River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Gardener's Corner

September 2002

Saving seed from the garden

Saving-seed is something that everyone can do. You might just want to save seed from your favourite plant, or start or add to a seed library or collection. The technique you use depends upon the type of plant, and weather you wish to keep it pure or true to type.

* Saving seed can add another dimension to the gardening. It extends your knowledge of how the plants work. If you are interested in organic gardening, saving your own seed from an organic garden ensures a supply of what you want.

* Many of the old and less commercial cultivars are dropped from seed catalogues. By saving seed and sharing with others, you will help to conserve our genetic heritage.

* By leaving a few plants to flower and set seed will give you more seeds than in a seed packet. Home-saved seed often has a high germination rate and produces vigorous seedling.

* Self-pollinators are plants, which produce flowers fertilised by their own pollen e.g. grapes. This can happen before the flowers have even opened, so there is little chance of cross-pollination.

* Cross-pollinators need pollen from other flowers, or another plant. Insects and the wind have a very good hand in this. However trying to keep your favourite plant pure is very difficult, as they may be pollinated by other cultivars of the same plant.

* It is important to keep seed free from disease, depending on your requirements, true to type.

* Choose plants that look healthy, vigorous and yield well. Cull any plants that are diseased or weak, this is known as "rogueing out".

* With self-pollinating plants: e.g. a bean with the wrong-coloured pods or a tall pea amongst a dwarf variety, should be removes before you harvest the seed. Off-type cross-pollinating plants need to be removed before they flower.

On a garden scale it is more important in vegetables to keep the seed true. To assist with this problem, barriers like hedges and fences cut down the risk of cross-pollination. Removing those weeds from the vegetable patch, or growing your onions and carrots in isolation cages. Generally if you keep varieties of the same species of self-pollinating plants 2m (6ft) apart to be fairly sure that seed saved from they will stay true to type.

Luckily, most of the seed produced in the garden can be stored dry. Dry-seeded types should be allowed to mature on the plants until the seed heads or pods have dried out. Dry pods should have a crisp feel when squeezed and should not contain any sap, moisture or green pigment when scratched with your fingernail. In climates where the seed harvest can be affected by the weather. Harvest you plants when they are close to maturity and hang them upside down in a dry, well-ventilated place to allow the seed to ripen.

Soft fruits should be harvested when ripe. To clean them scoop out the seeds from the fruit, place in a bowl and wash off the flesh. To prevent seed from becoming mouldy or germinating. spread out washed onto a plastic, glass, or metal sheet to dry. Place the sheet in a well-ventilated spot, out of intense sunlight.

(Reference from the Encyclopedia of Organic gardening by HDRA.)

Ruthe Gray

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