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!!! Let's get started saving vegetable seeds

 
gardener
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I just love the idea of saving seeds from my vegetable garden. The idea that I could save seeds from my garden and overtime the plants get better adapted to the unique conditions in my vegetable garden is just awesome.

But I also know that saving seeds can be a bit intimidating. It is just much easier to buy seeds from a seed catalogue. If you can get over the initial inertia there are some great benefits to saving your own seeds.

This week’s blog post—3 Reasons for Saving Vegetable Seeds—is all about why you should give saving vegetable seeds a chance.

My Experience with Saving Seeds



I really think this is a key part of how to make a low water garden work. This is one of the biggest motivators for me to save my own seeds.

But saving seeds is also something that is fairly new for me so at the moment I’m only saving seeds from green beans, snap peas and orach. I’m also letting some of my lettuce plants go to seed so hopefully I will get a bunch of volunteers.

My hope is that by saving seeds from the plants that can handle a low water garden that overtime I can develop new varieties that thrive in this sort of environment.

But this is just one of the great reasons for developing locally adapted varieties of vegetables.

If you have a short growing season you could potentially develop vegetables varieties that are quicker to produce.

There are other reasons to grow locally adapted varieties of vegetables by saving seeds. What are some reasons that you want to save seeds?

Taking it a Step Further and Developing Your Own Landrace



I’m a relative novice when it comes to saving seeds but I have been saving my own variety of purple climbing beans for the last few years. The most recently saved seeds gave me 100% germination this year when planted, grew quickly, and produced a very tasty crop several weeks before my parents beans even started to flower.

I love this variety and it really is working great for my garden.

But this is nothing compared to the varieties of vegetables that Joseph Lofthouse has been developing. His various landraces are really awesome and I have enjoyed reading about his work on permies.

If you are really interested in learning more about developing your own vegetable varieties then checkout these links to Joseph’s site and a thread here on permies talking about his landraces.
- Joseph's Site
- Permies thread about growing your own unique cultivars

I just getting started with saving my own seeds but I’m hoping to take what I have learned from reading Joseph’s content and start developing my own landraces with a focus on low water gardening.

Do You Save Your Own Seeds?



So do you save your own vegetable seeds? If so which vegetables do you like to save seeds for? What has been the result of your seed saving efforts?

If you are not saving your own seeds then this week’s post covers some great reasons why you should think about giving it a try.

And make sure to swing by the blog post and leave a comment! If you are the first to do so you will get a piece of pie! The pie will get you access to some special features on perimes, discounts at some vendors, and you can use it to purchase some products on the permies digital marketplace.

If you leave a comment on the blog post make sure to leave a post here on permies too so I can easily give you the slice of pie.

Thank you!
Staff note (Daron Williams):

Hey all! Been gone for a few weeks due to some life crazyness. But I'm back now and will be posting on a regular schedule once again. I did shift my blog posts to being Monday night / Tuesday morning with my email newsletter going out on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. Looking forward to catching up with you all!

 
pollinator
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I got some tomato seeds from the US a couple of years ago, which I have saved since. really nice early determinate tomatoes which manage well in my cold climate (in a tunnel) going to give peas a go this year, they are nearly ready to harvest right now.
Staff note (Daron Williams):

Thank you for the comment on my blog post! You were the first so pie for you!

 
pollinator
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Daron, I am working on a landrace of winter moschata squash, which is in another thread from before my computer death issue. I am working on one species at a time, because I am dumber and less knowledgeable than Joseph. And more disorganized. Even so it should be a couple years to get some improved varieties, and then the space I am using for that landrace development can go to another species. My main issue is gardening space as perennials are 90% of my plantings. This is another way to get started. Maybe as I get some positive results I will devote more time to the plan. Additionally, I am trying to cut some deals with people near me- I develop squash, they are doing tomatoes, third person is working on beans (which are actually super hard here). So far I only have one taker, maybe.

It seems it is about the space requirements here, ruthless culling means a whole lot of wasted space for a few years. I culled more than half my squash starts and they were unfortunately concentrated in an area that kind of looks empty. Next species I will probably way overplant and cull for more characteristics, this year I was trying to keep costs down because I was buying seeds.  
 
garden master
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I've enjoyed saving cucumber seed, selecting for vigorous growers, disease and pest resistance, production, and ones that can thrive without being watered except by the rain.

When I started, a lot of the vines struggled with diseases and pests. They produced cucumbers, but they didn't thrive.

