Whys and Hows of Saving Seeds Garden Sense

Saving Seeds

English: Organic vegetables at a farmers' mark...

English: Organic vegetables at a farmers’ market in Argentina. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Talk to your parents or grandparents about how vegetables tasted when they were young. I’m sure you will hear things like, “That’s when a tomato tasted like a tomato,” or “Today’s stuff doesn’t have any flavor.”  But what does that mean? 

 By the turn of the Twentieth Century, seed companies touted marvelous new hybrids to the general public.  These new and improved models made more varieties widely available at a fraction of the old cost for purchased seed.  No more collecting, preparing and storing seeds!

So now we have patio tomatoes, yellow watermelons and tangelos, so why save seeds?

Because newer isn’t always better.  It may be true that certain hybrids are more resistant to a particular pest or disease.  Yet, hybrid plants often lose their natural disease and pest resistance in general through the cross-pollination process.  Parent plants also offer natural weather and cold-hardiness protection from years of adaptation that the cross-pollinated offspring do not always possess.

Another factor to consider is taste. Although it is true that flavor relates to how a plant processes minerals, vegetable seed that were saved and passed from generation to generation retained these important mineral-absorbing qualities.  These plants and seeds became known as “heirlooms”.  Gardeners created heirlooms by saving seeds from only their best tasting and most vigorously growing plants and using them the following season.  Given the right soil conditions, heirlooms stay true to form.

Besides resistance and taste, there is a certain satisfaction to harvesting crops grown from saved seed.  By saving seed, you will also be practicing thrift, preserving history and biodiversity, self-reliance and contributing to a better overall plant base.

Some things to keep in mind when seed saving:

  • Save seed only from open-pollinated, or self-pollinated plants to keep true to form. Growing more than one variety of a crop near each other may lead to cross-pollination by birds and insects.  These seeds will react like other hybrids and may not produce exact duplicates.
  • Gather mature seeds only.  Wait until the pods are dry and tie a paper bag or cheesecloth around the plant.  It is important to do this before the pod splits. Gently shake loose the pod and collect the seeds.
  • Dry the seeds as soon as possible and store in an airtight glass jar in a cool, dry dark place.
  • Label everything from planting to storage.  Include common and botanical name, performance, special requirements and maturity date.
  • Save seed from annual and biennial plants only.  Perennials should be propagated by division or asexually for best results.
  • Tomatoes require a fermentation process to properly store their seed.  First, select only the ripest tomatoes that are just past the eating stage.  Next, squeeze out the entire gelatin looking fiber where the seed are stored into a sterile glass jar.  Add enough water to cover this mixture and gently stir.  Allow the jar to stand at room temperature for 2 to 4 days, stirring the seeds occasionally.  The good seeds will sink to the bottom, but may still have a little pulp on them. Repeat this process until no pulp clings and only seeds remain on the bottom.  Remove the pulp and dry out the seeds.  
  • Never plant all the saved seed at once.  These varieties could be lost forever in something devastated your garden.
  • There are many advantages to saving seeds from your flower and vegetable beds, but knowing which seeds to save will improve your success.
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