I read the article “Saving Seeds” in Backwoods Home Magazine (May/June 2011, Issue 129).
I learned “open-pollinated” seeds, (called “heirloom” when they are passed down) always produce the same plant and fruit as the plant the seeds came from. Hybrids are crosses between two or more varieties, (often selecting for certain traits) and you cannot expect them to have “children” exactly like them. Organic seed is seed that was produced without chemicals in the growing of the “mother” plants. Treated seed is treated with a fungicide which keeps the seeds from rotting in the ground if planted before a period of damp, cool weather, which delays germination. It is toxic though.
Some recommendations for spacing to prevent cross-pollination are: For beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers: 20-500 ft For squash, melons, and sunflower: ½ mile For corn, fava beans, okra: 1 mile+
or you can build fine-screen mesh barriers and hand-pollinate, or plant different varieties at different times.
Unripe seeds will not germinate. Seeds several years old may have less % germination, but they will usually last several years. Just do a germination test of a few in a wet paper towel, in a jar left in a warm place for awhile. The % that sprout will let you know how many you need to plant for the yield you want.
The author then goes into how to save seed from different crops, including: squash, melons, peppers, beans, peas, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, okra, annual greens, broccoli, and biennial vegetables (carrots, beets, onions, celery, cabbage, brussel sprouts, turnips, rutabaga, etc). The biennial veggies require 2 years to seed, so they must be overwintered, and in cold weather protected with a good mulch. If the weather is really cold, they may need digging up, storing in a root cellar, and replanting in the spring.
The author suggests a book, Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth for seed saving tips.
We always saved seeds and then I joined the military and have been out of the loop for a while. We are going to be getting some heirlooms and restarting on our new place. I remember my mom got some hot pepper seeds one time and over a period of about five years kept keeping the seeds from the hottest peppers. My step dad snuck in and threw her hot pepper seeds away because he said they were too hot. She had a second stash hidden so he was not successful.
I am the first generation of my family to grow up on the grid eating out of the super market. I hope to be the last.
I noticed that many plants that we think are weeds were used to keep seeds from molding when the Native Americans would save seeds (and we know they were some of the best agriculturalists in many ways hehe!)