It is springtime, the time of the year when everybody goes through the seed catalog to plan for the year’s garden. It is relieving to have a cup of coffee with seed catalogs and a pen to jot down the varieties for upcoming season. Such a joy of garden planning. What if I told you that you have an alternate option – grow your garden from your personal seed collection. In this article I explain to you why you should save vegetable seeds from your garden.
Start garden through seeds
Some of us start plants from seeds because we can give the seeds a good head start for the season. Some of us prefer to buy started plants from garden center. Both the method of starting plants are good. End of the day everything boils down to the price.
If you can resist yourself from colorful seed catalogs to try exotic seeds every year you can save some money. After buying started plants from garden center for few years here and there I started to save vegetable seeds from my garden. Tomatoes and peppers are good starters for seed collection. Some vegetables are easy to save seeds. For instance pepper, peas and beans are easy to collect seeds.
Here are some good reasons to start a garden from seeds:
- Choice of plants : If you are a garden enthusiast who wants to try 30 different tomatoes and peppers, best choice is starting from seed. The garden center carries only the most popular varieties, if you are lucky you can find seedlings with label.
- Exotic Plants: The plant collection in a typical garden center lacks different varieties especially exotic varieties, which some of the seed catalog boasts about good flavor and disease resistance.
- Your own seeds: If you have collected seeds from your garden, you can use them to start your second garden. Yay!
Why should you collect seeds?
Let me try to answer this question. Some plants live for a long time like fruit trees, they are called as perennials. Some plants come up produces flowers and fruit then dies back in the same year leaving the next generation in the form of seeds, they are called annuals like beans. Sometimes the self seeded plants are blown away by wind and planted in different location in the wild there there is little to no disturbance to the soil.
If the seed blown away are unable to find a spot to grow or disturbed, it won’t grow in next season (Sometimes the seeds may go into the soil while tilling or some critter ate everything). Not all the self seeded seeds will find a path to grow. This is why people collect seeds from the plant they liked and the varieties that did well for them. Collecting seeds and baby them during the next growing season will ensure the same variety of plants are achieved next year.
Seed collection for different types of plants:
Let me explain about the types of vegetable crops that come under annual, perennial and biennial category.
Most of the summer vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers are annuals, that means the plants grow produce abundant crop, then gives way to the next generation by sowing seeds themselves. In case of backyard gardening, we collect the seeds without letting the plants seed themselves (unless you want hundreds of cucumber/tomato plants grow on the same spot). That is why you have to collect seeds from these crops to grow the plant going year after year. You can then grow these seeds to new plants next year in the same or different spots in your garden.
Perennial vegetables like artichoke, asparagus will live healthy and produce crops abundantly over years. Some of the perennials are short lived others are long lived. These plants will also produce crops every year. Asparagus will take almost 3 years to produce a reliable crop. Therefore, plant them the first thing in your garden if you love asparagus so much. If you want to plant more artichoke in a different location in your garden let some to flower then collect the seeds and sow in the location you want to grow.
These vegetables need two years to finish their complete life cycle. Plants from cruciferae family like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and plants from onion family like leeks come under this category. These plants don’t flower until the second year. If you live in frost free zone leave some of these vegetables, as the spring comes the plants send up flowers which in turn produces seeds. The bees love those flowers especially when flowers are not abundant in spring. If you live in winter with lots of snow and freeze try mulching some of the plants, if the plants survive the winter expect flowers in spring.
Keep in mind while collecting the seeds from these plants. The members of cruciferae family will cross pollinate with each other. If you want pure seeds let only one variety to go seed.
Can all my plants produce good seeds?
Now there is a catch in collecting seeds. Some seeds are labeled heirloom in seed packet, some are labeled open pollinated and some labeled heirloom in seed packet. Lets talk about that a little to know the differences and why these labels are important while collecting the seeds.
Open pollination or Heirloom
Open pollinated seeds are also called as heirloom seeds. All heirloom varieties are open pollinated by insects or wind, without the intervention of humans. The seeds collected from these plants can keep its traits going from generation to generation without any change. If you want to save some money on seeds open pollination is the best option. Also its fun to collect the seeds with tiny to big seeds in varying size. Sometimes I cannot believe how a small speck of seed can develop into such a large /big plant in three to 4 months.
Hybrids are formed either by selective cross-pollination intentionally or unintentionally. Vegetables in cucurbitaceae family like cucumber (read more about how to grow cucumbers), squash and corn readily cross pollinate with each other among their own species. For example lemon cucumber will cross pollinate with white cucumber. Cross pollination occurs naturally within members of the same plant species.
Unintended Cross Pollination
When a variety of cucumber, squash, melon are planted without much spacing in the same garden location they may cross pollinate each other. There is chance for cross pollination if your neighbor has different varieties and you are living in a closed suburban plot. The pollinators have no boundaries:)
This type of cross pollination happens unintentionally. The seeds collected from these plants may have same characteristics as the parent plant, or you may have same squash or a new looking squash which is less likely to happen(which varies from the parent) as a result of cross-pollination.
Develop new variety of plants
Excited for developing new varieties?. I have news for you. Achieving new variety due to cross pollination is rare. Secondly even if it happens it takes generations of plants to achieve stability which takes time and energy and specific growing conditions to observe the plant and study its characteristics. Some of the varieties developed are from such type of cross pollination.
Problem with saving hybrid seeds
Sometimes plants are selectively bred for their disease resistance or drought tolerance which are sold as hybrid seeds. The seeds collected from these plants will not have the characteristics of mother plant. For instance, if you save seeds from sungold tomato and plant it next year, the resulting child may not possess the same traits as its mother. But if you have the patience and time you can have fun growing them from collecting seeds as well. Even if not for saving, seeds from pumpkin and squash are good for eating when roasted, save those seeds!.
If you are a serious gardener but choose to grow hybrid plants then forget about saving seeds to grow next seasons crop. The seeds will sprout, grows well(sometimes poor disease resistance) they will produce crops, but you may miss the flavor or their resistance to particular disease. If that was the reason you are growing that particular variety whats the point in saving seeds and growing them again?
How to select seeds for collection:
While selecting seeds give importance to the information indicated on the label. Some of the varieties may not thrive in your area, some varieties need more growing season(long season) for good harvest. The label also specifies if the seeds are open pollinated or heirloom, days to harvest along with the instruction to plant the seeds.
Some varieties are compact enough for patio, others need more space. Also give importance to day length. Some varieties are day neutral, some need long days to produce any flowers.
Also look into the plants that produced bountiful harvest for you this year and you liked. These are good candidates for saving seeds.
Saving vegetable seeds from garden:
The season is going to end, therefore it’s time for seed saving. Always collect seed from healthy plants which thrive well.
- Vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber the seeds are messy with the jelly substance covering them, clean the seeds and dry them.
- Cucumber and squash that we harvest are tender, the seeds are not formed completely at this stage. Therefore leave the veggies on the plants until they are ripe enough to collect the seeds.
- For beans and peas leave them until the pods are dry.
How to store the seeds
Once the seeds are collected, they should be dried if needed and store in cool and dry location to prevent from mold or any sprouting. Label the seed variety along with the year seeds are collected. Some seeds store well for over five years, some store well only for two or three years. If you participate in any seed swap it will be easy for the recipient.
If you are thinking about which varieties are best to collect seeds start with beans, peas, pepper, tomato(a bit messy). They are less fuzzy plants to start your seed stash.