When to save your seeds
Things to know if youre a gardener who believes in self-sufficiency
Until the end of World War II, most gardeners saved their own vegetable and flower seeds because high-quality seeds were not always readily available. Today, affordable high-quality seeds are available at garden shops and in seed catalogs everywhere, and most gardeners prefer to buy fresh seeds each year from a reliable company.
However, a few gardeners still enjoy the self-sufficiency and challenge of saving their own seeds. Gardeners new to the practice often wonder whether the saved seed will produce the same plant. Well, that depends.
Here are a few basic tips to help you determine whether a seed is worth saving.
First, saving seeds from some patented cultivars may be illegal. Also, removal endangered plants from the wild is prohibited and collection of their seeds restricted.
Saving seeds can be fun, but it takes time to do correctly. Several factors help determine whether you will have viable seed for the next growing season, so view seed-saving as a fun experiment. Don’t rely on seed-collecting as your only source of seeds.
For a seed to have the same genetic makeup as its parent, it must be pollinated by the same variety. Self-pollinated nonhybrid plants are good candidates for seed-saving. Such plants include peas, lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and many types of flowers. Seed from self-pollinated plants may be saved as long as the plants are not hybrid selections.
Some plants depend on wind or insects to carry pollen from the male flower to the female flower. This is random pollination, and it often results in seeds that produce plants that are not identical to the parent plant. For example, cucumbers and squash can be pollinated by neighboring plants, and so you may end up with unique mixes. Plants that accept pollen from other plants do not make good candidates for seed-saving unless the plant is isolated from others.
Seeds from hybrid cultivars should not be saved because they will not result in the same plant.
Before harvesting seeds, make sure you have identified the plant. It is tempting to bring home seeds from a plant that has pretty flowers, but what if that plant is a noxious weed?
Harvest seed from the most vigorous, healthy plants that produced the best crop; some diseases can be carried in seed. Flower seeds are generally much easier to harvest than vegetable seeds. Harvest flower-seed stalks just before all the seeds are dried. (Seeds must be completely ripe but not yet released by the plant.) The seeds of most flowers must finish drying once they’ve been harvested; do this by placing the stalk in a paper bag and storing it in a warm, dry location. As they finish drying, the seeds will fall into the bag.
Most seeds should be stored in airtight containers. Label each container with the name and variety of the plant and the date on which you stored it. A refrigerator provides optimum storage conditions of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and low humidity.
Take the time to do a little research to help determine whether a seed is worth saving. Enjoy experimenting with seeds saved from your favorite garden plant.
Jennifer Fishburn is a unit educator with the University of Illinois Extension, Sangamon-Menard Unit. For more information, go to www.extension.uiuc.edu/sangamon.
TO LEARN MORE
The University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit Master Gardeners will be hosting a demonstration on “Preserving Flowers and Seed Collecting” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21. Master gardeners with the extension service will provide information on saving seeds and pressing flowers. The presentation, which will last about 30 minutes, will be followed by a question-and-answer session. The program will be held in the Identification Garden at the extension’s building at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The program is free and open to the public. For information, call 217-782-4617