Yesterday we talked about properly saving seed from year to year.
But often when gardeners talk of saving seed, they are referring to growing their own seed, instead of purchasing seed.
I'll come right out and say that I have little experience in growing my own seed. I've made attempts at saving pumpkin, corn, and bean seeds. But typically, I'd rather allow the experts to do the work of growing seeds.
And I don't think I'm just being lazy.
Often I hear gardeners, usually newbies, excitedly proclaim that they are purchasing heirloom seeds so that they can save their own seeds and never have to buy seed again.
The goal may be a good one, but it isn't as easy as it sounds. Please, before you try growing your own seed, do your research. Read a book such as Seed to Seed by Susan Ashworth.
There is two problems with growing your own seed, cross-breeding and in-breeding.
But first, some seeds are easy to grow. Beans, peas, tomatoes, and lettuce are examples of self-pollinating vegetables that are rather simple to grow. Lettuce can cross-pollinate if it is grown near another variety, but basically these vegetables are rather problem free. Get a few tips from a book like Seed to Seed, and have fun.
But other vegetables are more complicated.
For example, cucurbits, the family of vegetables that include melons, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers, are pollinated by insects. To prevent in-breeding the blossoms need to be fertilized by pollen from a different plant. Bees and other insects are quite happy to visit the blossoms and share the pollen from plant to plant. BUT if that plant happens to be from a different variety, or worse, a different vegetable all together the seeds will share genetics from both of their parents.
Let me make this clear that you can plant squash, melons, and cucumbers together in the same garden. They can wind their tendrils over each other and produce wonderful squash, melons, and cucumbers. This year's fruit is not affected. But if you save those seeds and plant them next year, the result is likely to be a cucumber flavored watermelon, or a squash shaped cucumber.
If a friend offers you seed from the wonderful pumpkin they grew, don't bother planting it unless you are sure they had no other vining plants growing within the flying distance of a bee. Or unless they are a fledgling plant seed grower who knows how to isolate a pumpkin flour with netting so that no bees pollinates it, and hand pollinates their pumpkin blossoms with a paint brush.
Yeah, too much work for me to grow my own pumpkin seed.
The other problem with pollen-exchanging vegetables is inbreeding. Plants like corn and cabbage need a sizable gene pool to properly pollinate - maybe as many as 200 plants. I don't know about you, but I'm not growing 200 cabbage plants just to provide myself with seed for next year.
So, I'm back to buying the best quality seed that I can, storing it properly for several years, then gratefully buying more seed from a good seedsman.
But maybe I should grow the easy seeds, like beans and tomatoes. In fact that might be a good project for my children this summer...
What about you? Do you grow your own seed?