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Showing posts with label Seed saving. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Seed saving. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Saving Heirloom Vegetable Seeds

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese

Wouldn't it be really cool if you didn't have to buy vegetable seeds ever again?  Well, you can, with a little bit of knowledge and practice.  Seed saving for the crop next season is fun and very cheap, and the beauty of it is that you can begin to adapt plant varieties to become conditioned to your climate.

I have tried seed saving with mixed success, so in this post I will try and explain how I have achieved at least a few successes and what I have learned along the way.  So far I have managed to save quite a few types of vegetables using a few different methods.

The first type of seed that I tried to save was purple podded peas.  It was simple enough to decide which plant was the largest and had the biggest pods. So after I harvested the other plants, I left this one to dry out so that I could collect the seeds.  If you are expecting lots of rain, it is probably best if you pull the plant when it is just going dry and hang it upside down out of the weather.  Once the pods were dry, I took out the seeds and stored them in an airtight glass jar.  I have been successfully growing purple podded peas using this method for 3 years now.  Looking back, it is hard to believe that I only bought a $2.50 packet of 25 seeds in the first place and besides the seeds I have saved, we have had many pea feasts as well!  This drying on the bush method is also good for all types of beans, and I have collected Daikon radish seeds in this manner as well.



For smaller, more delicate seeds, I have let the desired plant flower and set seed.  Just before it begins to dry out, I put a brown paper bag over the seed head and tied it off with a rubber band.  When the seed heads dry the seeds fall into the bag, and all you have to do is label and store them in a dry, cool place for next seasons planting.  I have used this method with lettuce, silverbeet, rainbow chard, onions, leeks, radishes, carrots, parsnips, parsley, dill, and basil.  All of these types of plants usually self pollinate so you will not have too many problems with cross pollination.   These vegetables will usually stay 'true to type', that is, this generation of the plant you harvested seed from will be mostly the same as you will get in the next generation.

Another method of saving seed are by tuber.  For example potatoes, sweet potato, Jerusalem artichoke and yacon to name a few.  You harvest the best looking tubers and store them in a hessian bag in a dark, dry place for sowing in the next season.

Garlic is another of my favourites and easy to save for planting in the next season.  Keep a few bulbs from your crop (the larger the better), and when it is time to plant garlic in your part of the world, simply pull apart the bulb and plant single large cloves, pointy end upwards about 20cm appart.  A new bulb will grow around the clove and you will never be without garlic ever again!  Use the smaller inner cloves for cooking as you will end up with very tiny bulbs of garlic at the end of the season.




Sometimes you don't even need seeds to grow another plant.  You can take a cutting and stick it into some moist seed raising mix or some loamy soil and most of the time it will strike roots and continue to grow a clone of the parent plant.  I have successfully propagated tomatoes, all types of mint, eggplants (aubergine), and capsicum (bell peppers) using this method.  You can buy root hormone powder to enhance your success rate, however I find that most cuttings usually strike roots and I have about a 80-90% success rate.

Sweet corn or maize is another easy vegetable to save seeds from.  Let the cob dry out on the plant and then remove the outer husk and then with a twisting motion with your hands around the cob, the seeds usually just fall off.  I make sure that I have a large bowl or tea towel underneath to catch the kernels when I husk corn cobs.  I then store them in a glass jar in a dark place until required.  I have only saved popping corn using this method, but I dare say it would work with any type of corn.  Remember that corn is pollinated by the wind and I read that to keep the strain pure you need at least 500 metres between varieties.  Lets hope your neighbour isn't growing corn at the same time!

Collecting seeds from the cucurbit family may look as easy as scooping the seeds out of a cucumber, pumpkin, squash or zucchini, and letting them dry on paper towel, however there are a few things you must know so that you get true to type seeds for next season.  The cucurbit family readily cross pollinate when nearby, and each variety does not care where the pollen comes from as long it is from its own family.  Each plant also has a male flower and a female flower.  You can identify the female flower because it has a small swelling at the base which when pollinated becomes a fruit.  The flowers only live for one or two days and open at down so that the bees can spread the pollen from male to female.  One book I read recommends that you plant each variety of cucurbit at least 400 metres apart to stop cross pollination, but you can also hand pollinate to control the exchange of pollen.  This is done by protecting the flowers from insects or wind whilst the female flower is receptive.



