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Saving your own seed

 
Linda Secker
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Location: Lancaster, UK
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Hi All

Just wondering how many of us save our own seed?

I am on a mission to spend as little as possible so that I can retire sooner. My allotment rent went up last year (from £85 to £115 !!!) so my gardening budget has taken a bit of a hit!!

This year, then, I have decided to save as many of my own seeds as possible to reduce next years seed bill. So I started making a list and found that as well as quite a number of vegetables, I actually have many, many flowers that I could also save seeds from. Most of these (eg from perennials) I won't need, so I'm planning on having a go at selling them on e-bay, or using to swap for other seeds that I didn't/couldn't save.

So do you do the same? What seeds do you save?

Linda
 
Mike Jay
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This will be my first big year of saving seeds.  Previously I only saved bush bean seeds and butternut squash.  This year I plan to save most of the seeds in my garden.  My impetus was the $100 I spent on seeds this spring and maybe more importantly the goal of pushing my seed and plant genetics to be more locally adapted. 

My city doesn't have a seed library yet so if I'm successful I may start a library in a year or two. 
 
John Polk
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A nice, free PDF Seed Saving Guide is available from  Organic Seed Alliance.
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Casie Becker
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I'm still trying new species and varieties every year as I learn what plants will grow with minimal efforts. While my family has gardened in this region for decades, I'm only in my third year at this garden. I'm using a combination of many different techniques, of which seed saving is only one.

At this point in my life I'm more concerned with minimal labor. I earn my living outside the house, so my time needs to be nearly as tightly budgeted as my money. Most of my techniques that reduce my seed spending are focused on eliminating the need for me to plant seeds at all.

I put up with some plants looking shabby for part of the year because I know the plant will take off again, in the proper season, much faster than a seedling. (Swiss chard, Kale, Runner beans)

I have some plants that successfully self seed with no effort on my part. I'm experimenting this year with lettingthe best lettuce and mustard plants go to seed. I will probably let some of my kale and swiss chard go to seed next year.

The crops I save seed from tend to be either flowering or fruiting varieties where I can harvest the whole flower or fruit when I gather seed. Particularly for the fruiting plants, I'm taking inspiration from Joseph Lofthouse and trying to save seed from the best tasting, least needy, and/or most productive plants.  The plant has to be impressing me in some fashion (even if just in potential) to be worth the effort for me.
 
Tracy Wandling
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This is my first year gardening here on our new property, and we got a late start. But there is plenty growing, and I am going to save as many seeds as I can. Seeds I want to save will include tomatoes (4 varieties); zucchini (Romanesca); lettuce (3 varieties); broccoli (3 varieties); and many herb seeds, some of which will be self-seeders such as cilantro and parsley (2 varieties). The other plant I'll be saving seeds from are the Breadseed Poppies that are growing all over the front yard. They are stunning, attract a LOT of bees, and will definitely find a home in my garden next year.

I'm hoping to have the rest of the garden beds finished early next spring, so I can plant far more plants, and start saving more seed. It will definitely cut costs, and help me to build up a seed store of plants that grow well in my conditions. Very exciting stuff!

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Broccoli harvested today
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I figure that I'm saving more than $2000 per year by growing my own seed.

In many cases, such as squash or melons, the seeds are a waste product from growing and eating the fruits, so there isn't much labor involved. In the case of dry beans, it's even easier, just set aside a little bit of the harvest for planting next year.

With the biennials, like beets and carrots, growing seed is a completely different crop, so the labor cost is significant. However, in one growing season, I can harvest enough seed to meet my planting needs for decades.

I grow nearly all of the seed planted on my farm, except for new crops that I am growing for the first time. (My seed bill this year was $3.75, and only because my landlord asked for his favorite varieties of squash, and it was already past the ideal time to have planted them). Generally, if I can't obtain seed through a swap, then I don't purchase it. I really love the low cost of being patient until a trade opportunity comes along.

It's been a few years since I counted species, but I'm growing seed for somewhere around 90 varieties of about 75 species...



 
Linda Secker
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Location: Lancaster, UK
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Great replies guys and I agree with all of you

Like you Mike, this will be my first big seed saving year. I did do this in the past when my budget was especially tight, but this year is THE year. Also, like Cassie I allow plants to self seed - I just pull out the un-needed ones. Parsley, Rocket, Calendula and poppies do particularly well in this respect and require no input from me at all. I also think these do better than the bought seed as they are adapted to my (wet) garden here. I also can only be at my allotment 1 (max 2) time a week, so things have to be quick and simple. I'm not therefore going to attempt to save brassica seeds as I can't cage them to prevent crossing with other varieties.

