Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A Few Notes on Seed Saving

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

While everyone is poring over their seed catalogs and dreaming of warmer weather, (at least us here in the Northern Hemisphere) planning for seed saving needs to be part of the scheme too.

I always say the work of gardening and farming is half observation. And this is especially important if you're going to save seeds. Paying attention all year round from seed storage during the off season, how the plant behaves during the growing season, and finally at harvest time all have a bearing on the success or failure of your endeavor.

Good seedling vigor is important, and can be an indicator of your seed selection from the year before. Or a big one, seed storage. No matter how good your seed was, if you don't take care of it during the off-season you risk poor germination. Dark, cool, and dry are the best and easiest to pull off for the home gardener. If you have room in your freezer (I don't) that would be the ideal situation. I store my seeds in a cabinet in a cool room in our house, and I don't have any trouble with the viability of my seeds.

Cucurbita maxima, and Cucurbita pepo

While you're planning your garden layout, plan for seed saving too. Some plants freely cross, so you have to do your homework for isolation, and how plants are pollinated. Wind, insect, self? Do I need only one plant or do I need a large number to insure the plant variety doesn't run down? Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe and Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth are good books on the subject.

I save seeds from winter squash and naked seed pumpkins, who will not cross, so they can be planted near each other. Summer squash will cross with my naked seed pumpkins so I have to plant my zucchini in a different garden.

I have found that growing the Naked Seed pumpkins are a good fill-in in my food pantry for nuts. They are delicious in pesto, and take the place of more exotic and expensive nuts. There is no competition from squirrels for these seeds, and they are ready within one growing season. Planting nut trees is always a good idea, but these pumpkins can help you weather the gap between nut tree planting and bearing age.

They are easy to harvest, and will keep in storage for a few months while other pressing garden and preserving duties take place.

It's been nice to peck away at this job. I store these in the barn, so I can throw open the doors on a sunny day and get to work. My limitations on harvesting these seeds are getting it done before they rot, since C. pepo's aren't know for keeping, and being able to dry these properly for storage without any molding.

Styrian Naked Seed pumpkin.

My method is pretty simple, I just cut or break open the pumpkins, pull out the seeds with my fingers until I have a colander full of seeds. That is about the quantity that I can dry in my kitchen without taking up too much space. Mileage may vary. While I'm doing this, I am observing or asking questions. Do larger pumpkins have more seeds? Do I see any variation in seeds in correlation to size of pumpkins? Do some have less stringy flesh? Are some rotten and others not? Any evidence of cross pollination? Do they taste good or bitter? All these questions get answered and go along with any observations I have made during the growing season, and are important if I am to save the seeds best acclimated to my garden.

After harvesting the seeds, I wash the seeds in the colander and pick out the remaining bits of flesh. The water seems to break the bond between the two and makes it much easier to separate the seeds. After washing, spread the seeds on screens if you have them or baking sheets, no more than a layer deep. Air circulation is the key to proper drying. For seed saving I only air dry, but for the pantry, I may occasionally put a tray in the warming oven of the cookstove, or in the electric stove oven after baking something. Note to self: Check oven for seeds before turning on to bake again. Don't ask how I know that...

The flesh is pretty stringy compared to my winter squash, so I feed the pumpkin leftovers to our cattle or chickens. They get a treat, and I can get rid of the mess. And if you're cramped for space in your garden, I think these would be perfectly edible.

I like to think that observing the plant through all the stages, makes gardening that much more interesting. The joy of gardening is not just the eating.


Michelle J said...

Is this the "Williams" variety? I bought some naked seeded pumpkins for the first time to try this year, as we have the same problem with growing our own nut - the squirrels and the jays get them first. :\

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

No, this is Styrian Naked Seed, I got my first seeds from Turtle Tree Seeds.

Myrnie said...

I harvested pumpkin (Amish Pie) and butternut (Waltham) seeds this year- it was my first time successfully growing any kind of squash, and I'm not sure how to tell if the seeds are fully formed. The pumpkin seeds look like I'd expect them too, but the butternut seem slightly shrunken. I guess the only way to really know is to plant them in the Spring, but thought I'd ask your opinion :)

becky3086 said...

I would love to hear more about how these are used like nuts? I have never heard of that before.

Cameron said...

I always worry that I don't have enough plants growing to maintain genetic vigor and diversity between a year or two. Do you plan on growing these seeds out through several gens, and if so, how long do you think you can keep growing them with the number that you have planted each year?

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Myrnie, if the seeds are viable and where pollinated, they will be fat and full. If you're not sure cut one open and see if the seed is inside. They should have a white shell on the outside and a fully formed seed inside the hull. Another way to tell is to put them in a container of water and the floaters won't be viable.

Beck2086, when you buy pumpkin seeds or pepitas, this is what they are. You can roast them or use them in place of nuts. They have a high oil content and are grown commercially for pumpkin seed oil. It's hard to eat just one!

Cameron, that is a conundrum with small gardens. You need about 2 dozen plants to preserve the variety beyond one generation. With 25 plants you can save the seed from just one specimen because it will most likely have the genetic material of all the plants in that row or patch. There are a couple of ways around this, one is to save all the seed you plant from one planting and use that same seed for several years, and then buy or trade for new seed - or barter with someone who likes to grow lots of squash for something you are have a knack with. A friend of mine trades her culinary herbs for staples and it works out very well.

Anonymous said...

I grew naked seed pumpkins 2 years ago and was very disappointed with the yield. So few seeds in each pumpkin! Maybe my pumpkins were too small - 7" across. I might try again with more compost...

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Anon, it may be the variety, I have found some to be more prolific than others. I had some large pumpkins this year and they didn't yield anymore seeds than their smaller counterparts.

mom24boys said...

So when you call these "Naked Seed" does that mean that the seeds don't have an outer skin that needs to be peeled?

I think we could get a lot of mileage out of these and we do have enough room for them. I have been trying to find a substitute for nuts because we just can't rely on trees (time, squirrels, jays, worms)

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Mom24boys, Yes, they are hull-less, and pretty easy to harvest and store after drying. They are definitely worth a try if you have the garden space. Here is a link to a popular variety:

Foy Update said...

I always grow the pumpkins in the compost pile. The first time they just came up there on their own. We must have thrown a couple seeds out with the kitchen scraps. They were the biggest, most productive pumpkin vines I've ever grown. Now that's the only way I can see growing them.

As for the sinking or floating seeds that's not necessarily a fool proof test. Seeds do dry over time and remain viable even if they float. I usually just go by how fat and firm the seed is. If the seed is wrinkled or deflated its chances of germinating are greatly decreased.

As for saving seeds, I grow several varieties and I have found they will occasionally cross pollinate with zucchini. I don't have a lot of space, so I don't know how far apart you have to be to avoid this, but the random half breed is kind of entertaining but annoying in that it generally won't produce anything worth eating.

I had not heard of the naked seed varieties. I like the idea of an alternative to nut collecting.

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...

Foy, the floating test works when the seeds are first harvested, you do it before you dry them during processing. I never process that many so I do like you, if they're fat they go in the save pile. :)

Blackberry brambles said...

Great post... I'm growing these for the first time this year, your post will help a lot.