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Your waste is another worm's treasure.
Why save seed?
Firstly to save money! And to create new varieties adapted to your garden. If something was particularly delicious, or fruited early or was resistant to pests it makes sense to save that seed and grow again next year. Over time with careful selection you can have custom designed seeds for your soil and climatic conditions.
What is a seed?
A seed is a living resource containing an embryo and food reserves wrapped in a tough outer coat. For a seed to germinate they need temperature, water and oxygen.
Seeds typically have a seed leaf or cotyledon, which are the first leaves that emerge from the soil. These provide the plant with its first food until it grows its true leaves, which then begin to photosynthesise. For this reason a seed raising mix does not need fertilizer as the germinating seed will not use it.
These are seeds that are handed down from one generation to the next. During the 1900’s we experienced a drop in the number of heirloom varieties, because gardeners stopped saving and trading their seeds. When we rely on seed companies any variety that sells slowly simply get dropped from production and disappear. This loss of varieties translates into lower genetic variability in our food plants. Lower variability means less adaptability to stresses such as disease or climate change.
A hybrid is created when 2 different varieties are crossed with particular characteristics. For example two traits that may be selected are early fruiting and a tall habit. Uniformity of these traits is deliberately inbred, forcing a plant to only pollinate itself, a process known as ‘selfing’. Selfing may occur up to ten generations in a row.
These two inbred plants are then cross-pollinated. The resulting F1 hybrid fruits early and has a tall habit… sounds great? Unfortunately the next generation of seeds F2 usually produces a mixed bag of descendants, some with inbred characteristics and some reverting back to their weedy ancestry. Therefore you cannot reliably save seeds from hybrids.
This is how a seed is created. Pollen is transferred between plants either by the wind, insects or animals.
Some plants self-pollinate and some cross-pollinate. Understanding and researching how a plant pollinates is important to successful seed saving.
When saving seed you may need to isolate the plant to prevent cross-pollination. Covering ripening seed with a paper bag or old stockings is a good idea.
What plants do I choose?
It is best to sow more seeds than what you need for food. Ideally you want to choose an exceptional individual plant, things to consider include:
Free of insect attacks
Resistance to bad weather
Slow to bolt
Health and vigour
Mark plants you wish to keep for seed with a ribbon so everyone knows to leave them alone. Usually you need to wait for the fruit and seed to mature past the eating stage. The best time of day for seed collection is around 10am when the dew has evaporated.
How do I know when to pick?
Fruits that have seeds in their pulp like tomatoes and eggplants are best picked a little after ripe.
Those that have seeds in their cavity like capsicums, chillies and pumpkins are best collected a couple of weeks after maturing, giving the seeds time to plump up.
Fruits that are usually eaten immature like zucchini, cucumber and corn need to reach full size and then stay on bush for another three weeks.
Those on plants where we eat the seed like peas, beans and sunflowers can stay on the plant until completely dry, providing wet weather doesn’t set in.
When plants ‘shatter’ or let their seed fall to the ground when ripe, it is best to pick progressively as they ripen.
Cleaning – Wet & Dry
Seeds that are carried in moist flesh such as tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins need to be rinsed clean of flesh and left on paper for 10 days or so to dry. Seeds that mature dryly in pods or husks such as beans, peas, beetroot, brassicas, carrot and onions can be dried on the bush. If it is rainy pull out entire plant and hang in a dry place until pods are dried out.
Is the process of removing the chaff from the seed to be stored. The seeds and chaff are gently tossed in the air and the chaff blows away while the seed remains.
Generally large seeds need a longer drying time than small seeds. Some drying methods are:
Keep small amounts in a bowl on a windowsill
Lay wet seed out on newspaper, the seed will stick to it but this can make for easier planting.
Hang in paper or hessian bags in a breezy spot.
It is vital to store seeds correctly; otherwise all your hard work can be in vain. Larger seeds are generally longer lived as they have a thicker seed coat. Important factors are:
Darkness: Light will half the lifespan of some seeds, store in paper bags or dark coloured jars in a cupboard.
Moisture: Seeds will absorb moisture and use up their store of nutrients.
Temperature: For most vegetable seeds 5C is ideal, so the fridge is perfect. Otherwise a cool stable place indoors is good.
Container: Store in a paper envelope with the name, date before storing in a screw top jar. Check to make sure it seals well.
How do I know when to pick?
A guide to difficulty levels. Some seeds are simple to save at home; others require more effort and knowledge. Start with easier things to gain confidence.
Capsicum & Chilli
Often to ensure there is a wide genetic range you need to grow between 50 to 100 plants. This is where the difficulty sets in! But it’s all fun trying, the most important thing is to enjoy yourself and share your seeds with friends and neighbors, so this precious resource get lots of opportunities to flourish.