Why bother Saving Seed?
So why bother save seeds, I mean they're only about $2.00 per packet right? Seeds especially organic seeds are often closer to $4.00 per packet, or more! That's not even some of the more rare seeds. If you are really passionate about gardening, you may want to learn why you should be saving your seeds today. If you are a beginner gardener you can save seeds too. I'm not saying you need to start saving every seed in your garden, Just start with the basics and go from there!
Some seeds are easier to grow than others, but Seeds are pretty easy to save. There are some key reasons to save seeds from your garden.
Organic; Saving seeds from your garden ensures they are organic, even if the seeds planted weren't organic as you continue to grow and save seeds from the same strain of plants, any fertilizers or pesticides that were on the plant and in the seeds will eventually filter out, and produce an organic seed, (this make take a few years of saving seeds).
Hardiness; As a plant begins to grow it has to adjust to it's surrounding climate. This ensures the survival of the plants species. Some plants are already hardy to your zone. Some are borderline hardy and may survive one year, but not the next. As you save seeds from plants, especially if you practice seed saving for years, Plants will eventually adapt to being hardier in your climate.
Selective Breeding; Yes, that's right,you can breed plants. This is how we get bigger,brighter, tastier, juicier plants. Not to mention disease resistance. This takes a much more advanced seed saver and gardener and also takes a more thought out garden system, but it can be done.
How to start
I'll try to cover as much as possible in this section. Some plants are annual, some are biennial, and some are perennial. Some seeds need to be fermented, while some can just age on the plant and be picked. I will cover the basics of what each plant needs, and some tricks to saving seeds from different types. Here is a link to a downloadable PDF. It covers a large assortment of plants, and a basic instruction on saving their seeds.
There are some seeds that are extremely simple to save, while others take a little bit more effort.
Easy Seeds; Harder to Save Seeds;
+Beans and Peas +Artichoke
+Melons, Cucumber +Onions
Fermentation takes about 2-3 days, and is fairly simple. Tomatoes need fermentation, and so do cucumbers. To ferment your seeds there is really only three main steps to fallow.
1. Extraction! The seeds, juice and pulp should be removed into a container or cup by cutting the fruit in half and squeezing everything out. You may also wish to scoop it out with a spoon. If you plan to ferment a lot of seeds at once you can simply mash the entire tomato in a large bucket until all the seeds have been separated. This should work for cucumbers as well. You can also add a little bit of water to your mixture, this will also help with fermenting; but don’t add too much water.
2. Fermentation! Once the seeds and pulp have been extracted the container should be placed in a warm spot, out of sunlight. Usually room temperature is best (21-29 C) Do not allow the seeds to ferment for more than 3 days as they may start to germinate. You can stir the mixture a few times a day to help the fermentation process. Don’t be alarmed by a white mold that may appear on the top of the mixture, you can simply mix it back down into the fermenting mixture. The viable seeds will sink to the bottom. They will rise back in with the whole mixture when stirred but will sink back down after. Fermentation is completed when most of the seeds have sunken to the bottom of the container or cup.
3. Rinsing and Drying! Poor off the top layer of fermentation mixture but carefully not to lose the good, viable seeds at the bottom, continue to do this added new water each time to clean off the gunk. Once the seeds “look” clean transfer them to a strainer and rinse well until they are really clean. Finally the seeds should be spread in a fine layer on a coffee filter, or a screen, u can move the seeds around every-day to keep them from sticking to each other. Make sure they are drying in a cool dark place with lots of air flow!
Cover with cheese cloth to keep fruit flies and other pests out of your mixture.
You may find that the mixture smells a little nasty, especially if you have a lot going. I do mine in the kitchen but you can always ferment in a garage or other dry area, if the weather permits and it that won’t attract animals.
Pollination is important to produce fruit. There are different creatures that pollinate,from beetles, to flies and bees along with butterflies and some birds such as the beautiful humming bird. You can pollinate fruits and vegetables yourself If you are worried they may not be pollinated naturally. It is also a good idea to attract beneficial pollinators to your garden.More on that in a little bit.