For many years, I saved garlic offsets to replant, picking the best each time, and built up a beautifully adapted strain. Unfortunately I lost the lot in a particularly wet year when downy mildew destroyed all my allium crops. This year I have saved offsets again

Joseph - deeply impressed, I aspire to planting all my own seed, but I know that I will have losses. Swapping sounds like a good plan B. I shall be harvesting Swiss Chard seed later this year and will have plenty to swap. Do you really keep your seed for decades? If so - how?

Thanks for all the replies
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I've planted quite a bit of seed that was harvested 30 to 50 years ago. Germination was great.  They were stored frozen.

In general with common domesticated varieties of vegetables, the optimum storage conditions are very dry and cold. Very dry seems to be the most important criteria. The seeds have to be dry at the start of storage, and stay dry during storage. I'm in a very arid climate, so seeds dry to low moisture. Even then, I often put them in a dehydrator overnight to lower the moisture even more before storage. Some people add desiccants to the seeds before storage. I really like glass jars for storage, because they keep the moisture out well. One thing I have really enjoyed doing is testing the germination on a jar of seed every year before planting it. I'm often pleased with how well they are keeping. Even with seeds that supposedly only last a year, I often get 50% germination after 5 years. A seed company might not want to sell seed with germination rates that low, but for my own use, that's a perfectly acceptable germination rate.

Refrigerating or freezing seeds greatly extends their expected lifetimes. 

 
Galadriel Freden
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Hi Linda, I've been saving seed for a good few years now, and if you have seeds to swap later, I'd love to exchange some with you!  I've got some Brussels sprouts this year (I only let one brassica flower each year in my garden, and it was sprouts this year, so pretty sure they're true--no one else close by has a veg garden), as well as last year's rocket, mizuna, tomato, pumpkin, all of which are growing well for me this year.  I've also got some purple honesty, and might even be able to send some almonds off my tree if you fancy having a go at getting them sprouted

I'm hoping to save lobelia, French marigold, leek, and chard seeds this year.  I've also saved some melon seeds from a particularly tasty storebought one, to try next year--I can dream, right?
 
Linda Secker
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Location: Lancaster, UK
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Hi Galadriel, that would be lovely!!! I'm going to save as many as I can, so let's chat later and see what we can swap So far I have Aquilegia (nice tall ones) and a very few Melitis melisophyllum, but watch this space
 
Cécile Stelzer Johnson
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Location: Wisconsin Rapids, WI
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Mike Jay wrote:This will be my first big year of saving seeds.  Previously I only saved bush bean seeds and butternut squash.  This year I plan to save most of the seeds in my garden.  My impetus was the $100 I spent on seeds this spring and maybe more importantly the goal of pushing my seed and plant genetics to be more locally adapted. 

My city doesn't have a seed library yet so if I'm successful I may start a library in a year or two. 

Since I cannot save all the seeds I'd like to have, I'm prioritizing. First, what grows well here, second what I like to eat, third which seeds are most expensive. But I'm flexible on some. I don't do much with borage, but my bees love it and they reseed easily, so in they will go as a frost seeding experiment. Lettuce& carrot would be another favorite, but the seeds are so tiny that I don't do so well with them, and I tend to bury them too deep anyhow. Peas and nasturtiums, because they have large seeds and are easy is another favorite, as are garlic chives. They and nasturtium have the benefit of being great bee plants and resist the first few light frosts, when there is so little forage for them. Phacelia is another favorite of mine (Purple tansy) and when I look at the price of seeds, they are well worth trying to save them. I like sunchokes and I have planted them a few times. Outside the garden, the deer eat them. Inside the garden, they tend to take over. Since they give me gas, I eat only a few raw like radishes. I can take them that way no problem. I'm considering planting them in raised beds but if they manage to get under Yikes!
 
Jotham Bessey
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This will be the first year for me being able to save seeds. I am going to save as much as I can but I'll have to read that seed saving handbook first.
For me, seed saving has three benefits.
1) Food security, Ie. I will always have my seeds to plant regardless of whether I have money or not.
2) Seed security, Ie. If certain varieties I like become unavailable for purchase, I have my own seed bank.
3) The possibility of varieties better suited to my local conditions arising from selecting seeds from the best plants.
 
 
Amit Enventres
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Been selectively seed saving for about 3 years. Most of it I find ridiculously easy and the seed saving guides make it sound so complicated, but I think they are thinking professional and I'm thinking giterdone.

