Thursday, March 21, 2013

Seed Saving - Part 2

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?


  1. Gina, I have had good germination with saved broccoli and chard seeds. Tomato is very easy and since you get so many seeds the lower rates are okay. I saved cantaloupe last year, but it is more of an experiment because I want to see what it crossed with in the cuke/melon patch :)

  2. After decades of gardening I save a large majority of my seeds but I still have to buy seeds of certain things. You can have crop failures etc that send you back to the seed companies or local garden center. I also think it is easier when you have large areas of land to garden. It makes it much simpler to isolate varieties in different gardens in different areas of the property. It can be done but it takes lots of planning and
    forethought. And there are some hybrids that are just smarter.

  3. Hi Gina,
    We have saved our winter squash seeds for many years. They seem to be the easiest except you need to make sure they are dry before storing and they need a cold storage for at least a short period of time. We keep them in jars on the porch through the winter safe from mice and away from the sun.

    I like the comment you made concerning cross-pollination because we always come out with some kind of squash that we didn't start with. Some have been smashing successes, but one year we ended up with a bunch of "gourds". It's "chancy" putting all your hope in saved seeds unless you can somehow protect them from cross pollination which is not as easy as it sounds. There are certain veggies that are safer than others like beans and peas, but even there the little busy insects cans cause disasters for seed savers. Non-the-less we still save seeds. We have a new squash that we got from saved seeds which we call "Dan" squash. It's a real sweet and dry winter squash with thick meat and easy peeling... all important in winter squashes. I think its a cross between a buttercup and golden hubbard but it has smoother skin. Yummy.

  4. I have to agree with the difficulty of saving seeds and controlling for cross breeding. I just can't bring myself to narrow down the varieties of melons and squash I grow, for example, just so I can have pure seed. However, I still believe seed saving is a valuable skill to develop. So, instead I've been saving herb seeds. I find they're much easier and more straight forward to save. I pass the perennial seeds on to friends and family, and save the annuals to plant the following year. Just a thought.

  5. Even though I dont have a garden (and have yet to feel the pull to tend more than a couple houseplants), I love information like this. :-) It is so neat the way God makes things work! Thanks for sharing!

  6. I save flower seeds more than vegetable seeds. They usually work okay. Thanks for the info about the cross-pollination. I didn't know that.

    Here's a funny gardening story for you: Years ago (actually, probably more like decades), someone wrote into the gardening column in the Washington Post and asked for directions on getting this year's poinsettia to bloom next year. The gardening expert gave very, very detailed instructions (how long in the dark, watering schedule, etc.). It was very meticulous. The last paragraph then told the writer that, after all that, they should just throw the plant away and buy a new one next year because no matter what they did, the plant wouldn't look that great because they couldn't replicate the conditions that the professional growers have set up.

    Thanks for the info about the cross-pollination.


I'm still learning how to be a joyful homemaker and I'd love to hear from you!


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