Seed Saving 101: The Basics Of Sustainable Growing

Seed Saving is a great way to invest in next year's harvestSeed saving has been a practice that generations who lived before us depended on.  Such a simple form of preservation and regeneration has, in some extremes, has had negative legal consequences, but more than anything, become a lost practice for gardeners with the availability and convenience of purchased seed packets.

Saving seeds, on a small scale, can be a fun. It is also a great opportunity for learning, as it encourages a deeper understanding of the life cycle of plants and inspires a greater connection with the natural world.

Before you begin, it is important to understand some basics about seeds.  Seeds can be categorized in the following ways:

Open-Pollinated:   These plants, which are pollinated naturally by wind, water, birds, insects, or other animals that visit the flowers. When properly isolated from other varieties in the same plant species, these plants will produce a seed that is genetically similar to the producing plant “parent.”

Heirloom:  Heirloom seeds are a type of seed derived from open-pollinated plants.  What makes heirloom seeds special is that they have been saved and passed along for generations. Most heirlooms have been grown for at least 50 years.  Three reputable seed companies that feature a wide variety of heirloom seeds are Seed Savers Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Missouri.

Related: Science Says Gardening Is As Good As Going To The Gym.

Hybrid Pollinated:  A hybrid plant (oftentimes termed as a F1 Hybrid) is created when a plant breeders/seed companies purposely controls pollination by cross-pollinating two different varieties of a plant.  The parent plants are chosen for characteristics like fruit size, hardiness, and/or disease resistance.  With the intention that the resulting offspring would have the positive characteristics.  It is important to understand that seeds grown from hybrid plants do not produce successive plants true-to-type, and that some will produce seeds that will not grow at all.

When considering the practice of seed saving seek out open-pollinated plants or specific heirloom varieties for the most productive results.

Some seeds are easier and more practical to save than others.   When you are planning on seed saving you have to avoid collecting seeds from plant species that are open-pollinated by wind or insects that could cross-pollinate.  Examples include: cucumbers, melons, corn, pumpkins, gourds and squash.  If you want to save seeds from these varieties that would be viable, you would need to plant only one variety each season.

Plants like tomatoes, peppers, beans, lettuce, peas and broccoli self-pollinate and are the easiest for seed saving because they rarely cross-pollinate.

Some self-pollinators like carrots and beets are not good choices either, because they are biennial plants and need two seasons to set their seeds.

Related: 5 Tips for Cleaning Up Your Garden This Fall

Harvesting Seeds

When saving seeds from your garden select seeds from strong and healthy plants.  Fall in the Northern Hemisphere is the time to harvest “dry” seeds.  Great garden plants to experiment for beginners are sunflowers, beans, corn and peas.   Seeds from open-pollinated gardens or wildflowers dry out in the fall.  You can harvest flower seeds by simply cutting off the whole flower head with a pair of scissors and gently pulling apart the seeds with your fingers.

Other seeds can be categorized as “wet”, like melons, squash and tomatoes.  For these types of fruit-bearing plants seeds need to be scooped out, cleaned and dried.

Allow seeds to fully dry indoors then store them indoors in a cool, dark area in airtight glass jars, paper envelopes or plastic baggies.  Make sure to label your seed harvest with the name of the variety and the date of the harvest.  Seeds can last a long time when properly stored.  For extended storage, seeds can be frozen in a household freezer.

Image: Steven Giles/Shutterstock


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