Thursday, October 14, 2010

Saving seed

The desire to save seed is understandable particularly for people growing heirloom vegetables. It gives you more of a connection with plants you grow if you complete the seed to seed cycle. It can also be a connection to vegetables of your heritage, a contribution to preserving genetic traits for the future and perhaps could save you money on seed purchases.

First, the cautions. Don’t save hybrid seed because plants that grow from it don’t come true to type. In fact you will likely have all sorts of small to large plants and variable fruit in fruiting vegetables. F1 hybrid seed saving is a waste of time.

The self-pollinating vegetables are good bets for easy seed saving. They rarely cross with others of their kind and don’t need long distance separation or bagged flowers to prevent stray pollen from reaching flowers. Beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are in this easy-to-save group. If you are growing ‘Brandywine’, ‘Cherokee Purple’ or ‘Mortgage Lifter’ tomato for the first time and like them, save seed if you are willing to grow your own transplants.

Open-pollinated varieties cross-pollinate but produce plants closely true to type if reasonably isolated by distance or time of flowering from other plants of their species. An example is ‘Straight 8’ cucumber. Wind-pollinated plants (corn) and insect pollinated plants (cucmbers, squash, pumpkins, melons) take more care to save because you have to pay attention to nearby plants and even hand pollinate.

Potatoes are popular heirlooms because tubers come true to type (no flowers involved). Baring disease accumulation in tubers, you can save colors and flavors not available in grocery stores. Examples are ‘Russian Banana’, ‘Yellow Finns’ and ‘Ruby Crescent Fingerling’.

Our dry Colorado climate is excellent for seed saving. Keep seeds in a cool place. Be sure to label with name, variety and date collected.

Share your seed saving tips and experiences with us.

Photo credit: Removing seed from ripe tomato, Flowering lettuce will produce seed - both Carl Wilson

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