By Susan Sides
About this time of year, many folks ask how to save seed from their vegetable gardens. Saving your own seeds allows you to save money, select for plants that are uniquely adapted to your garden, choose plant characteristics you deem most important, create new varieties, and preserve our dwindling genetic diversity to name a few.
Saving seed is not all that difficult but it does involve a little knowledge and forethought. To begin with, you need to know the difference between open-pollinated and hybrid seeds. I tell people that open pollinated seeds are like purebred dogs – they will consistently produce more of the same type. Hybrids, however, are like mutts. They come from long and varied parentage and when you breed anything to a mutt, you have no idea what you’ll end up with. So first, you’ll need to make sure you’re starting with open-pollinated plants. Check your seed packet or catalog if you’re unsure.
Next you’ll need to know a bit about the love life of each vegetable family. Do they pollinate before the flower even opens or do bees or wind transfer pollen from one plant to another? Beans and tomatoes, for instance, are relatively easy to keep pure since they tend to do their pollinating within the flower before it even opens. Vine crops, on the other hand, rely on pollinating insects to transfer pollen from one flower to another. This is fine if you and your neighbor are growing only one type of cucumber or melon, but if that’s not the case, you’ll need to keep insects out while you hand pollinate to keep your strains pure. There are many ways of creating this ‘isolation’ ranging from separating plantings by distance to building screen cages to keep out insect pollinators.
Thirdly, you’ll want to read up on storage methods. Seeds that are kept under good conditions last longer and have better germination. One of the best books on the subject is Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth. You can also find free seed saving information online at:http://howtosaveseeds.com/index.php and http://www.seedsave.org/issi/issi_904.html
Humans have been saving seeds for thousands of years. Only recently have we lost the ability to hold next year’s crop in our hands come fall. If you are a home gardener, consider brushing up on some elementary biology this winter that will allow you to save money and personalize your harvests.
Susan can be reached at