on saved seed.
When saving seed, always harvest from the best. Choose disease-free
plants with qualities you desire. Look for the most flavorful vegetables
or beautiful flowers. Consider size, harvest time and other characteristics.
Always harvest mature seed. For example, cucumber seeds at the
eating stage are not ripe and will not germinate if saved. You must
allow the fruit and seed to fully mature. Because seed set reduces
the vigor of the plant and discourages further fruit production,
wait until near the end of the season to save fruit for seed.
Seeds are mature or ripe when flowers are faded and dry or have
puffy tops. Plants with pods, like beans, are ready when the pods
are brown and dry. When seeds are ripe they usually turn from white
to cream colored or light brown to dark brown. Collect the seed
or fruits when most of the seed is ripe. Do not wait for everything
to mature because you may lose most of the seed to birds or animals.
Beans, peas, onions, carrots, corn, most flowers and herb seeds
are prepared by a dry method. Allow the seed to mature and dry as
long as possible on the plant. Complete the drying process by spreading
on a screen in a single layer in a well-ventilated dry location.
As the seed dries the chaff or pods can be removed or blown gently
away. An alternative method for extremely small or lightweight seed
is putting the dry seed heads into paper bags that will catch the
seed as it falls out.
Seed contained in fleshy fruits should be cleaned using the wet
method. Tomatoes, melons, squash, cucumber and roses are prepared
this way. Scoop the seed masses out of the fruit or lightly crush
fruits. Put the seed mass and a small amount of warm water in a
bucket or jar. Let the mix ferment for two to four days. Stir daily.
The fermentation process kills viruses and separates the good seed
from the bad seed and fruit pulp. After two to four days, the good
viable seeds will sink to the bottom of the container while the
pulp and bad seed float. Pour off the pulp, water, bad seed and
mold. Spread the good seed on a screen or paper towel to dry.
Seeds must be stored dry. Place in glass jar or envelopes. Make
sure you label all the containers or packages with the seed type
or variety, and date. Put in the freezer for two days to kill pests.
Then store in a cool dry location like a refrigerator. Seed that
molds was not sufficiently dry before storage.
Seed viability decreases over time. Parsley, onion, and sweet corn
must be used the next year. Most seed should be used within three
Seed saving is essential for maintaining unusual or heritage vegetables
and flowers. It is a great way to propagate many native plants too.
There are numerous seed saver exchanges, clubs, and listings in
magazines like Organic Gardening. Although you shouldnt
base your entire garden on saved seed you may want to give seed
saving a try.
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