Corn can be hand pollinated for seed saving and for eating. This will help insure all silks get fertilized. It is quite easy to do. The corn is ready to be hand pollinated when the tassels are fully expanded and the anthers (small little seed like things) begin to shed. When the tassels start to appear at the top of the plant it’s time to start looking for ear shoots. These can be found at the lower sections on the corn stalk. They emerge between the main stalk and a leaf. Once these are seen they need to be covered before the silks start to appear. They should be covered with a wax coated bag. This prevents other pollens from fertilizing your corn. To cover the shoot, remove the leaf next to it. The reason this should be done is to prevent the leaf from growing and pushing the bag off the ear. Next, make a small slice in the collar the part of the leaf that wraps around the base of the ear). You will need to securely wedge the bag in between the slice and the ear. Be careful not to cut the ear from the plant. Make sure the bag is securely placed. It is always a good idea to check and make sure the bags haven’t moved or blown away.
Hand pollination takes place at the same time the plant would naturally be pollinating itself. This happens over a few days. This is also when you need to collect the pollen. You can collect it using tassel bags. By holding the top leaf in one hand and slipping the tassel bag over them with the other hand. This needs to be done in the day time, usually afternoon is best. After you have covered the tassels remove the bags from the ears and trim the tip in the ears. This will expose the silk area. This needs to be done carefully and quickly. You want to be careful not to cut too low and ruin your ear, and quickly enough to prevent other pollens from entering the ear. Replace the bags as quickly as possible.
The next morning after all, if any dew has settled collect the pollen! Do this by gentle bending the top part of the stock and shaking the tassels. This will allow for more anthers to fall off into your bag. Make sure not to tip your bag. It would be sad to see all your hard work fall on the ground. Once you have collected all your pollen put the all in one bag!!!
To hand pollinate your corn remove the bag covering the ear. One at a time and remember we don’t want mixed pollens! The ears should have sprouted short little silks. You want to “dust” these with the pollen by pouring a small amount of pollen (about 1/16 tsp.) onto the silks. Cover the ears with the tassel covers and loosely secure by wrapping the bag around the ear and stem and stapling the bag together. The bags can be removed once the silks have dried and the kernels have started to develop. Note: Pictures will be added later.
Hand pollinating Squash/Melon
Hand pollination of squash and melons will take place over two days. Squash and melon flowers bloom throughout the season, but the flowers are only open for 1 day! So hand pollinating takes a bit of attention, and timing!
You will need to identify the flowers that will open the next day. Do this in late afternoon and clap them shut. The next morning is when you will finish hand pollinating. You will need to clap shut both the female and male flowers. The reason for clamping them shut is to keep unwanted pollen from entering the flowers. The females have a large ovary at the base of the flower; this grows into the large melon or squash. The male does not have this trait.
It takes a little practice to know when the flowers are about to open, don’t worry you’ll get it! The flowers will become a greenish yellow, and the flower petals that are stuck together at the tips will start to separate slightly. You can usually see a bright yellow seam inside the petals.
To clamp shut the flower use, a clothes peg, ribbon or tape. I think a clothes peg would be best. Clamp the tip on the flower closed. It’s also a good idea to plant a flag or something to make finding the flowers easier the next morning. Do this for both male and female flowers. Make sure to leave as much of the petals in-tact that u can. You will need to re-close them after pollinating them.
The next morning between dawn and noon is when you need to hand pollinate your flowers. To pollinate your flowers pick the male flower, and remove all the petals leaving the long “stick” in the middle. Moving quickly, open the female flower. You want to do this without any bugs or bees landing on the flower. Brush the anther all over the stigma (the male stick part onto the female part inside the petals). You should be able to see the pollen on the stigma after brushing them together! As soon as you have completed this step close the flower back up. Mark the base of the female flower below the fruit to identify it after it has grown to full size. The petals will probably fall off after the fertilization process is over. You can use male flowers from the same plant or others as long as they are the same variety this helps ensure genetic diversity. It’s a good idea to hand pollinate more than you actually need.
Creating a Happy Place for Pollinators
Most people have enough pollinators to keep their garden flowing, but a little extra effort can always help! Flowering plants planted near the garden provide bees and other pollinators with additional nectar and pollen. It will also provide a habitat great for nesting. It will also attract more pollinators to the area for plants that will be flowering throughout the year. Wild flowers native to your area are the best to attract pollinators. Herbs are also a really great for attracting pollinators to the garden. You can also mix clover in with your garden for another health supply of pollen and nectar.
Using Pesticides, even natural? Think again. Organic pesticides are also deadly to pollinators. So try to avoid pesticides as much as possible and welcome those little bees to our garden. If you do have a bad infestation of bugs that are ruining your crops spray the affected area with some horticultural soap. You can also prevent pests by rotating crops and adding a variety of plants and removing extra garden debris.
