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Saving seeds from a single plant

 
pioneer
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Getting a little confused with seed saving. Gardening in an urban environment I often have room for just one plant of a particular variety. Does anyone know the difference between saving seed from a single "lemon cucumber", and saving seed from a row of "lemon cucumbers"? Will the latter have stronger genetics long term?
 
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As I understand it, when the plant is open pollinated (like a cucumber), the genetics are more varied so if you can save seeds from different fruits and from different plants, it's better.  If you have the only lemon cucumber growing within 1/2 mile, then the plant is pollinating itself.  So each fruit may not have that much more genetic variability than its neighbor on that plant.  

So I'd save seeds from a few different fruits.  If you have a seed packet that you started with, awesome.  Next year grow from the seed packet again (different genetic parent) and save that seed.  The following year grow from the seed packet and save those seeds.  After a few years, your pile of mixed together years of saved seed will have increasing genetic variability like that which the seed packet contained.
 
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As Mike brought up, unless your plant is being cross pollinated, your genetic material will be inbred and that leads to weaker plants and a reduction in the plant's ability to fight off diseases and pests.

It would be better for seed saving to have at least two plants, each from different seed suppliers for genetic diversity to continue.

Redhawk
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Dr Redhawk, that brings up another question...  Can we assume that the seed suppliers grow hundreds of this cucumber variety?  If so, I'm wondering how much more diversity we'd get from two seed company's seeds vs one company.  

To put some imaginary numbers on it, if saving seeds from the same single cucumber plant is a 1 on a 1-10 diversity scale, and saving seeds from two cucumbers from different seed companies is a 10, where would you put saving seeds from two cucumbers from a single seed packet?  My guess is that it would be closer to an 8.  But I'm very interested in your and other people's thoughts.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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hau Mike,  Usually each seed company has their own cultivars and thus their own, proprietary genetic profile of each seed type.
That is why for increasing diversity in a very small space with few of each type of plant being grown it is important to use at least two different seed suppliers and grow one (or more) of each seed companies offering.

Generally there will be some diversity in a single seed companies offerings and this will show up in separate seed packs by cultivar type(species)
Using cukes for an example, there are pickling cukes, eating cukes, burpless cukes, etc. each one is going to have it's own genetic profile and these will cross breed in the garden where all or some are grown because bees don't care as long as all the cukes are flowering at the same time and are being grown in a single bed.

In a single packet of commercial seeds I would expect a 25% genetic diversity since they do grow many acres of each species they sell.
If you have one seed from two different companies then your resulting diversity should be in the 80% range since, even if just by wind, the pollens will end up cross breeding.

Redhawk
 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Bryant!  If I care to keep my cukes "true to type", does having two seed company packets matter as much?  If I'm following, you're talking about letting different cultivars cross.  I'd definitely agree that a Burpee Black Beauty zucchini and a Guerney acorn squash that cross pollinate will give lots of diversity to their seeds.  I'm just wondering about if you're growing two Black Beauty zucchinis.
 
pollinator
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Two packets of Black Beauty could be one of two things. Both from the same grower and sold to different catalogues. Or from two different growers. You can also buy two lots of the same from the same company and end up with seed from multiple growers, some of it with variation.

If you sample enough sources you may or may not find within variety variation.

If within variety variation is present than you can select within that variation for whatever traits you consider to be best.

Carol Deppe did this. She found a favorite squash that had declined in quality because of poor varietal maintenance. So she bought seed from everywhere she could get it, then reselected the variety.

Minor changes can also be found through mutations to a variety.

However if you want a big change, you need to make a wider cross with an entirely different variety.

 
Joseph hackett
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Thanks so much for the advice, and I like that term "varietal maintenance". So it seems that if you are a long term seed saver you need to maintain genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding by:

- Buying seeds from lots of different companies
- Growing more than one plant of the same variety
- Saving seed from different fruits
- Planting both the seeds you saved earlier, as well as the original seeds you bought
 