  • Firstly select male and female flowers the evening before they are due to open.  You can tell this because they will be rigid and have some yellow on the seams of the closed bud.  
  • Close each flower with a rubber band or some masking tape or wrap the entire flower in some pantyhose and tie it at the stem so no insects will be able to get at the flower at first light.
  • In the morning cut the male flower off at the base of its stalk and take off the petals to expose the male part.  Open the flower and rub the male part into the female part.  You could use a few different male flowers from the same species to imitate the way a bee pollinates, but I have found that this was not necessary when I did it..  
  • After the pollen is well coated on the female part, shut or cover the female with pantyhose again until the flower withers.  
  • Make sure you put a tag around the stem of the plant so that as it grows bigger you know that it is a keeper.  You could also write on the skin with a waterproof maker pen as I did.  Tell everyone in your family not to pick it either or you may end up loosing your carefully hand pollinated treasure.  
  • Before harvesting the fruit, make sure it is a big as it can possibly be so that it will ensure that you have very plump seeds.  
  • Store the ripe fruit for a few weeks before opening and collecting the seeds.  Dry and store in a brown paper bag in a dry, cool position.

Tomatoes don't cross pollinate readily and are self pollinating, however to almost guarantee (there are no full guarantees in gardening) a true to type seed keep each row of different varieties at least 3 metres apart.  Allow the fruit to ripen to just beyond eating and then cut them open and squeeze the seeds and pulp into a jar.  Add a little water and label the jar and leave in a warm place for a few days.  A foam will form on top so scoop it off, add more water and pour the mixture through a sieve.  Wash until the seeds are clean.  Spread them on sheets of kitchen towel and let dry.  I then peel them off the towel and put in envelopes for next season.  I have been using the original tigerella seeds I collected in 2007 for two years now and they still germinate quite well.

Of all the seed saving methods, the simplest is what I call the 'volunteer' method.  I usually find that as the weather warms up in spring, I get so many tomato seedlings growing in the beds that I had tomatoes planted in them in the year before.  I just scoop out the seedling with a bit of soil still around the roots and then re-pot so that they grow a bit stronger before transplanting them into a different bed for crop rotation.  It is a bit of a lucky dip, but if you use heirloom seeds each year or collect your own, then there is no reason you can't liberate these volunteers so that they provide you with a bumper harvest.  Last year ever single tomato plant that I grew was a volunteer as the seeds I tried to grow got waterlogged in a downpour and I lost the lot.  I had a massive crop of all different types of tomatoes.



Well that is about all I have achieved in my seed saving, but I am quite proud of the types of plants I have continued to save seeds from especially the cucurbits.  It certainly has saved me a lot of money, and I feel that these plants are beginning to adapt to our dryer climate.  Humans have been saving seeds for thousands of years, so why not give it a go.  I am sure you will reap a bumper harvest from the seeds you collect!

Does anyone have other methods they use to collect and save heirloom seeds?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seed Swap

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
My yellow crocus buds are starting to show some color, the tips of the earliest daffodils and tulips are breaking through the surface, and a few robins have shown up to glean the last of the Russian olives still clinging to the bare branches. Spring is on the way!

And that means it's time to start thinking about starting some garden seeds - inside for the tomatoes and peppers, and maybe a few lettuces and hardy greens outside. I have quite a few of my own seeds, gathered from last year's plants. Over time, it means many of the vegetables I grow are now perfectly adapted to my own local climate. Other gardeners in my area do the same.

By trading seeds, we can insure that the time and effort we've put into saving and perpetuating our locally-adapted seeds isn't lost should disease or animals ravage our own garden. With luck, someone else's plot survived.

A local greenhouse hosts an annual seed swap each Spring. Everyone is welcome to come and get seeds. There's an optional donation jar for those that don't have any seeds to trade, but no one is turned away or denied the chance to grow their own garden.

The greenhouse provides long tables, protected from the wind, little envelopes, and plenty of pencils to label your choices. Some folks show up just long enough to drop off their contributions, others spend an hour or more there, answering questions about the things they brought, trading advice about their best growing or harvesting methods. Cool season crops, such as the brassicas, greens, and peas fill one table, tomatoes and peppers another. Flowers have their own area, and assorted vegetables line the last table.

Some gardeners make their own little seed envelopes, complete with information labels or growing instructions. Others just bring little baggies or envelopes of seeds to pour out on the paper plates provided, others bring bring platefuls already labeled. Little spoon/straws make the perfect utensils to scoop loose seeds into an envelope, some people just push a few from plate onto a piece of paper and fold up their own carrier.

Some have winnowed and cleaned their seeds. Others might bring in an entire seed stalk or a couple of dried peppers, and break them apart on the spot. Some seeds have specific variety names, others are just generic, still others are just vague descriptions of something that might have volunteered in their garden and seemed to thrive in our high-desert climate.

Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware (except it's all free). Sometimes, especially with the corns, pumpkins and squashes, you're taking your chances on what you'll actually end up with in this year's garden. So many of those seeds cross-pollinate so easily, and while it wouldn't affect the appearance of last year's crop, the seeds harvested then and planted this year might turn out completely different.

But it's a great way to build community, meet with like-minded folks, share tips and learn, and get more people interested in growing their own food. Why not start a seed swap in your community?

Wednesday, January 11, 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.