Saving seeds is the ultimate challenge for the home gardener. Once you collect and plant your own seeds, you are in a complete cycle with nature. It’s a fascinating and rewarding endeavor, but it requires patience and close observation of your plants to be successful.
Many of the vegetables we grow in the garden can be reproduced from seeds. The conservation of seeds also has an ecological aspect, as we help to preserve the important biodiversity in fruits, grains and vegetables. The following information will help you perfect the art of saving seeds.
Heirloom seeds are the best varieties for seed propagation. These are non-hybrid seeds that are often referred to as standard varieties and have been passed down from generation to generation and retain their properties because they are genetically stable. Hybrid seeds, although large and beautiful, are genetically unstable and will return to their standard parents after several generations. Heirloom seeds also tend to fight disease and insect attacks.
And of course with hybrid seeds you have to buy new seeds every year, while with heirloom seeds you can store your own seeds year after year. When you buy hybrid seeds you are indirectly contributing to the decline of our biodiversity, but when you store seeds from hardy plants in your biozone you are helping to preserve the wonderful plant species that are directly linked to our survival.
Some of the annual plants that are easiest to reproduce from seeds are beans, lettuce, pumpkin, corn and other grains, flowers, tomatoes, melons, peanuts, mustard, cucumbers and herbs.
Biennial plants like carrots, beets, cabbage, and onions take two years to produce seeds. In the north, winter stimulates the biological clocks of these plants to trigger seed production in spring. Because of this phenomenon, it is very difficult to collect seeds from these plants in the tropics, although some successful attempts have been made in the highlands of Costa Rica.
Perennial plants that can be reproduced from seeds include fruit trees, native rainforest trees, ornamental shrubs, and grapevines.
Pollination is another factor that will determine how true your plants will be in the next generation. Due to the structure of the flowers, certain plants are openly pollinated, especially pumpkins, melons and corn. They are usually cross-pollinated by insects that migrate from one plant to the next.
Seeds from these plant species are not always true parent varieties and can have considerable variation. If you are trying to maintain certain traits from openly pollinated plants, only grow one variety at a time to get a pure variety. However, self-pollinating flowers retain their special properties in the next generation. Lettuce, tomato, beans, and peanuts are good examples.
Keep these points in mind when collecting seeds. Early in their development, pick one or two of the best plants to collect seeds. It often makes sense to mark these plants with a stake so that they are not harvested or disturbed while they are growing. Fertilize and water them well.
Collect seed pods when they are ripe and dry. Separate and clean the seeds well and dry them in a dish for several days at a temperature not exceeding 50 degrees Celsius. Store your seeds in airtight containers, preferably in the refrigerator. Corn and other grain seeds can be frozen in airtight containers for 48 hours to remove insect eggs and larvae.
Once you have some practice in storing seeds, you can become quite successful with this ancient art of our ancestors. Now, more than ever, we must go back to saving seeds. Large seed companies are starting to patent all of their hybrid and genetically modified plant varieties.
Your for-profit interests are destroying the natural diversity of crops we have inherited from hundreds of years of plant breeding. In 2013, it was announced that Monsanto had received government permission to grow GMO crops in Costa Rica.
In many Latin American countries where GMOs are allowed, they have left a trail of environmental degradation and bankruptcy on many farmers. The majority of countries in the world now prohibit the use of GMOs. Scientific evidence now shows the catastrophic effects of GMOs on soil and the health of farm animals and humans. Support local non-GMO groups and take an active part in saving our heirloom seeds.
For more information on tropical heirloom seeds for the home garden, please visit our newsletter at: The New Dawn Center
Life is a garden! This article first appeared in 2013