Written by - Kaitlynn from MIgardener
Before the dawn of seed stores, growing a garden was a practice passed down generation to generation. Year after year, the seed is saved for the following growing season. The most beautiful representation we have to access that tradition today is through heirloom seeds. For some, seed saving is a money-saving hobby. For many others, especially in 2020, folks are coming back to seed saving with a new perspective. This new spike in interest could create the next generation of seed savers. Surprisingly, seed saving is one of the easiest jobs in the garden and one of the most overlooked. In order to save some money, now is the time to learn what you can about saving seeds.
Let's take a look at that process.
The Essentials of Seed Saving
The most straightforward way to describe the seed saving process is these three steps: Collect Seeds. Dry them. Store them. If your goal is to grow food for your family, these are the basics. Each technicality of saving seeds will be determined by what variety you are trying to save. Fruits and vegetables will produce seeds differently. Most people forgo seed saving because of the fear of cross-pollination. We will talk about it more in-depth later. It's essential to determine as a gardener what your priority is with seed saving. If you want to continue growing heirloom varieties that remain the same, it will be slightly more complicated than if you don't mind growing hybrids. In the next section, I'll break down the differences to make it a little easier for you to decide.
Heirloom vs. Hybrid
Hybrids receive a lot of criticism because they are often mistaken for being genetically modified or GMO. A hybrid plant happens when two heirlooms cross-pollinate to create a new variety. So, if you think about it, every heirloom variety you grow was, at one point, a hybrid. Typically, seeds saved from hybrids are not going to grow fruit precisely like the mother plant, and so they are not as reliable. Heirloom varieties are old hybrids that have been stabilized overtime to produce the same fruit every time. It is a myth that you cannot save seeds from a hybrid, although your results might not be exactly as planned. If you choose to save seeds from an heirloom variety, with hopes of repeated variety and quality, you must make sure to avoid cross-pollination.
Fruits vs. Vegetables
From a broad perspective, fruits are any food that is picked off a plant and eaten with the seeds growing inside. A vegetable is any plant that must be uprooted to be eaten, with the seeds appearing at the end of its life cycle. To harvest seed from fruit-bearing plants, the fruit must be at peak ripeness before harvesting. Some seeds can be taken out and dried immediately, while others should be fermented first to dissolve the protective gel coating. To learn more about fermenting your seeds, click here. Usually, you only need to save seeds from one or two fruits to have enough for the following year.
With vegetables, after the growing season draws to an end, the plant will bolt and send out a long stalk with flower heads that dry out and turn to seeds. It's impressive the amount of seed you can save from just one vegetable, with more than enough to share with friends. Seeds must be completely dried before they are harvested from these plants. After drying any kind of seed, the easiest way to store them is by putting them in a ziplock bag, or seed saving packet before storing them in the back of the freezer until planting season. This method will give your seeds the longest shelf life possible. For more on this storage method, click here.
The Dreaded Cross-Pollination
If your goal is to save heirloom seeds that are untouched by cross-pollination, there are a few tricks you can try to keep things organized. Again, there is nothing wrong with planting a hybrid seed, but if you are looking for just as delicious fruits every time, this is the way to go. With varieties like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, the blossom bag technique will become your saving grace.
Blossom bags are tiny, mesh, drawstring bags that are placed around new clusters of flowers. No pollinators or outside pollen will be able to get through. Shake the bags to help the flowers self pollinate as soon as the fruit sets on those varieties, take the bag off, and tie a ribbon around their branch to remember which seeds on the plant you can save. Simple as that! There's no need to limit yourself with ridiculous spacing methods or a lack of diversity in the garden with this method. For more on the blossom bag method, click here.
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