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Something I think about often when keeping seeds is the idea of a 'genetic bottleneck' If you only have a single plant or two that survive to produce seed you have selected for hardiness to your conditions but you have inherently created a bottleneck where a whole lot of genetic information was cut out. If your goal is to produce food in your yard, the former is much more important than the latter at first. But that bottleneck may catch up with you over time in the form of pest/disease pressure. I would think that small scale this could be avoided by planting your saved seed along side at least one imported seed of the sameish variety. At the end of the day I'm a big fan of running with your saved seed until/unless they just wear out. Historically everyone kept seed that produced well on their land and there was probably a wide array of diversity in the gene pool, nowadays we seem averse to pushing through the genetic bottleneck, but really we should be happier than ever to do so. If your saved seed starts to falter you can easily buy some seed that has the characteristics you were aiming for and cross it into your locally adapted saved seed. A single plant isn't ideal, but as long as you are saving seed you are doing a service to future generations by preserving a unique genetic line
 
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I have this one old dollar store seed packet of lemon cuke seed and for years I've been growing a few plants every year from that packet.  I have also saved seeds, especially from the largest fruits in the one year when my lemon cuke just exploded up a ten foot pole and produced prodigiously.  But performance is pretty random; there's not a lot of variability that I notice, but some years the plants thrive under my conditions and some years they don't.

I have been thinking I'd like some more genetic variability, so earlier in the month when I got to a big farmers market that's 2,000 miles from where I live, I paid a couple of bucks (hipster pricing) for a huge lemon cuke that was nearly twice as big as any I've ever grown, although it was also clearly one of those forgotten fruits that was harvested well past maturity from a tender-eating perspective.  

Next year I figure I'll grow out the new seed and some of my old seed and let the plants climb the same pole.  That will hopefully get the genes nicely mixed in the 2020 seed that I save.
 
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Dan Boone wrote:...it was also clearly one of those forgotten fruits that was harvested well past maturity from a tender-eating perspective.



Seeds with the highest viability come from the really old fruits. Like big fat orangey-yellow and brown fruits with cracks in the skin, starting to develop a hollow center. It seems to be kind of a continuum, with viability beginning at some (unknown to me) point after polination and increasing as the fruit matures. My point is, if your garden space is precious, a germination test could be in order. That could prevent unproductive gaps where nothing germinated.

Hopefully Joseph Lofthouse will chime in too. His short summers have led him to a lot of experience saving seed from fruits that are less than optimally ripe.
 
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the idea is to save seed from the healthiest most vigorous plant that has the best fruit, but if you only have one, save what you can
 
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Mike Jay wrote:Can we assume that the seed suppliers grow hundreds of this cucumber variety?  If so, I'm wondering how much more diversity we'd get from two seed company's seeds vs one company.  



My general presumption regarding seeds that are sold by any large seed company is that one farmer, in one field, is growing essentially the entire world supply of seed for a particular variety, and that the same seed-lot is being sold to every major seed company. The variety is not being allowed to cross pollinate with any other variety of the same species, and thousands to tens of thousands of plants are being grown in that one field.

Tiny seed companies tend to publish who grew each variety that is listed in their seed catalog. It's for this reason, that I only patronize tiny seed companies.





 
Mike Haasl
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Thanks Joseph, that's believable to me.  Sad, but believable :)  

Given how many seeds you get from one zucchini, I can see how a 10 acre zucchini field could supply the world with seed.
 
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the biggest problem I see is if you have two kinds of cucmbers on the same small plot.
Not sure about cucubers, but okra has to be 150 feet between roll of different varities to not cross.
Large plant like corn help to confuss the polnarator insects, but the 150 feet is a set min.
Two is alway better, it will even change the amount of fruit a plant bares, more per plant when you have two tomatoes Or apple trees.
 
T Melville
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Joe Grand wrote:the biggest problem I see is if you have two kinds of cucmbers on the same small plot.
Not sure about cucubers, but okra has to be 150 feet between roll of different varities to not cross.



True, if you want purity. If you want to select among lemon cucumber genetics only, to make the best lemon cucumber you can.

On the other hand, if you want to landrace, this is totally a non-issue. In fact, the extra genetics tend to increase vigor, I think. For sure crossing will help inbreeding depression and give you more genetics to select from as you tailor the cukes to your garden.
 
Joe Grand
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I agree & all seeds we use today are crossed multiple time in the 18 & 19 century.

This book covers the path of breeder: Hybrid: The History And Science Of Plant Breeding.

https://www.abebooks.com/Hybrid-History-Science-Plant-Breeding/30384509850/bd?cm_mmc=ggl-_-US_Shopp_Trade-_-used-_-naa&gclid=CjwKCAjw29vsBRAuEiwA9s-0B1YOEMhkLRHLxuRtLYn7042lUvElB-UsKUknhqD87dORLmxiYlIPehoCXVkQAvD_BwE
 
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