VI Agriculture Show
- Page 20
How TO Save Seeds

BY DAN JASON
OF SALT SPRING SEEDS

 

I think the practice of saving seeds is due for a revival. Seed saving is rewarding in so many ways. It’s very easy. If you find yourself smitten by it, there are ways you can become more expert. Even a little seed saving is empowering.

 

Basics

 

Basically, you go to the seeds when they are ready and get them. You make sure they’re really dry, and then you store them.

 

It’s as simple as that, but getting good seeds at the right time involves knowing the life cycle of a plant and whether a seed will stay true.

 

You can gather seeds in different ways such as plucking, rubbing, shaking and grabbing. Making sure seeds are dry enough means having a good drying space for them. Storing seeds well involves having appropriate labels and containers for them.

 

Plant Types and Specifics

 

Plants are annual, biennial or perennial. • Annuals, such as lettuce and tomatoes, flower and mature seeds in the same year.

 

Biennial plants (such as carrots and beets) are normally harvested as food in their first summer or fall, and do not flower or produce seed until the following year. In mild coastal or southern regions, biennials will survive the winter under cover of hay or leaves. In most of continental North America, biennials must be dug up and carefully stored elsewhere during the winter to be replanted in the spring. Most biennials become tall and bushy when going to seed, taking up more space than they did the previous year. They can be thinned or transplanted to twice the usual spacing.

 

Perennials live and bear seed year after year.

 

Plants are also classified as either self pollinated or cross-pollinated, although sometimes they can be both.

 

Self-pollinated Plants: Pollen is not transferred from one flower to another, either on the same plant or between plants. The process occurs within each flower. The flowers have both male and female plant parts and pollination occurs successfully within the single bloom. The seeds of these plants almost always retain the quality of the parent, or stay “true.” Because they rarely cross with another variety of the same species, isolating them is unnecessary, unless you want absolute purity in a strain.

 

Cross-pollinated plants: The pollen from one flower fertilizes another flower, either on the same or another plant. Either wind or insects carry the pollen. It is important to know the other varieties of the same species with which a plant has the potential to exchange pollen. For example, if your cabbage and your broccoli flower at the same time, the seed will produce few plants that look like either of them. Allowing only one variety of each potentially cross-pollinating vegetable to flower out eliminates the need to separate plants from each other. As well, barriers can be erected or planted, plantings can be staggered or crops can be covered with garden fabric.

 

Self-pollinating Annuals

 

These include lettuces, beans, grains, tomatoes and peppers. It is easy to save a diversity of them and they are very significant crops to save.

 

Lettuce

 

Lettuces are unusual in the manner that they complete their cycle and go to seed. They don’t dry down but instead they grow up. They put up a flowering stalk that can reach waist high and as they do so the leaves become shrunken versions of their former selves. The candelabra- like appearance of many cultivars is so attractive that their aesthetic appeal could be taken into consideration when planning your garden.

 

A single lettuce can produce hundreds of small yellow flowers atop its stalk. The flowers become bunches of feathery little seed sites, each flower creating eight to 15 seeds. The seeds are a miniature version of dandelion seeds, having a tiny parachute perfect for riding the breezes. They are little wedges about an eighth of an inch long and are either white or dark, depending on variety.

 

Someone wanting to have enough seed for the coming year could simply pluck two or three fuzzy seed heads to easily get a couple of dozen seeds. The seeds ripen over several weeks, and when they start to appear, there are many flowers still blooming. If you want a lot, it’s best to wait until a third of the seeds are ready and collect them when conditions are as dry as possible

 

The plants can be tipped into whatever container you’re employing and shaken to release the seeds. You can also rub the seedheads between the thumb and forefingers of one hand while holding the bucket or bag under them with the other. I’ve found the plastic pails that are usually available from stores that sell ice cream cones to be perfect for gathering lots of different seeds: seedheads can be easily bent into them and shaken against the sides.

 

After harvest, lettuce seeds are best dried for another day or two. Spread them out on plates, pans, trays or bucket lids in a warm, airy place. The freshly gathered seed usually comes with a little fluff and flower parts. The fluff quickly dries in the presence of heat and any little bugs you may have picked with the seeds will usually disappear in a few hours.

 

The seed can be rubbed between the fingers to release the fluff. Most of the fluff can be easily blown away if you’re careful not to blow too hard. Sifting it through an appropriate screen can also clean the seed. For the amateur seed saver, it is not crucial for the seeds to be totally clean, just totally dry.