The recent ones however have been very disease and pest resistant for the most part in my area, which is really encouraging!
 
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I've a question.
If I'm growing my cucumbers next to each other and I save seeds, will they cross?
 
pollinator
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Bocca Yi wrote:I've a question.
If I'm growing my cucumbers next to each other and I save seeds, will they cross?



Yes. If you want to preserve a specific variety you can use a blossom bag to cover a female flower before it opens and then manually dust pollen from a male flower into the female flower when it opens: https://www.thespruce.com/saving-cucumber-seeds-from-your-garden-2539694
 
master pollinator
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I have two main seed-saving projects currently - a landrace flour corn and a landrace Moschata squash.  I'm saving seeds of a bunch of other things also, but those two are the "projects."
 
pollinator
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This is the third year for my watermelon landrace, deliberately planting in poor soil with little water. I also have a zucchini that we've been saving seeds from since I was a kid. It pops up regardless of the circumstances, produces well and doesn't need a lot of tending. We get squash bugs periodically but this year there are none on the zucchini--possibly a result of not weeding and letting the radishes and lettuce grow into a jungle around the plants. The other squash in the yard were infested (ten feet away), but not these.

I'm starting a dry bean landrace, but stupidly planted in an area where the soil doesn't hold water AT ALL. So only six of the sixty plants are still alive, and they're struggling. I'll try again next year in a better area. I'm trying to work on drought tolerance with everything I plant, and sometimes I go overboard.

I've found that seeds that aren't grown in my yard have a very low germination rate and an even lower survival rate. 1st generation, the survival rate jumps to about 50%. 2nd generation, it's close to 100%.

Once I get that first generation out of the seeds, I put the originals away.
 
pollinator
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I collect plants that give viable seeds, if i got something like a lavender that doesn't give viable seeds, i'll buy a brand new promising lavender seed that i can grow from scratch in the hope it will produce viable seeds. It takes time to find out, money and effort, but it's very rewarding!
Even better then buying seeds is exchanging seeds, which i have been doing with a few garden fanatics and permies locally, boosting my viable seed collection hugely.
For now, i'll collect all seed heads, dry them clean then store them in paperbags, old yogurt pots, envelopes whatever, away from mice etc.
At the minute trying to get big numbers and lots growing, later i'll select more for fancy stuff like taste. For now the biggest percentage of saved seeds are the biggest plants with the most seedpods, so the largest portion of my seeds saved represents the best adapted plants, hopefully.
What also helps is giving away seeds, it sounds contraproductive, because you don't get nothing back, but it turns out that when you give something away that does great, people think about you nicely and give you something later if they can. I'm not rich enough to buy all the seeds i want, but like this it's starting to become quite the collection, and so much better adapted then what they sell in the stores and online. It's crap mostly, designed to fail.. But every once in a while you stumble onto a jewel that works great.
It's finally raining today (yay!) and time to organize this lovely mess of plant goodness.
plant-goodness.jpg
[Thumbnail for plant-goodness.jpg]
 
pollinator
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I save seeds in several ways and the habit is perhaps getting a little out of hand. I think it may be time to cull the seed collection a bit. Joseph sometimes plants a cover crop from culls and such. Perhaps that is what I should do. I planted a good big area last year with semi feral stuff like parsnip. Good crop of parsnip seed maturing now from that. Preparing some ground for fall or spring planting of some of the biennials.

From my 2019 garden so far I only have four things saved or in process:

Some volunteer peas.
Some volunteer fava beans.
Some volunteer corn salad seed.

The fourth is in process: 41 seeds from the first ripe tomato from an F2 growout of my own cross. It's promising. I have more tomatoes in what I call a seed saving pile but have yet to cut into them to begin fermentation.

2019's garden is mostly tomatoes but there will be others and lots of them volunteers or barely cared for things from the semi feral mass planting like carrots and parsnips.

One note perhaps is the difficulty involved in keeping lots and lots of crop species alive at the intermediate but still hobby level. Volunteers help because seed saving often becomes a backup. However I think I am starting to loose a few species which means if I want them back a new seed packet will be in order. Thats ok. What's really the core collection? Probably something like this for me:

Tomatoes
Corn sweet
Corn flour
Fava beans
Parsnips
Squash maxima

What am I growing this year for seed:

Tomatoes: 9 species, two interspecies hybrids, lots of varieties and segregating crosses
Corn sweet
Fava beans but volunteer only
Peas but volunteer only
Parsnips
Carrots
Endive
Squash maxima
Squash moshata
Squash pepo
Squash mospermia (planted a little late, but will see)
Cucumbers (may be a bust)
Watermelons (may be a bust)
Sunflowers
Wildflowers (lots of species)
Probably some volunteers I've forgotten.

