GOLDEN, Colo. — “Oh that is the best tomato I have ever eaten!”
“Look at the blooms on that hyssop, and the color!”
“Could those cucumbers be any more sweet or crunchy? I want those again next year”
How many times have you said something similar and wondered how to get that exact flavor, texture and color every year? You can always buy more seed – especially if you have journaled the scientific name of the seed of the plant you so love; along with the company name that produced or marketed the seed. But another way is to learn to save seeds from your favorite plants to plant again the following year and actually adapt them to your garden. It is one of my favorite fall gardening activities.
Can all seeds be saved?
No. In order to produce a plant that is exactly true to the parent plant that you love and to exactly duplicate the flavor, texture and color you were hoping for, you must save seeds that are open pollinated/heirloom. Hybrid seeds, those with an F1 or F2 designation on their package or label, are created 2 distinctive parents (usually of same species) cross pollinated by hand to produce offspring with a predetermined set of characteristics. Those characteristics could be flavor, skin texture, number and color of petals, plant height and so on. What happens when you try to save those seeds and plant them is that the plant begins to un-cross and does not produce true to the parent plant. If you love a hybrid plant, (example, one of the yummiest tomatoes on the planet is the Sun Gold cherry tomato which is a hybrid) be sure to plant new seed every year.
What are the advantages of saving seed?
You can promote and protect the rich diversity that open pollinated/heirloom seeds represent to our history. Seeds are most rich in their ability to produce diverse plant material and a richness in diversity so wide that the plants reflect the environment they are produced and grown in.
They have the ability to adapt to certain terroir and to retain the changes in their DNA – to remember and to display the changes. So, by saving and planting seeds from the best representatives of each species in our own gardens,
• we play a part in preserving genetic variety and biodiversity
• we can preserve varietal characteristics we value
we can preserve varieties specifically adapted to your particular microclimate and soils.
According to Diane Ott Wheatley, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange, “Growing seed in the same geographic area allows the seed to adapt to local pests and climate challenges and requires less chemical pesticides and fertilizers.”
What are the best seeds to save if you are a beginner?
These plants produce seed in the same season as they were planted in. They are mostly self-pollinators so you do not have to worry about cross-pollination.
What are some basic tips for seed saving?
Remember: Growing a plant to save seed is different from growing it to eat. Most plants will grow past the stage in which they are good to eat to the stage where they will stretch and produce flowers and from there, seed (i.e., lettuce, spinach) or they will need to dry “on the vine” (beans). Plants like tomatoes, squashes, peppers will yield their seeds up during preparation to eat them. They can be dried out in various ways at that time.
Save seed from the very best of your plants. Those plants with no pest and disease issues, the best fruit producers, the best blooms, the best color; the best of the best of each species in your garden.
Seeds aren’t viable until they are fully ripe. Watch the weather carefully and protect plants that are not fully ready and keep them dry. Keep plants healthy to the very end until ready to collect. This can be tedious but is necessary to keep the seed viable.
Cut seed heads or take plants from the garden and further dry out by hanging in a cool, dry, dark place until completely dry.
Separate the seeds from the chaff of the plants and store in glass jars or paper to keep dry and safe until ready to plant. Label carefully and make journal notes about the plant and it’s origin.
What can you do to promote seed saving to others?
• Share the seeds you save with neighbors and friends
Learn about Seed Libraries
Learn about Seed Vaults and where they are located
Learn about and visit a Seed Bank
Host a Seed Swap
Saving Seed is a learned experience. It is sometimes frustrating and challenging. Yet, it has shaped the history of the food we eat. There is a small learning curve. As a home gardener, Don’t be so concerned with distances or number of plants at first. As your garden expands this will become relevant. It is more important to try saving seeds and to experiment, enjoy and value the process. Learning the basics and knowing when you can and cannot successfully save seed to produce the plant you so love will set you up for second round success and beyond.
— Patti O’Neal, Urban Food Systems Coordinator, Jefferson County
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