Gardening Tips: Saving Seed

There are three reasons why it is an excellent idea for home growers to save their own seed. The first is cost, for the prices of vegetable seeds have risen steadily over the past few years and are continuing to do so. You can save money by making garden compost instead of buying fertilizers and using organic methods of pest control instead of buying pesticides, but you cannot give up sowing seeds. You can, however, save most vegetable seeds except those of the brassicas which cross so easily together that saving your own seeds will result in a group of plants having a mixture of inferior qualities.

The second reason is that there are many gardeners who are convinced that their own seed, raised on compost fed soil, will produce healthier seed than those grown with the aid of chemicals. This is extremely difficult to prove, especially in wet summers, which gives nurserymen, who have seeds of some vegetables, such as runner beans, raised in Kenya, the advantage of more reliable ripening weather. So far, there are no restrictions on growing and saving seed in one’s own garden, so that we may still grow any fruit or vegetable variety we choose.

There are many vegetables like the extra hardy Stoke lettuce, grown for about 150 years in the village of Stoke, near Rochester, Kent, and the Soldier beans from the Essex and Suffolk borders, so called because their seeds resemble the figures of soldiers.

In most modern seed catalogues you will find varieties marked F1 Hybrid which means that two strains are raised separately then crossed together to produce what is known as hybrid vigour: the resulting F1 Hybrid plants are larger, healthier and more disease-resistant. Never attempt to raise seed from F1 varieties. They will revert to their ancestors and lose the qualities that make them worth growing. Stick to the non-hybrid varieties, which will come true from your own seed.

Whatever vegetable seed you save, it is important to grow only one variety of the vegetable for seed-saving, otherwise there is a chance of cross-pollination, which may result in inferior plants. Even so, it is possible that your plants may be pollinated by other varieties grown in your neighbours’ garden, but this is unlikely unless they happen to run to seed at the same time as yours.

When sowing any seeds outdoors, whether saved or bought, remember that they will germinate much better in a s- warm soil. So it is wise to wait until the soil has warmed up enough in the spring, or to warm up the soil beforehand by covering it with cloches. If you do not, the seeds are liable to wait so long in cold soil without germinating that they use up all their food reserves and die.

If you carry on saving your own seed year after year, you may discover that some of your vegetables are deteriorating in quality, and they are very likely to run to seed prematurely. In this case, it is wise to buy in a fresh stock of seed.

The seeds of some vegetables are easier to save than those of others. Here, vegetables suitable for seed saving have been divided up into six groups: peas and beans; root vegetables; leaf beets and spinach; lettuces; onions and leeks; and marrows and tomatoes.

Peas and beans

Peas and beans are among the best seeds to save because they rarely cross between varieties, and their seeds are large, easily cleaned and relatively expensive to buy.

If you are sowing a pea such as Kelvendon Wonder which is both quick-growing and mildew resistant for succession, save your seeds from the first sowing. Leave the first fat pods unpicked to ripen, estimating how many you will need for next year’s sowings and start picking above their level. The yield of peas and beans depends on how often they are picked. If you leave the first pods on they will take the strength of the plants and ripen fast and well. Though peas do not cross readily, it is as well to grow only one variety of each type, and if there are any in the row that are extra tall or in any other way unlike the others, to pull them out. These are the ‘rogues’, and commercial seed growers spend a great deal of labour removing them to keep their strains pure.

Harvest your peas when the pods are light brown and beginning to split, and spread them on newspapers in a dry shed. When the pods open and twist, the seeds are ripe and ready to store. It is a good idea to reserve some seed from the last packet you bought to give you a standard so that you can remove any that are smaller. Seeds must breathe, so do not store them in polythene bags or screw top jars as you would with the seeds from one of the rounded-seeded varieties grown for winter pea soups and vegetarian cookery. Make some small bags out of canvas, linen or cotton (pieces of an old sheet can be used) about 15 cm (6”) wide and 30 cm (1’) long, to hold your seeds. Put the seeds in the bags and hang them from the roof of a dry shed, away from mice and with ample air circulation. Cold does not matter so much. The ideal apple storage tempera-ture of 4.5-7°C (40-45°F) is ideal, but seeds need to be dry, and slightly moist, as in a good garden shed to keep for normal periods.

Broad bean seeds are even easier to save but sow the longpod varieties in late autumn and the large-seeded Windsor type early in early spring and take out the main shoot tips when the first pods are well started. The object is to reduce the risk of attack by blackfly, which should also be controlled by spraying with pyrethrum or derris because they can weaken the seed. Acquired characteristics are not inherited, but good large seed will always germinate better than that which is starved and undersized. Pick the blackened and drying pods and set them out in the wooden grape or tomato trays that stand one on top of each other and which you can often obtain free or very cheaply from your greengrocer.

The yields of French and runner beans depend even more on constant picking than peas but, because both must be sown late to escape frosts, it is important to concentrate on the early pods for seed to make sure of getting a stock to ripen in wet summers. Sow your beans as normal, but tie those selected for seed to bamboo canes so that the first 6-8 pods hang clear of moisture and slugs. Pick those above them for eating, which puts more strength into ripening the chosen pods. Take up your plants in mid-autumn, when the foliage will have yellowed and the pods turned light brown, and hang them, roots uppermost, in the shed to dry, picking the pods when they have split. Put the seeds in the wooden trays, which should have a sheet of old brown paper or other stout paper spread over the base to keep the seeds from falling through the central slot between the bottom boards.

Sow seeds of runner beans in boxes in a cold frame in early spring ready to plant at the beginning of late spring to give them a flying start. Just as with French beans, concentrate on the first pods on each selected plant, and snip off the next few generations with scissors to put more strength into the best for seed. Once these are well away, you can allow later bunches to grow on for picking and eating. Pick the selected pods when they begin to brown and dry, and set them in trays to ripen like the French beans. Many gardeners save only the last pods on their runner beans for seed, but this early start and the removal of pods makes sure of a crop even in a cold, wet summer. It is easy to dry the white-seeded varieties of runner bean as a substitute for butter beans for eating, and these will grow, but it is always best to keep the first-formed pods for next year’s seed.

01. September 2013 by admin
Categories: Fruit Gardening, Uncategorized, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gardening Tips: Saving Seed


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