MY BEANS AND LETTUCE replant themselves most years, and when some sprouted recently—volunteers, but who knows what they’d produce in the end—it got me thinking: I ought to learn to save seed in a slightly more orderly manner, shouldn’t I? (Understatement!) But where to start? A phone call to Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library seemed like a good first step, and sure enough, he had some simple advice for getting started saving seeds. As I plant my vegetable garden, he recommended I think about what I’ll want to save.
First, of course, you want to make sure the crop you’re considering saving seed from is open-pollinated, not a hybrid. Hybrids won’t “come true” from saved seed one generation to the next.
“Start with the super-easy things,” said Ken, “like anything with a perfect flower and a pod—beans, and peas, for instance.” Perfect flowers contain both male and female parts, or stamens and pistils, such as lettuce, tomatoes, brassicas, beans; in imperfect ones, such as on squash and cucumbers, there are separate male and female flowers.
“Before you even transplant your first seedling, you can start thinking about seed saving,” Ken said, and also wrote in a new article on the Seed Library blog.
For beginning seed-savers he recommends trying your hand at a few easy crops: bush beans (“these cross-pollinate less than pole beans,” says Ken) and peas (“eat to your heart’s content, but be sure to leave some pods to dry on the vine, too”) and cilantro, for instance, or tomatoes. Among the flowers and annual vines: calendula or balloon vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum) are good places to start.
For those with a little experience—or at least willing and able to enforce some isolation to prevent cross-pollination between relatives—Romaine lettuce, parsnips, broccoli and watermelon are on Ken’s list to try.
If you want to save your seed from things that tend to cross—the offspring of a sweet pepper may not be so sweet next year if a hot pepper’s nearby; multiple cucumbers grown in proximity may get frisky, and so on—then consider growing just one variety this year so you can be sure your seed will be pure.
Not content to grow just one kind of squash, and don’t have enough room to isolate multiple varieties? Well, at least do a little homework to make sure you only grow one of a particular species—one from each of the following groups to minimize cross-pollination:
- Maxima: ‘Big Max,’ ‘Buttercup,’ ‘Galeaux d’Eysines,’ Hubbard or Marrow types
- Mixta: Cushaw types, some gourds
- Moschata: ‘Butternut,’ Cheese types
- Pepo: ‘Acorn,’ Field Pumpkin, Crookneck, Scallop and Zucchini types.
The Seed Library’s Stash of Seed-Saving Ideas
MANY PRACTICAL TIPS like this, and more, about getting ready to save your own seed is covered in Ken Greene’s series of articles on the Seed Library website, where you can also buy open-pollinated and heirloom varieties suited to the task, of course (and in what are certainly the seed industry’s most beautiful packets ever). Good reads:
- An overview on getting started saving your own seed
- A primer on saving seeds from squash and cukes
- “Tomato smash-up:” Saving tomato seed, the 2010 and the 2011 versions
- “Pepper Prowess:” Planning to save pepper seed