I’ll admit it. I’m a seed nerd. You’ll find me pouring over colorful seed catalogues and trawling on line for the latest offerings from The Lost Seed Company or Phoenix Seeds, rather than other sorts of seedy pursuits. I have been known to reduce folk to catatonia over my lyrical waxing about the merits of black krim tomatoes over tigerella or mortgage lifter. But I know I’m not alone. There are others like me. In fact there’s plenty. Throughout Australia, members of local seed networks gather to exchange seed and share nerdy conversation. Just go to www.seedsavers.net .
Anyway. Now is the time to be selecting next year’s summer crop. There’s a lot to be said for breeding your own. Not only is it a cheap way to feed yourself, but there’s an immense pleasure in seeing a plant fully express itself from seed to seed – a whole lifecycle – without being eaten. Ifeel I will never go hungry, knowing that I’ve a few packets of seed in store. Better than any frig or pantry, it’s food security, of a sort.
Some plants don’t need much encouragement. They will self seed readily in the garden. You only need to sow rocket once! Other plants need more encouragement and intervention. And there’s cross pollination to watch out for as well.
For starters, the self pollinators are the easiest. They don’t need anyone else. These include peas, beans, lettuce, tomatoes. You can safely grow a couple of different varieties without worrying if the saved seed will be true to its type.
A little more thought and effort is needed with plants that cross pollinate, like the brassicas – they’re pretty promiscuous. So that includes broccolis, mustards, rocket, chinese greens, etc. If you want to maintain purity in your varieties, just grow one sort. Or ensure time between varieties (plant so that they are not flowering at the same time).
Then there’s the cucurbits – pumpkins and melons, squashes. They have separate female and male flowers (on most other plants, the flowers have both female (stigma) and male (stamen) parts positioned together; the stamen produce the pollen and the stigma receive it, producing the fruit we eat) It’s a case of bees and birds and other insects spreading the pollen from the separate flowers when they visit. If you are growing more than one type, you need to perform the equivalent of IVF to hand pollinate the female flower and shut it up again to protect from wanton crossing and your jap turning into a tasteless hybrid butternut if you are growing both types in your patch.
Corn needs to be grown in large blocks away from other varieties. It relies mainly on wind to pollinate (though I have seen bees working corn plants) so it’s not really practical for home gardeners to save corn seed.
Saving your own enables you to select for traits in your own local situation, such as earliness (save the earliest producers) or a particular growth habit or drought or disease tolerance. Over a number of seasons, plants gradually adapt to ther climate. It’s slow, but that’s nature for you. As Darwin discovered.
We can select for taste and nutrition in our own backyard, rather than having to eat produce that was bred for appearance and transportation. Many of the seeds that are available through heritage and heirloom seed companies were originally bred for just that. Taste and nutrition.
Avoid buying hybrid seedlings if you can. These seeds produce sterile flowers and the seeds will not be viable or true to the original plant. It’s a ploy by seed companies but also a way of ensuring hybrid vigour (a good thing in the first generation).
The trick in seed saving is to leave your best plants to go to seed. Always a temptation to eat them, but hold off if you want an even better harvest next year. Let them dry out, far beyond the picking for eating stage (you can pull up the plant roots and all and place seed heads in a paper bag to ensure complete drying) And harvest in a fire sign (see garden notes) for better keeping qualities. I store seeds in an airtight container with a sachet of dessicant (found in vitamin bottles or packets of nori, etc) to keep them in good condition.