To fall plant for seed next year:
Leeks
Salsify
Parsnips
Carrots
Onions
Bunching onion
Winter Wheat

The larger list is what I am not growing: lots of things. Run out of enough space and time and prepared garden area.

Some species can be filed away for years without a growout. Others die after a year or two of storage. So growout your core collection, whatever it might be. Loosing species and varieties is sad, but perhaps unavoidable without a network of seed savers. Also easy to get new things, though perhaps not the same ones, with a network of seed savers to trade with.

 
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Steve Thorn wrote:I've enjoyed saving cucumber seed, selecting for vigorous growers, disease and pest resistance, production, and ones that can thrive without being watered except by the rain.

When I started, a lot of the vines struggled with diseases and pests. They produced cucumbers, but they didn't thrive.

The recent ones however have been very disease and pest resistant for the most part in my area, which is really encouraging!




Have you tried growing any of the "original" seeds again, to see how well they do?

I have noticed that as I have been saving seeds, my crops have been improving, but I wonder how much of that is due to my soil's improvement over the years, or my improvement as a gardener.
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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I've found that most seeds are viable much longer than the charts would suggest. It doesn't make sense that a plant would have only a two year viable span in nature--one bad year when the seeds couldn't germinate and it would be extinct. I have planted lettuce seeds as much as ten years old and they do just fine. If you want to extend the period that they are viable, plant the old stuff and keep seeds from what comes up.

I had some 20+ year old watermelon seeds and threw them out thinking none were viable. They all came up. Last fall I threw out a bottle of sunflower seeds that were probably at least 7-10 years old and ended up with a sunflower patch by the back door this summer.
 
Steve Thorn
garden master
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Hamilton Betchman wrote:

Steve Thorn wrote:I've enjoyed saving cucumber seed, selecting for vigorous growers, disease and pest resistance, production, and ones that can thrive without being watered except by the rain.

When I started, a lot of the vines struggled with diseases and pests. They produced cucumbers, but they didn't thrive.

The recent ones however have been very disease and pest resistant for the most part in my area, which is really encouraging!




Have you tried growing any of the "original" seeds again, to see how well they do?

I have noticed that as I have been saving seeds, my crops have been improving, but I wonder how much of that is due to my soil's improvement over the years, or my improvement as a gardener.



Yeah, I was wandering the same thing Hamilton.

I started saving about half my seed from my regular crops, as a backup in case of some unusual weather or animal damage. Then I usually try to plant half of that leftover amount later in the year to get a second crop, keeping half again as a backup as well. The leftover from that I usually plant the next year if I didn't need it. I've seen a big difference sometimes between the best of the second generation and the best of the first generation.

It would be interesting to save seeds from a long time back and compare them.

I've been kind of hesitant to do it, since I feel like the plants would be "going back" a little in their stronger genetics, breeding again with the less adapted parents. It would be really interesting though, maybe they could be kept in a nearby but distant enough area that would minimize cross pollination.
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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It's possible that it's gardening or soil, but the treatment of my main garden hasn't been changed. My Dad is still around and change bothers him so the main garden remains as it always has been.

So let's take cilantro. I couldn't grow it. I wasted seeds for YEARS trying to get it to grow. Then I found one little plant, maybe three inches tall, that had a few seeds on it. I let those seeds fall. Now, three years later, it's all over the yard and seeding furiously on 3-4 foot tall plants. I'm also not getting those bug holes in the seeds anymore. I'm hoping for the same with cumin. I've been trying to grow it, and none of the seedlings "take." If I can get one to the point that it produces seeds, I'll have my second generation and judging by past experience the population will then explode. All of this in the main garden--same soil, same water, same sun.

Year 1 (seeds not grown in my yard) is always a dud. Low germination and low survival rate from those that do germinate. Year 2, the first generation of seeds grown in my yard, germination rate and survival rate will approximately double. Year 3, high germination and high survival. Even Joseph's plants had a 50% germination and 50% survival (half of the germinated plants survived) with first year seeds.