Most bees are ground nesting and prefer un-tilled and undisturbed land. Many bees also enjoy hiding in tall grass and brush piles. These undisturbed areas can also make great homes for spiders, birds and other creatures that can help control pests.
Storing Biennials for Seed Saving
Before even thinking about vernalisation you need to understand the conditions that each vegetable needs to go through. Most biennials need about 8 to 10 weeks of temperatures below 10 C. Your plans will need to be dug up and stored in a way that will stimulate the conditions it needs. Some places the vegetables can stay stored in the ground but where I am it gets way too cold for that. They can be stored as low as 0 but the best temperatures are between 1c and 3 c; this helps to prevent freezing damage and rotting damage. You want the humidity levels to be between 75 and 95 percent. This also helps the plants from rotting or drying out. Many seed savers do the best they can and don’t necessarily have the temperatures and humidity levels dead on. This can usually be achieved in an un-heated garage or outbuilding. Your goal is basically to keep the plants alive at cool temperatures until you can plant them the fallowing year!
Crops that will be used for seed saving are usually dug up as late in the season as possible. So you will want to think about the cold, or the damage that the freezing ground can cause in your plants. The ideal time is to dig up the plant when they have reached full size and the soil is dry to prevent extra moisture. When cleaning them for storage, avoid washing with water by just rubbing off as much dirt as possible with a dry cloth. This also helps prevent rot or disease. You can store carrots, beets, and some other root vegetables in perforated plastic bags or in crates with side slits to allow air circulation. You can layer the vegetables in sand, wood shavings, peat moss, or shredded leaves. You want to keep the vegetables from touching one another.
Depending on the crop type depends on the cut you foliage will need. For most “root” crops trim the foliage stems on a diagonal (forming a small point) about ½ in. from the “crown” or top of the root. When trimming leafy vegetables like Kale or collards, they are usually trimmed of most of their leaves except for the main center stem. After trimming; it’s best to leave them to dry in a cool dark place, by hanging them upside down. You can store vegetables like kale, celery, Swiss chard, and collards should be planted in slightly moist soil, potting mix or sand in clean nursery containers. While in storage it is best to check plants often to avoid rot. Any plant that looks like it is starting to rot should be thrown out.
Generally the plants can be planted out in the garden once the soil is workable and temperatures allow. They should be planted at the desired spacing and should be watered to help establish roots before the plants set flowers and go to seed. Have fun and don’t get discouraged, these are harder to save than most annual plants as it will take some time. Keep at it. It will be worth it. Good Luck!
Testing your seeds Germination
This is a fairly easy thing to do at home. This will help to determine the germination rate, although it may be slightly less accurate than tests done in laboratories. You can test the seeds germination either just after cleaning and getting ready for storage or after the seeds have been stored. Professional germination seeds can use around 400 seeds, but at home you can use as little as 10 seeds. For better test results 50-100 seeds would be best. The seeds should collected at random and be counted out not just guessed. The seeds will need to be tested with proper temperatures and water. You will need to mark each germination test with the date, species, name of the variety, and the number of seeds in each test.
To prepare for testing take the paper towel and fold it a few time to make it thicker. Dampen the paper towel with tap water in a spray bottle. By using a spray bottle you won’t over soak or ruin the paper towel. Place your seeds on the wet paper towel leaving about 1 inch space from the top. Fold the bottom half of the paper towel over the seeds, and roll the paper towel into a tube. You can put the paper towel in a plastic bag with the top open, or a container.
Place the containers in an area suitable for the specific plant; take into consideration the light, and temperature. Keep the paper towels moist during testing, by spraying the tests subjects as needed with tap water. Seeds tested at home may take a bit longer to germinate compared to seeds testing in perfect conditions at a professional germination testing facility. Begin to count seedlings after about 3 days. Remove any seeds that are germinated and remove any moldy or rotten seeds. Keep a record of seeds that have germinated and continue to count seedling up until the recommended germination times.
The seeds should be tested ever few days. To calculate the germination rate divide the number of germinated seeds b the number of seeds tested. Then multiply the results by 100. Only count the seedlings that have both the roots and the flower stem.
Quick Things To Remember
Mark each germination test with the date, species, name of the variety, and the number of seeds in each test.
Germination rate formula: # Of germinated seeds / # of seeds tested x 100 = germination rate.