Monday, September 28, 2009

Saving Seeds-The Easy Ones

To get seeds, the pollen has to be the correct kind, and it needs to get to the ovule at the right time of the plants vegetative growth to reproduce itself. Only the pollen of the related species will result in seeds. Seeds from a cabbage will not pollinate your tomato, since they are different species. Even within the same species, some plants won't get pollinated by their own pollen, even though they cross-pollinate easy within their plant family. Cabbage plants are a good example of this. To get good cabbage seeds, you need at least two of the same variety, better would be more, all flowering at the same time. But you need to keep them from being pollinated by another plant of the cabbage family, like Broccoli for example.

Some plants are easier to save seeds from then others. Some plants pollinate themselves, this means they accept their own pollen, from their own flowers either with or without insects.
This means for the gardener, you don't necessary need a whole bunch of the same plants to get viable seeds, although it's always better to save seeds from several plants of the same kind; this also means they cross pollinate rarely with each other and the seed will result in plants which look just like the parent plant because the inheritance is the same.
You do have to make sure, that you don't have a Hybrid plant, hybrids unfortunately will not result into a plant which looks like it's parent.

Plants which fall into this category of 'Self Pollinating' plants are:
Barely, Lima Beans, Snap Beans, Cow Peas, English Garden Peas, Endive, Lettuce, Corn Salad, Oats, Soy Beans, Tomatoes and Wheat.

Being self pollinating makes them the best choice for the 'Beginner Seed Saver'. These are the plants you should start with.

In fact, many of those are so easy to grow, if you don't want to bother with picking the seeds, you could just let them bolt to seed and if your climate allows, let them seed themselves. I have been doing this with my lettuce and corn salad for years, I find sometimes the seeds sprout easier this way, then if I seed them by hand. Over the years I introduced a new lettuce variety each year, I now easily get 10 different lettuce varieties, all seeded by themselves. I just dig up as many seedlings as I want and move them to the proper location. I also always have plenty seedlings to give away to my friends or neighbors. I still collect seeds of the plants anyway, to be able to start the lettuce in the off, hot season, when it won't start itself outside, but growing lettuce this way gives me a very early spring crop. The plants know when the weather is just right to sprout. It never failed for me.

When should the seeds get collected?

This all depends on which seed you want to collect. Some seeds, can be collected before they are completely mature and dry, get dried off the plant and they will grow fine this way. Other seeds won't sprout if you collect them immature.
Seeds of Lettuce, Spinach, Tomatoes, Snap Beans, Corn Salad and Radishes will grow alright, even if you collect them immature. Seeds of Peppers, Carrots, Celery, Peas don't germinate so well if you collect them before they are ripe.
That said, it still is always better to let the seeds ripen fully, you just get a better germination rate that way.

Since Lettuce is one of the easiest one to save seeds from I will share how to save it's seeds.

Lettuce:
Save the seeds from the plant which bolts the slowest.
Leaf lettuce is supposed to be easier to save seeds from. Head lettuce, matures later then leaf lettuce and because some produce tight heads, sometimes you need to cross cut an inch or so into the top of the head, so the seed stalk can come out. I never had this problem yet, but most of my head lettuces make a more loose head.
Lettuce will get a tall stalk with lot's of little, daisy like flowers, similar to Dandelion, which lettuce is related to. The yellow flowers will turn into downy white seeds heads, just like Dandelion. They don't always turn all downy at the same time, so if you want the seeds in your bag instead them seeding themselves out, you have to frequently snip the downy seed heads off. Or you can put a paper-bag over the seed head, tie it below (so the seeds don't fall out) and then let them ripen into the bag. You also could just wait until most flowers turned into downy or are close to being downy, cut the whole stalk off and cure it in an airy place, either inside a paper bag or have a sheet underneath it. Keep in mind if it rains, the seeds can be knocked off the plants.
I usually just wait until most seeds are downy and then shake them off inside a paper bag.

Keep the seeds inside a well sealed container or bag. There lettuce sprouts better after a cold spell I keep mine in the freezer, this especially works better to grow lettuce in the summer months.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Benefits of Saving Seeds

Saving your own seeds has a lot of benefits.

If you save the seeds from the plants which did best in your micro climate of your vegetable garden, the ones which were most frost resistant, more drought tolerant, germinated the earliest, bolted late, eventually you end up with your own specific plant, one which is best suited to your gardens environment. Even selecting the seeds without these specific criteria, just simply saving the seeds from plants which seem to grow best in your garden will often condition the strain of the plant to the micro climate of the place it's planted regularly.

Another benefit is, that you can improve the vegetables quality. Just by selecting the seeds of the plants which taste best, yield the most, grow the fastest, give an early harvest, grow the biggest, had the best color, had the least disease problems, less pest problems, or any other quality you desire, if you save seeds from the best plants eventually, over a period of years, you get an improved strain with better qualities then the original seed.

Saving seeds also saves money. I admit, seeds are really not that expensive, but saving them, they cost nothing.

Plus you might eventually find a new strain of a vegetable growing in your garden, one which came about through a mutation or cross pollination, you now have a new vegetable strain, a Heirloom Vegetable and you only can keep it going by saving the seeds. You can't buy that one in any catalog, it only comes from your garden. There are many vegetables offered by seed companies which started out being a heirloom strain, that were developed by back yard gardeners and had been grown and saved for many years or even generations. Keeping these seeds going is a great gift to the future generations, a great gift to the world.

And last saving seeds is a sustainable task. Instead of relying on a seed company to keep your favorite seeds in stock, you are relying on yourself. You don't need to worry, a seed you really liked maybe won't be available next year in your favorite catalog. Your supply of your well chosen seeds, if correctly stored will feed you next year. Price, postage or fuel increases won't affect you.
Being self reliant also can give a satisfaction of knowing you can take care of yourself. Being able to provide for yourself, and maybe for your extended family, your friends and improving your own seeds is something to be proud of.
After all they are unique, they are your very own seeds, you can't get them anywhere else but from your garden.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Controlling Our Food