I do keep the old seeds JIC, but I've never had to revert. It would be interesting to do a side by side test with seeds that were grown in my yard--maybe third year vs 5th year? but I'd have to plan for it because I don't keep the seeds separate that way.
 
garden master
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I bought straight eight cucumber seeds year before last. The store only had large size packages left. I thought to myself, what difference can one season make?  So I did not save seed from last year's fruit, since I already had so much seed already. So this year, I planted from the purchased seed. Every plant succumbed to squash bugs.

But, I had two patches of volunteers. I went ahead and transplanted them to better locations. Guess who laughed at the squash bugs and are still producing cucumbers?
 
Daron Williams
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Skandi – Very nice! Tomatoes are on my list to start saving in the next year or 2. How do you process the tomatoes to get the seeds? I have seen a few different techniques.

TJ – Yeah, I can imagine working on developing a full landrace would take up a lot of space as you described. I’m currently keeping things a lot simpler, but my results are not going to be as good. Good luck with your landrace! I hope you get some good results!

Steve – Awesome! Great to hear how your cucumbers have done! Did you start with multiple varieties or just 1?

Also, thanks for sharing the info about your regular crops and backups. Interesting that you noticed such a difference in seeds from 1 generation to the next.

Bocca – I’m not sure, I don’t like cucumbers except as pickles so I have not grown them. But thanks to Meg for answering the question! 😊

Meg – Thanks for sharing!

Tyler – Nice! What made you pick those ones?

Lauren – Nice! That is really awesome. Question for you about zucchini. What is the best way to save seeds from them? I never saved seeds from zucchini but I have some plants this year that are doing really well and I would like to save seeds from them.

Yeah, I have found sometimes germination rates drop overtime but I have found the same thing. I used older seeds this year that I had saved from an old garden and overall they did fine.

Thanks for sharing the story about your cilantro!

Hugo – Thanks for sharing and I agree that seed exchanges is a great option. I also like that you are giving seeds away. I’m actually a bit annoyed with the main seed exchange in my area. They only want pure varieties that have not crossed so basically no landraces, etc. I might just have to reach out to people on permies, and other sites to do some seed exchanging.

William – Nice! You are saving far more seeds than I am at this point. Though I’m hoping to get a lot more seeds saved in the future. But I need to setup a better area to store them than I have now. Good luck with your seed saving and managing your collection!

Hamilton – Interesting point and it would be fun to grow a few originals next to landraces to see how much is the soil and how much is the seeds. I would imagine in most permaculture gardens it would be a mix of the 2.

Joylynn – Nice! Thanks for sharing that story!

----------------------------------------------------------------

Thank you all for sharing! I really enjoyed reading the stories you all shared about saving seeds.
 
Tyler Ludens
master pollinator
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Daron Williams wrote:
Tyler – Nice! What made you pick those ones?



I want to try growing staple foods which are dependable in this climate.

 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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Daron Williams wrote:Lauren – Question for you about zucchini. What is the best way to save seeds from them? I never saved seeds from zucchini but I have some plants this year that are doing really well and I would like to save seeds from them.


Zucchini (most squashes) are really easy to save seeds from. Just let the fruit you choose go to full maturity, then break it open. I use the edge of the steps. A knife won't do it. Those things are HARD.

At full maturity it will turn yellow or orange depending on the variety. Mine turn dull orange with darker orange stripes. If you have to pick it early (say a frost hits) you'll probably still get viable seeds. If you can, let the unripe squash sit until it turns colors. After you break it open, pick through and look for the seeds that are fat and starting to harden. Those will be your viable seeds. Anything that's flat, or flattens when you pinch it lightly between your fingers, can be discarded. You'll quickly learn to see the difference. A traditional "seed" zucchini will be three to four feet long and upwards of six inches in diameter. You may get hundreds of seeds from a fully ripe zucchini.

Be aware that once one zucchini on the plant starts to ripen the plant will probably stop producing (and by "ripen" I do not mean 12 inches or even 18 inches, but 3 feet long and starting to harden). I would suggest you pick your one or two best plants for seed so you can continue to harvest. If you have other squash in the area, consider isolating the blossoms you want to keep your seeds from and hand pollinating to avoid cross pollination.
 
pollinator
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Handy Table for general info like plant spacing for isolation - 5 pages
https://www.seedsavers.org/site/pdf/Seed%20Saving%20Guide_2017.pdf

Small Scale Organic Seed Production - 40 pages
https://certifiedorganic.bc.ca/programs/osdp/I-066%20Seed%20Handbook%20v5.pdf