Lettuce: leave your best few until they finish producing flowers and seed. You may need to gather before it flies away. Puffs don't hurt seed quality, just make sure nothing is in there planning on eating the dry seed.
Dry beans and grains: on harvest, grab a handful and shove them aside. Best from your best 10+ plants.
Snap peas: red string helps keep them from being eaten, but I usually save like 2 per good or better plant + more from my awesomest few.
Tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries: squish the seeds onto a dry paper towel. Scribble what it is on the paper towel. Set it on an open shelf and figure out what to do with it in winter. You can keep them on a little tear of the paper towel and plant it just like that.
Brassicas (mustards, radishes, kohl crops): let them hang out and dry in the ground. Beware of bugs. When it's all dry, the mustard seed pods should almost spring open (place them in a paper bag and beat a little, then sift).
Mache/Entampes/the little green winter hard plant that's not spinach, whatever it's called: pull out when it starts to turn colors hang in a bag because the seed fall off easy, give it a good crunch when it is done drying and you remember you have to do something with it, then sift to get mostly seed.
Onions and garlic: let the biggest complete their life cycle. Garlics create little bulbets. Onions make seed. Or, just break up the garlic by cloves and if it's a bunching-type onion, split them apart.

Dill, fennel, coriander/cilantro: just harvest, set aside some.
Basil: Let some flowers go on the plant until the flower stalk grows pretty tall. Cut it off, dry it. crunch and sift. Use green parts as seasoning or lightly in tea.
Cucumbers and other squash: Just let it sit on the vine and admire. Some time late in fall, before a hard frost (if you have these sort of things), get something to squish it open (preferably on pavement or some other hard dry surface) and smear the seeds around. Let self-clean and dry on the hard surface and then collect and bag.

As general tips: save the most from your best, but also consider other characteristics like hardiness in adverse conditions and flavor - maybe something unique too. Always save first, eat second. Squash vine borer (as with other pests) can eliminate a squash plant in 3 days. If you harvest first, you cannot save and try again next year. If you have diversity, you can always live a sad season without much squash, but if you ate first, then you will be forever without squash (until you go to the store and buy more seed.

The trick to seeds staying not germinated is dry place, from my experience, which usually means the come into the shoe box dried, they are in some sort of paper or plastic bag to keep my seed collection from being a total disaster, the shoe box (actually a slightly larger than shoe box sized box which is about to be out-grown) is stored in the house in a corner near an outer wall where there is no reason moisture should be anywhere near it.

Another thing I noticed as a seed saver is that some seed I got from one place perform differently than from another place, so even though I am planning on seed saving forever, I plan on taking at least a few years to buy different heirloom and OP varieties from different companies and mixing them in to compatible other varieties in order to strengthen my genetics and make my garden that much more interesting.

Good luck!
 
wayne fajkus
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My lazy approach to seed saving is to let the seeds fall to the ground and come up on their own next season.

5 years of not planting tomatos so far, but need to expand it to other crops. Lack of dedicated areas to grow them have been the main deterrent, but I made good progress this year of new garden space.


 
Anne Miller
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I have been saving seed off and on since 1985 but I quit when most things I bought were hybrids and I thought they wouldn't grow from their seeds. Occasionally I tried and failed which only reinforced my thinking.  I did save the seeds from Sugar baby watermelon and found that my saved seeds were better than the old seeds out of the original package.  This have been the year for experimenting, especially growing things from seed rather than buying transplants.  Transplants have gotten really expensive (3.50 for one plant), and the plants haven't produced $3.50 worth of vegetables.  So this year I am saving as many seeds as I can.

The marigold seeds I saved from last year didn't come up but the seed that were left on the plant and fell to the ground did.
 
Amit Enventres
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Wayne- yeah, isn't that the ideal? This is the first time I will be staying in one place and can't wait to see what I don't have to plant next year!

Anne - could be, certain seeds need a chill  or scarification (damage) before germinating. Not sure about marigolds (not edible=I don't try to grow), but just a thought.
 
Lina Joana
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I just wanted to share Joseph Lofthouse's articles on seed saving and landrace crops - they are absolutely inspiring!  Joseph, many thanks for writing it all down.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/search.aspx?tags=%22Joseph%20Lofthouse%22
 
Anne Miller
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Since marigolds are not edible, we grow marigolds because they help keep aphids and maybe other bugs/pests off our edible plants. It doesn't work on grasshoppers. I planted sweet asylum for the same reason just can't remember what bugs they repel.  I understand about the chill and scarification but that is usually not needed for annual seeds.  This year I am just letting the seeds stay on the ground for next year.

 
Galadriel Freden
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Anne Miller wrote:Since marigolds are not edible



Anne, I grow them because I like them!  They're so cheerful and I've had success saving seeds from them too, but have never had them self seed:  lucky you
 
R Ranson
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Anne Miller wrote:Since marigolds are not edible...



Actually, I think most kinds (both french and calendula) are edible to some degree.  If not edible in that we want to eat a big bowl full, they do have some medicinal and dye uses.

I grew tangerine gem and saved the seeds from the plants that were 10-12 inches tall (rogued the small and the tall).  The germination test on the seeds was about 75% (low for me) but the next year, not a single one came up.  I'm rather grumpy about that as they were so lovely. 
 
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