Seed Saving: Is It Viable?

With the rise in the interest in gardening, many people start wondering: Can I save my own seeds? It is indeed possible to save your own vegetable, fruit or flower seeds, but with a few guidelines.

Most important is to know what type of seeds you want to save. If you have planted hybrids, plants which were developed by crossbreeding, seed saving is a very iffy proposition. If you see an F-1 on the seed packet of the parent plant, don't select its seeds to save. Many hybrids are sterile and the ones that aren't often produce plants that are throwbacks to one of the progenitors. If you have your heart set on a specific hybrid variety then you'd do best to purchase the seeds every year.

Another problem is natural hybridization. Many plants of similar types can cross-pollinate and create something you don't want. Squashes and pumpkins can cross, for instance, but the results can be less than tasty. You need to keep plants of the same families in separate areas of your garden. Some need to be kept miles apart.

Knowing when to harvest the seeds is also key, according to Tal Blankenship, retired Master Gardener Coordinator for Josephine County. Most fruits and vegetables need to be allowed to ripen past their prime eating time to allow the seeds to fully develop. But once the plant gets the signal that the seeds are ready, it may well stop producing, so your timing has to be exact. If you want more to eat from the plant, wait and harvest seeds from the very last fruits or vegetables.

Most seeds do best if allowed to dry on the plant. Blankenship finds that when dealing with plants in pods, the easiest method is to pull several pods together, then slide the pods into a clean dry sock. Tie off with a twist tie. When the pods explode the seeds will all be in the sock for easy harvest.

"In general, seeds need to be dried, but not to an extreme level," says Dan Bish, owner of Plant Oregon in Talent. "That little plant in there needs a little water to survive. Then it needs to be kept cold and dark."

Bish puts his seeds in ziplock bags before storing them in a refrigerator. Anything going in the freezer is double bagged. Blankenship prefers small glass jars. He also makes sachets of dried milk wrapped in tissue paper, putting two or three in each jar. This absorbs moisture. Seeds prepared like this will be viable for two or three years. If you happen to own a basement or root cellar, that can replace the fridge for storage.

For seeds to be stored for longer periods in the freezer, he puts half seeds, half silica gel in a glass jar for exactly seven days, then removes the gel. Otherwise, the seed would be too dry to survive.

What about those half-used packages of seeds you didn't plant? Blankenship weighs seeds and packages together, and puts an equal amount of silica gel with them in a glass jar for seven days, then removes the gel and freezes. He has grown plants from seed stored for 20 years this way, but that isn't near the record. Somewhere in a university botany lab is a date palm tree grown from a 2,000-year-old seed found in Israel.

Amazing little things, those seeds.


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