How to grow a seed collective - 40 pages
http://www.farmfolkcityfolk.ca/PDFs_&_Docs/Est_a_Seed_Collective_v9comp.pdf

A Guide to SeedSaving, SeedStewardship & Seed Sovereignty - 22 pages
https://seedambassadors.org/docs/seedzine4handout.pdf

The Woody Plant Seed Manual - 1241 pages
https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_series/wo/wo_ah727.pdf
 
pollinator
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I received some winter hardy kale in a seed swap a few years back and after it over wintered it went to seed so I saved the seed but forgot to thresh it out and plant it.  No problem it had already reseeded itself. So I saved seed again. How many pounds of kale seed would you like to get from me.  It makes a very fine frilly, not curly leaf. Excellent for cut and come a gain micro greens. If planted this month will grow all winter in the garden if not covered by persistent snow and outer leaves can be harvested and it will still produce seed in July.

Store it in various size supplement bottles with the desiccant pad. A handy tip for storing seed.

Really I have 10 pounds of winnowed seed sitting on my porch waiting for a home.
 
Steve Thorn
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Daron Williams wrote:Steve – Awesome! Great to hear how your cucumbers have done! Did you start with multiple varieties or just 1?



I started with multiple varieties to try to introduce different beneficial genetics and planted them all together and saved seed from the best ones.
 
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My name is Sara and I have a seed-saving problem.

To the level that there are piles of them sitting next to me as i type this.

Joseph Lofthouse was kind enough to give me some of his tomatoes and squash plant seeds that are from his landrace lines as well as some of his sunchokes. I have to say, the tomatoes kicked the store-bought lines  100x over. I had so many tomatoes on the counter that I couldn't keep up with them. I'm definitely keeping seeds from them.

With North Texas being so brutal and my limestone dense soil being pretty terrible, I figured selecting for the most robust plants and tastes would be the best plan. Here are the seeds I've been saving:

FLOWERS
- marigolds (2017, 2018)
- cosmos (2018)
- Bee balm (2018 self-seed, 2019)
- giant zinnias (2019)
- Flanders poppies (2019)
- bread seed poppies (2018 Joseph's)


FOOD (seed year saved)
- green okra (2018)
- burgundy okra (2019)
- cantaloupe (2017, 2018, 2019) - these too are getting to be reliable this year
- shishito peppers (2017, 2019)
- bell peppers (2017, 2018, 2019) - these bad boys are finally getting reliable
- hot cherry peppers (2018, 2019)
- banana peppers (2017)
- yardlong beans (2017, 2018)
- zucchini (2019)
- summer squash (2019)
- decorative gourds (2018)
- winter squash (Joseph's line)
- tomatoes (Joseph's Line) (2019) first year and they kicked the box store's tomatoes butts!
- nectarine and peach trees (9 sprouts this spring 2019)

I'm sure there are more but can't think of them at the moment...
 
Daron Williams
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Tyler – Makes sense! 😊

Lauren – Thank you for the explanation. I will have to give that a try. I have never even seen zucchini get to that stage.

John – Thanks for sharing!

Hans – Sounds like some interesting kale! I have some kale that overwintered at my place and then went to seed this year. But it has continued to grow and seems happy even after going to seed. I’m going to watch what it does and see if it makes it through another winter.

Steve – Nice!

Sara – Wow! Tons of seeds! I’m starting off fairly small but that is mostly due to a lack of good storage space. How do you store all your seeds?
 
Lauren Ritz
pollinator
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Daron Williams wrote:Lauren – Thank you for the explanation. I will have to give that a try. I have never even seen zucchini get to that stage.


Most people haven't. If picked before they turn colors the fully mature zucchini will probably still have mature seeds, but not as many. This same rule goes for any squash that you eat in an immature state, such as summer squash or cucumbers. If worse comes to worst and you can't get a fully mature squash, take the most mature squash you have and let it ripen as far as it can. A squash taken off the vine knows its job and will try to mature its seeds, even if only one. With some plants I've found empty cavities where the plant sacrificed the nascent seeds in order to ripen those that were closest to full maturity.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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Hans – Sounds like some interesting kale! I have some kale that overwintered at my place and then went to seed this year. But it has continued to grow and seems happy even after going to seed. I’m going to watch what it does and see if it makes it through another winter.  


I hade a broad leaf kale come up in the bird seed planting and it overwintered and produced seed before the winter hardy but continued to sprout new seed stalks after the mature ones were removed. The energy sorage stalk is low the the ground and sound so I am leaving it in place also.
 
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