Seed Saving 101

Why save seeds?

When we think of the word “extinction,” a head of lettuce normally doesn’t pop up in our minds. It’s certain that our grocery stores aren’t full of endangered fruits and vegetables, either. But what about the prize-winning carrots you boasted last spring? Or your great-grandfather’s special heirloom tomatoes you remember eating every summer? If no one decides to save these seeds, the legacy of these plants will eventually die out.

What are some other reasons to save your own seeds?

Gardeners save a few seeds or every seed from their crop, sometimes for a specific purpose, or for other gardeners to enjoy.  Many do it simply because they liked the vegetables they grew last year, and want to grow them again. The fact that it saves money is also a wonderful positive.

If you decide to save seeds this year, there are some important ideas to learn and put into practice to ensure success.

Learn the overall quality of the parent plants. Specifically select seeds from the plants that grew quickly and with vigor.  A common mistake is to choose seeds randomly, and from mediocre plants. One major rule of thumb? Never save seeds from malformed fruit, or a fruit that has been damaged by insects, mold, or disease. Plants should be strong, healthy and not exposed to stressful conditions when early seed formation begins.

Learn how to effectively save seeds, and choose plants that are easiest for beginners. Beginner seed saving plants generally produce seed all in the same season, and are self-pollinating. Some plants to keep in mind are beans, lettuce, peas, peppers and tomatoes. If you’re new at this, choosing these types of plants will generally increase the likelihood of successful seed saving. Also, check out this full seed saving guide for beginners.

Learn the characteristics of healthy seeds. Start with healthy, sturdy seeds, and consider these characteristics:

1) Maturity and Size – The relative size and maturity of the seed will correlate to the survivability of the plant. Therefore, allow seeds to ripen to full maturity before they are harvested.  Keep in mind that large, mature seeds will have more food stored to nourish the seeds once they have sprouted, and will also produce strong seedlings.
2) Viability and Vigor: Find out the germination rate for your batch of seeds. This will determine the vigor in which seeds will sprout out of the soil under ideal conditions.

Learn how to care for plants during seed formation. Removing any diseased plants away from potential seed saving plants will increase the viability of the plant and its seed. Diseased plants can also spread pathogens to otherwise healthy plants, and can affect the success of succeeding generations as well.

During seed formation, be sure to provide the plant with sufficient moisture at flower time – this will promote pollen development and flower set.

Learn how to expand your garden once you’ve become more experienced.  Expand your garden by including plants that require separation to keep unwanted cross pollination at bay. These vegetables include: corn, cucumbers, muskmelon, radish, spinach, squash and pumpkins. Take a look at this helpful resource for more information.

**Friends, which plants are you saving seeds from this year?

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