thinking about saving seeds, with ken greene

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.

ap_cilantroFor 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.

ap_golden_crookneckNot 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:

  1. Such useful information and links! I am just starting to learn how to save seeds and am a bit overwhelmed by all the don’ts I have encountered in my research. You have presented it as being very doable. Thanks.

  2. Judy from Kansas says:

    Dill has been my most consistent self-seeder and I’m into the tenth year after planting only one plant. Now I have plenty for me, friends, and the swallowtail butterfly, whose caterpillars are having a field day out there today. In six square feet of the herb bed I just counted twenty caterpillars.
    French horticulture beans are my other reliable producer of seed stock for next year.

  3. Irena says:

    I’m considering myself lucky because a couple of days ago while browsing at Adam’s Fairacre Farms I witnessed the beauty of these seed packets myself. Beauty almighty! Perfect for “gifting” (to myself including). Thank you so much for introducing yet another local company. Got to support them with our $$.

  4. Rossella says:

    I have tons of good memories of saving seeds with my grandmother.
    I’ve just started my small flat garden. I hope a day to arrive to save my seed. Thanks for all your information about it

    1. margaret says:

      Go for it, Bria. I always have “volunteer” lettuce, and it’s so wonderful when the babies sprout.

  5. Vicki says:

    Wintersown. org has a wonderful pdf on their site for saving tomato seeds that I have used successfully. You don’t have to soak the seeds until they mold. You use kitchen cleanser to break up the gel sacks that surround the seeds. I have used both methods and find the germination rate about the same for either. Before heirloom tomato seeds were so readily available I would buy heirlooms from the Farmers’ Market, save the seeds, and plant them the next season.

  6. Thank you for the alternate version for saving tomato seeds. i’m trying both and why didn’t I think of tasting again to make sure it was as sweet as rest of the plant? I’m saving Jaune Flamme this year, I couldn’t remember the name (and couldn’t find them) until my friend George had extra seedlings (thank you George!) they have been amazing although it’s been a great tomato summer all around hot and dry !
    thanks again for all the solid and interesting information

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