Imagine if next year’s garden depended solely on the successful harvest of seeds from this year’s crops?
A scary prospect but traditionally this is how all gardens were managed. While today’s seed catalogues are ubiquitous, seed saving is a traditional skill that every home grower should cultivate.
It makes good gardening sense as it increases self-sufficiency, saves money and allows plants to adapt to local climate and soil conditions, particularly those of your own garden. In light of food security, preservation of heirloom varieties and biodiversity, seed saving is a must.
The most important words of wisdom when it comes to successfully saving seeds for growing on is to only gather seeds from open-pollinated plants, not F1 hybrids.
Open-pollinated varieties are not the product of forced breeding and their seeds will carry on the qualities of the parent, or ‘breed true’ as the jargon goes.
It basically means that if you harvest seed from a plant in your garden and sow it the next season, plants will resemble their parents, assuming that cross-pollination has not occurred.
The next nugget of common sense is to select seeds from vegetable varieties and plants that have particular desirable traits such as tolerance to cold, wet, wind, good disease resistance and drought resistance.
And when it comes to ‘selection’, only save seed from healthy, happy, vigorous plants. As a novice myself to the whole seed saving business, my advice is to start with simple plants, as some seeds are certainly easier to save than others.
Flowers such as calendula, nasturtiums and poppies are really good to begin with. All three are dry seeded plants and are famous self-seeders and by collecting their seed you can prevent them from being invasive and instead, spread these beautiful beneficial flowers around your own and your friends’ gardens.
When you notice flower heads that have turned brown and dried, you have found the seeds. Remove these when the plant is ready to release them (before wind, rain or garden critters do it for you).
In the case of poppies, seed heads will have to be crushed to release the masses of tiny black seeds.
Once you collect seeds, ensure they are completely dry by spreading them out on a paper plate or a tray lined with newspaper. It is very important to dry out the seeds thoroughly before storing to prevent them becoming damp and spoiling.
When completely dry, put them in a paper envelope. Label the envelope with pertinent information, including seed type and harvest date. Store the envelope in a cool, dark and dry closet or a drawer in the fridge is ideal. Never store seeds in plastic, as the seeds can’t breathe and may develop mould. Other flowers worth saving seeds from are sunflowers, lupins and sweet pea.
Always remember to label seeds before storing with the date, variety and any additional relevant information such as the sowing time.
Vegetables tend to be slightly trickier, but it’s just a matter of getting to know the individual seed bearing routine of each family of plant. Like growing vegetables, it’s wise advice to start your seed-saving trials with those that are simplest.
Potatoes are pretty basic as next years crop is grown on from this year’s tubers. Make sure you only keep clean, rot and blemish-free potatoes and store in a dark, frost and rodent proof shed.
Garlic is also pretty simple to save, as you just need to break up the head and replant cloves. One clove will become a head of garlic with 8-12 cloves next year.
Peas and beans are also good starters as you just need to leave a few ripen on the plant and when they turn brown and rattle you know they are ready. Remove from the plant and leave somewhere dry and then put in an airtight container, labeled etc until next spring.
Soft-fruited plants (for example tomatoes) take a little bit more effort as the protective pulp encasing seeds needs to be removed prior to drying and storage. For this, simply scoop tomato seeds from the fruit, place in a bowl and cover with water for several days.
This immersion causes fermentation in which the actions of bacteria help clean the seed. Once a mould has formed, seeds should be strained. Prior to straining, dispose of floating seeds.
Realistically when it comes to seed saving, the main challenge facing home gardeners is that space and time is limited and if you are like me, you might prefer to grow the bulk of plants in your vegetable garden for food as opposed to seed.
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