Hello, and welcome to our last full day of class. Today, we’ll be looking at seed saving. Seed saving lets you save the best of your crop to plant in future years. Before we get to how to save seeds, let’s start by looking at some of the different seed types you’ll see for sale in stores.
Open vs. closed pollination. Before we go too far, it’s important to understand the difference between open and closed pollination. An open pollinated plant is one that is pollinated by natural means, like wind or animals. This means that the genetic material from the plant gets spread to other plants indiscriminately, and the resulting seeds can have a wide variety of genetic traits. Open pollination is great for biodiversity but may result in plants that aren’t exactly what the farmer planned for.
It follows that closed pollination is the opposite of open pollination. Closed pollinated plants cannot be pollinated through natural means. Instead, they can only breed through human intervention.
Organic. The term organic refers to how plants are cultivated and grow. When we talk about seeds, this means that no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or other non-natural materials were applied to the plants that grew them.
Heirloom. Heirloom plants are the result of small farmers who discovered an interesting variation in one of their crops and intentionally decided to cultivate that variety. After many years of growing the same plant, the seeds stabilized and bred true. Most seeds need to be grown 50 years to be considered heirlooms. By growing and saving heirloom seeds, gardeners create a diverse set of seeds for the future. Heirloom plants will always be open pollinated. Many will be organic as well.
Hybrids. A hybrid plant is one that has been intentionally manually cross-pollinated to create a new plant with desirable characteristics. Hybrid plants may produce better yields, be disease resistant, be more colorful, or have other advantages. Hybrid seeds cannot be reliably saved. They aren’t “stable,” and the their offspring will often grow into plants that are not at all like the parents. While they aren’t often organic or open pollinated, they can sometimes have one or both of these characteristics. As a home grower, you may inadvertently end up with hybrid seeds if you grow two plants in the same family (such as cucumbers and squash) in your garden.
GMOs. Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are plants that have been heavily modified through human intervention. Human beings have been genetically engineering species for as long as we have been farming and raising animals, even if we do it predominantly in the lab today. There’s a good bit of controversy on GMOs in agriculture, but GMO doesn’t necessarily mean unethical, just a bit scientific. As they are generally hybrids and/or under patent, they aren’t the best choice for seed saving.
Seed Saving by Species
When it comes to actually saving the seeds, you’ll need to follow a different routine depending on what kind of plant you’re working with. Here are instructions for a few common plants.
Tomato. Scoop out the seeds along with some of the surrounding gel, and place them in a container with a little water. Swirl the mixture twice a day for five days. Remove and rinse the seeds, and allow them to dry.
Peppers. Remove seeds from ripe vegetables and dry.
Peas and Beans. Allow pods to ripen on the plant until the seeds rattle inside, remove from plant, and let dry another two weeks before removing seeds.
Melons, Pumpkins, and Squash. Pick fully ripened fruits (tendrils near the fruit will be withered), and store for three weeks before removing the seeds.
Store your seeds in tightly sealed containers, either lidded jars or envelopes, and keep them in a cool, dry area. Colder temperatures are ideal, so a refrigerator can be a great place to consider storing them. Make sure to record the name and date from all your plants for the next year. It’s best to plant seeds within one year of saving. After a year, the probability of germinating decreases.
I hope you enjoyed today’s seed saving lesson and are inspired to try a little seed saving yourself this year. Tomorrow, we’ll be wrapping up the class, and I’ll leave you with further directions to take your gardening.
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