Did you know that some of the best seed you can grow comes from your own garden? That is surely one of the best reasons for saving seeds from your crops.
These days most people buy seeds from a seed merchant for planting in their gardens. The seeds are packaged, usually with growing instructions, for only a few dollars. That’s convenient but many experienced home gardeners prefer to use homegrown, as our forebears did. There are various reasons for saving seeds from your own crops. Here are some.
A. Reasons For Saving Seeds
1. Saving Money
- A packet of seeds may not seem expensive. But over time the price creeps up. Or perhaps the supplier reduces the number of seeds in a packet, a sneaky way of increasing the price.
- If you need to buy several packets – well, add up the cost. Seeds for just few spring vegetables could cost $30 or more.
- Supposing you want to grow three or four different varieties of tomato. The cost climbs further.
- Seeds last for only 1 – 5 years. You could find that you waste part of the packets’ contents, further increasing the cost. Saving seeds from your crops costs nothing.
2. Ensuring the Supply
Seed suppliers usually provide several varieties of a particular kind of seed available each year. But the varieties can change from year to year. You could find that your favourite beans from last year are not available this year.
I had this happen to a special tomato. I hadn’t saved seed from it and when I wanted to grow it again there were no seeds available anywhere in the country. If I want them now I may have to import them from overseas. I don’t need more reasons for saving seeds.
3. Preserving the Genetic Diversity of Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom seeds have been saved and handed down by families or communities through generations. Many early settlers brought seeds with them from “Home”
Over time, each community’s seeds have developed its own genetic structure. For example, a family may have a special black bean, known as Old Tom’s Black. It has been popular with everyone for generations because of its resistance to drought. If the family stops saving the seeds that unique variety is lost forever.
The loss of that variety means that the unique gene combination that was responsible for the drought resistance is gone forever. As a result there is, therefore, less diversity in the black bean gene pool. As the University of Indiana notes:
As fewer and fewer old varieties of food crops are maintained, the gene pool grows smaller and smaller, and with this diminution comes increased susceptibility to sweeping disease and pest outbreaks, as well as less vigorous gene material for future hybridization. Many ecologists warn that this could prove catastrophic.
4. Adaptation to the Environment
This is another good reason why seed-saving is so valuable. You will likely find that saved seeds produce better crops. I’ve noticed that tomato seeds I’ve saved seem to be better than bought ones. They have a higher germination rate and the plants are usually strong and healthy.
The plants probably produce better crops too. One reason for this because the seeds you saved and planted have become adapted to the environment in which they are growing. This adaptation to the soil and the climate of your garden makes them better able to thrive there. For the same reason, they may also be more resistant to pests in your area.
5. Start Your Own Varieties
Now there’s a thought. Perhaps your interest in plants is broader than providing food for the table or flowers for the vase. You might enjoy developing new varieties to suit your taste or your growing environment.
The easiest way to do this is to
- watch for a change you like, such as an extra pea in pods.
- Watch for any plants that don’t produce the extra pea. Don’t allow them to pollinate any of the selected plants.
- Keep seeds from the selected plants to grow for the next crop.
- Keep selecting until the whole crop has the desired characteristic.
If you want to try this or other methods you will find The Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook helpful. Alternatively, you can Google for information. Try to choose an authoritative site such as that of a university or a plant breeder.
6. Maintain or Improve Crop Quality
Have you bought seeds or seedlings and found that a few plants just aren’t up to standard? Perhaps they lack stamina, bolt early or show some other inferior quality. Here’s one way to overcome that disappointment.
Save seeds from the best plant in your crop. (Believe me, it’s well worth the sacrifice). By doing this you improve your chances of eliminating those stragglers.
- Grow those seeds you have saved.
- The crop is unlikely to be perfect yet but do this for several crops and the results will become better and more even. What’s more, you’ll get the praise.
Of course, if your crop from the purchased seeds is all you could hope for, keep this happening. Choose the best plant and save seeds from it. Don’t risk finding “rogue” seeds next time.
B. How Long Do Seeds Last?
There is a variation of several years in the viability of garden seeds.
- Some types of seeds are viable for a shorter time than others. The seeds of parsnip, lettuce, onions and spinach have the shortest lives.
- All seeds are viable for longer if you keep them dry and cool. Their ability to germinate declines more quickly in humid conditions.
- Seed is best stored in a sealed container with a desiccant in the bottom. Rice is particularly useful because you can dry it in a warm oven after use and then reuse it.
Store seeds in a cool, dark place, such as a basement or a cupboard in a shaded shed or garage. Some people use their refrigerators or seal seeds in plastic bags and store them in the freezer.
Below is a list of seeds commonly grown in the home garden. The time given is the average life span, with no special care given. You can expect them to keep longer if they are in sealed containers and stored in a cool, dry place.
The data for this table comes from the Oregon State University Extension Service
We all want to save money and have a regular supply of our favourite seeds. Saving seeds from our own crops ensures this. We can extend genetic diversity by propagating seed lines of our ancestors, with the added bonus that the seeds we save are acclimatized to our area. The reasons for saving seeds will vary a little among gardeners but the practice is as valid now as it was in the days of our forebears.
Over to You
If the reasons for saving seeds appeal to you, I hope that the ideas in this article will whet your appetite further. Start with something simple like peas, beans, sweet peas or other podded seeds. Plant them at the appropriate time and feel the pleasure as you see your peas or beans or sweet peas grow vigorously in your garden. You might even feel like sharing some of the spare super seeds with friends or neighbours. Let me know how you get on – I’m very interested.
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